Propaganda is a term of art in the field of political science. A useful, if technical, definition is “the management of collective attitudes by the manipulation of significant symbols” (read more here to unpack that). It is important to understand that all politicians and governments use propaganda, no matter their party or ideology. The word has a distinctly pejorative connotation in its common usage, but its technical definition is not necessarily pejorative. The concept of propaganda is absolutely essential to understanding politics and policy.
To that end, here are a few thoughts on President Trump’s propaganda technique used on Twitter. In his 1927 PhD dissertation (at p. 195), political scientist Harold Lasswell characterized four different functions of political propaganda:
- to mobilize hatred against the enemy;
- to preserve the friendship of allies;
- to preserve the friendship and, if possible, to procure the cooperation of neutrals;
- to demoralize the enemy.
The characterization remains influential 90 years later, with Lasswell’s 1927 dissertation having been cited in more than 80 articles last year (so says Google Scholar). Lasswell’s four functions of propaganda can be usefully applied to understanding the Tweets of President Trump. Here I’ll illustrate with examples from 2018.
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