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Communicating with Power

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Edited By Cherian George

Communication is ubiquitous and information is abundant. Political and economic markets are more open than they have ever been. Yet, there is no escaping the fact that communication continues to flow across fields where power is distributed unevenly. This collection of articles analyzes and responds to asymmetries of power in a diversity of contexts. They are drawn from presentations at the 2016 Annual Conference of the International Communication Association, held in Fukuoka, Japan. The conference theme presented an opening for scholars from various disciplines and academic traditions to engage with the questions of power at different levels of analysis—from micro sites of power like a doctor’s consultation room, to the geopolitical arenas where nations wage war, make peace, and spy on one another. The resulting collection straddles different methodologies and styles, from survey research to essays. Leading scholars and junior researchers have combined to create a volume that reflects the breadth of communication scholarship and its contemporary concerns.

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Chapter Thirteen: Dealing with Demagoguery and Hate Propaganda in an Age of Unreason (Cherian George)

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CHAPTER THIRTEEN

Dealing WITH Demagoguery AND Hate Propaganda IN AN Age OF Unreason

CHERIAN GEORGE



Donald Trump’s election as President of the United States in 2016 was a triumph for anti-intellectualism. Precisely for that reason, ironically, the event is theoretically stimulating. The Trump phenomenon challenged the assumption that truth will prevail in an open competition with falsehood—an article of faith for the framers of democratic constitutions and for journalists, public intellectuals and scholars who operate in the world of ideas. Again and again in the 2016 presidential campaign, large swathes of public opinion seemed impervious to reason. In this essay, I discuss one remarkable feature of the Trump campaign: its negationism. I borrow this term from hate studies, in which it refers to hate groups’ attempts to deny the historical fact of genocides such as the Holocaust, thus dismissing the victimized communities as self-pitying conspiracy theorists (Finkielkraut 1998). Here, I use the term more broadly, to describe how hate propagandists invalidate established facts and peddle untruths as part of their efforts to vilify targeted minorities. That Trump’s negationism went as far as it did is especially alarming considering the context. The United States is a country whose constitutional order was designed to give supremacy to the role of reason in public discourse. No country is less hospitable to the traditional ally of misinformation, state censorship. Thanks to a free press, excellent research institutions and the internet, no society...

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