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Primary Concerns Episode 38: Words as Weapons of Authoritarian Control

Brendan Nyhan on how information and disinformation will shape our politics in the Donald Trump era.

Mikhail Pochuyev/Getty Images

When the public can not agree upon a shared reality—when confusion and distrust and propaganda reign—politics devolves into a pre-democratic struggle for power, which will disfavor resisters.

Donald Trump may not understand this dynamic academically, but it was a hallmark of his campaign and has become a hallmark of his pre-presidency. Sometimes his false pronouncements are buffoonish and ill-considered, but make no mistake: he is taking a hammer to one of liberal society’s guardrails.

Dartmouth College Political Scientist Brendan Nyhan has studied the ways information and disinformation affect political processes extensively. He joins us to explore why propaganda and conspiracy theory are so prevalent today, how this plays neatly into Trump’s hands, and what can be done about it.

Further reading:

  • Brendan Nyhan asks, Is our slide into tribal politics inevitable?
  • Brian Beutler writes that liberals must do all that’s necessary to prevent established facts from becoming matters of dispute.