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Inoculating voters against Republican anti-Mueller propaganda



As we close out the year, I come to the conclusion that the best thing Democrats have done since uniting to form The Resistance has been to sound a High Alert about Trump firing Mueller.

Forming The Resistance was grand enough; it started organically, at the Street level, and then filtered up through the rank-and-file until it hit party leadership like a lightning bolt. Some leaders, like Nancy Pelosi, still are having trouble wrapping their heads around it, as evidenced by her reluctance to support the I-word (as in Impeachment).

Tom Steyer, on the other hand, has embraced Impeachment with fervor (as have I), despite criticism from Democrats—not only Pelosi, but David Axelrod, who may be speaking for Obama. I, personally, think that Democrats who are afraid to talk about Impeachment have allowed themselves to be intimidated by the Republican base, although why this should be the case isn’t clear. But then, irrational behavior is always hard to explain.

But I was saying the best thing Democrats have done over the last few months is to raise the Mueller Alarm. This is a classic example of what the psychologist William J. McGuire, in 1961, called “inoculation theory.”

 We’re all familiar with medical inoculation, when a germ is deliberately introduced into the bloodstream to stimulate the production of antibodies to prevent diseases, such as hepatitis and influenza.

Political inoculation works the same way, except that it protects against destructive foreign ideas, rather than physical pathogens. McGuire’s paper, “The Effectiveness of Supportive and Refutational Defenses in Immunizing and Restoring Beliefs Against Persuasion,” came at the dawn of a new era of political propaganda. The essence of his theory was that prior defense-by-refutation does produce considerable immunity to persuasion”; this is what McGuire termed “refutational defense.” It consists of “pre-exposing the person to the mention of counterarguments against his beliefs together with a detailed refutation of…counterarguments.” McGuire (who had polio in mind) drew an analogy with medical inoculation: “Such pre-exposures [are] analogous to inoculating with a weakened virus a person…to stimulate the person’s belief defenses…”.

We see exactly this happening today in America. As Trump prepares to fire Mueller (or, alternatively, as Democratic perceptions grow that Trump is ready to fire Mueller), Democratic opinion makers and independent journalists are boosting the public’s immunity against Republican arguments that such a firing would be justified.

We see this in remarks by almost all Democratic leaders, regardless of whether or not they currently favor Impeachment–for example, Rep. Jackie Spier’s recent warning. We see it, also, in the way progressive groups have already begun pre-organizing to hit the streets the moment a firing is announced.

The idea is to “stimulate the person’s [i.e., the voter’s] belief defenses” so that he or she will know that Republican arguments in favor of firing Mueller are like invading germs: if voters are properly prepared in advance to reject anti-Mueller arguments, they will have been fore-armed to resist them. They will, in other words, have been supplied with “refutational defense.”

This is a great strategy. Indeed, it’s the only one that Democrats—and Constitutionalists and lovers of freedom—have at this time when Republicans control all the levers of power and are prepared to use force to protect their own. There’s plenty of evidence that Trump would love to fire Mueller and quash the investigation. There’s also evidence that he doesn’t dare to do so, because political inoculation is working.

As we head into the final news cycle of 2017 and the early days of 2018, it will be interesting to watch rightwing forces try to influence their own base with counter-inoculative propaganda, of which denunciations of Mueller are the opening salvo. I suspect this will lead them nowhere, but after the surprises of the last year, you never know. Stay tuned.

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