U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to reporters before boarding Marine One to depart from the White House on October 25, 2017, in Washington D.C. President Trump is traveling to Dallas Texas to attend a fundraiser.
President Donald Trump speaks to reporters before boarding Marine One, outside of the White House, on Oct. 25, 2017, in Washington D.C. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
President Trump on Sunday leveraged a recent Politico/Morning Consult poll to prove a point he's been trying to make for months. "It is finally sinking through. 46% OF PEOPLE BELIEVE MAJOR NATIONAL NEWS ORGS FABRICATE STORIES ABOUT ME. FAKE NEWS, even worse! Lost cred," the president tweeted.
What he didn't point out was that this mistrust of the press has been largely of his own making. He and his advisers fomented Lugenpresse – the concept of "lying press" made famous by the Nazi party in Germany during Adolf Hitler's rise to power -- to undermine journalists covering his presidential campaign at every stop. Voters shrugged. Now, nearly a year into his administration, those efforts are bearing fruit. Nearly half the country believes the media lies and makes things up about him, calling into question their reliability on everything else as well.
To be fair, the media itself bears some responsibility for the distrust: The 24/7 news cycle and the rush to be first rather than right has led many voters to discount what they see on TV or what they read in the papers. Trump -- a wealthy businessman and reality television star who understands the needs of the news cycle and the power of spin -- took the ball and ran with it. The process was accelerated by Facebook and Google, two companies that control information access for millions of people and allowed fake news to be presented, unfiltered, to voters around the country.

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Social scientists long ago established an unfortunate truth about history: We are condemned to forget its most important lessons - and it can happen in just one generation. We are now witnessing this forgetfulness again in nation after nation. White privilege, anti-immigration fear and economic and national insecurity are upending political systems around the world with no end (yet) in sight.
We are now more than a generation away from Nazi Germany and the roots of the conflict that precipitated World War II. New generations have forgotten how and why the Nazi party rose to absolute authority in Germany. When we forget, what worked then will work again.
Today, in the U.S., we are just one nuclear confrontation away from becoming a nation where martial law and a military-controlled mass surveillance state will be viewed as a relief by many citizens. Destroying the media's credibility plays an important part in making that scenario a reality.
To put it very simply, there were five basic, highly effective moves that allowed Hitler's rise:
First, the Nazi party allowed a coarse, uneducated leader to rise to prominence on a white privilege, nationalist wave. Second, the conservative establishment party foolishly thought it could appease him by sharing power. Third, that same Nazi party destroyed media credibility to silence critics. Fourth, the Nazis literally burned the establishment congress to the ground. Fifth, it seized authoritarian power by using unchallenged propaganda to precipitate an existential threat allegedly emanating from those outside the white Aryan race and outside the nation's borders.
It is the third stage – destroying the credibility of the mainstream media -- – that's happening right now, and the Politico/Morning Consult poll shows it's working. Whether it continues to work in the next one, two or three years is still very much an open question -- one that depends on how other Republican leaders, who rightfully distrust journalists because they tend to be overwhelmingly progressive, and the actual leaders of the dominant media forms in America respond.

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But if this third stage works, and if GOP leaders allow it to stand, then the fourth and fifth stages we saw in Nazi Germany aren't all that far behind. There's a reason that dictators seize the TV stations, newspapers and magazines and create their own media arms when they rise to power: Propaganda is effective when it's wielded expertly by the state.
Adolf Hitler and his state media chief, Joseph Goebbels, forged plans for the Nazi party's Ministry of Propaganda and Public Enlightenment during peacetime, long before the onset of World war II. According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, it was an unprecedented, and largely unnoticed, strategy.
"In the days after the Nazi electoral victories of July 1932, Adolf Hitler informed Joseph Goebbels that he intended to make Goebbels director of a new propaganda ministry when the Nazis took over the reins of national government," the museum explains on its website. "Goebbels soon envisioned an empire that would control schools, universities, film, radio, and propaganda. 'The national education of the German people,' he wrote, 'will be placed in my hands.'"
Hitler personally reviewed major films before they were released in Germany in order to excise Jews from parts in the films. Goebbels' propaganda ministry also had the power to exclude anyone from even becoming a member of the working German press, keeping "registries of 'racially pure' editors and journalists, thus excluding Jews and those married to Jews from the profession," the museum writes.
State-sanctioned propaganda – which works by destroying independent media credibility while simultaneously disseminating lies – is now lurking around every corner in America, and in the press briefing room at the White House itself, where the press secretary and administration officials offer demonstrably false statements as truth or "alternative facts."

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The second half of successful propaganda – the "national education" of the people by the government, as Goebbels so accurately portrayed it - relies on a confluence and collaboration between the state and mass media that voters consume. When mass surveillance of the people successfully manages to deliver lies as truth directly to those willing to consume and believe such lies, then the circle is complete.
Here, too, Google and Facebook are complicit. Both are incredibly successful engines of mass surveillance that a national government can, under certain circumstances, take full advantage of to counter imminent terrorist threats. The companies' leadership have defended their mass surveillance efforts in the aim of countering terrorism efforts as harmless – and most Americans simply shrug at the notion of a mass surveillance corporate and national security state in America -- the power of the security state to protect its citizens and the corporate state to profit from consumer data mining have become normal.. "If you have nothing to hide, then you have nothing to fear," say the many defenders of the technology companies and their ability to know everything about us and share that information, either under contract or subpoena, with the national security agencies.
But in an irony that's lost on those who use it, the same defense was also a favorite of Goebbels. The phrase didn't originate with Hitler's propaganda chief, but Goebbels repeated it a number of times in local speeches in the run up to World War II as he and Hitler were building out the Ministry of Propaganda and Public Enlightenment.
History is repeating itself, this time with tools and media forms that did not exist a generation ago. But the goal is the same. The power of state-sanctioned propaganda, and its ability to destroy the credibility of independent media, is timeless for a simple reason: It works.