By Brigitte L. Nacos
Don’t underestimate Donald Trump. He is a natural when it comes to reading his audiences—whether in the world of business or politics. But I would be surprised if he hadn’t read some of the literature on manipulating others and the shaping of public opinion.
Day-in and day-out Trump manages his propaganda scheme as skillfully as the “father of public relations” Edward Bernays prescribed in his writings and acted upon in his public relations projects beginning in the 1920s.
Whether dealing with the promotion of consumer goods, policies, or leaders, for Bernays the “engineer of consent [or call it populist or propagandist] must create news. News is not an inanimate thing. It is the overt act that makes news, and news in turn shapes the attitudes and actions of people.”
Writing about the rise of Public Relations in the 1920s and 1930s Stuart Ewen noted, “If news had once been understood as something out there, waiting to be covered, now it was seen as product to be manufactured, something designed and transmitted to bring about a visceral public response.”
In this presidential campaign nobody else comes even close to manufacturing visceral news as successfully as Trump. After all, today social media allow everybody to self-mass communicate.
A huge part of Trump’s propaganda success is simply the mainstream media’s eagerness to report whatever he tweets out to friend and foe. If it were not for the mainstream media that he attacks constantly to the delight of his supporters, most people wouldn’t know what The Donald spreads via his twitter account.
The other day, Jim Rutenberg wrote in the New York Times,
It’s time to stop calling Donald J. Trump’s presidential operation “the Trump campaign.” It would be far more accurate to call it “Trump Productions Inc.” But as Rutenberg correctly noted, Trump is “star, show runner and chief content officer” of an operation providing “multiple running plotlines (War With Megyn Kelly; Peace With Megyn Kelly!), shocking comments (A federal judge can’t be fair to me because he’s of Mexican heritage!) and personal insults (Hillary belongs in jail; that reporter is a sleaze!) that keep Americans glued to their screens.”
It does not matter to Trump that the Democratic and Republican establishment as well as pundits condemn his outrageous statements as long as his targeted audience understands and appreciates his words and what they signal.