Hitler, a master of dehumanization, called Jews "parasites," "bacteria," and "vermin," thereby preparing the German mind for the holocaust. Limbaugh, for his part, calls liberals "maggot-infected" "parasites" and Glenn Beck refers to progressivism as "a disease," "an infection," "a cancer eating our constitution."
Another of the German Fuhrer's techniques was what Ruud calls "lexical fusion," lumping together hated groups, however dissimilar they may be, into a single monolithic enemy. Hitler spoke of "Jewish Marxists," and "fascist capitalists." Rush rails against "the liberal media," and "liberal, socialist, communists." This vague and faceless group is made the scapegoat for all that is evil in society.
A key to brainwashing is keep it simple. Nazi information chief Joseph Goebbels wrote: "Propaganda ... must always be essentially simple and repetitious. Only he will achieve basic results in influencing public opinion who is able to reduce problems to the simplest terms and who has the courage to keep forever repeating them in this simplified form despite the objections of the intellectuals."
To be sure, the dumbing down of political discourse owes more to focus groups and opinion polls than the teachings of Joseph Goebbels. Political campaigns are increasingly engineered by marketing specialists who rehearse politicians in talking points, and craft negative ads to demonize their rivals. Rather than using their election year soapbox to reason and persuade, candidates now routinely play to the fears and the prejudices of the crowd. They employ fighting words designed to tap into people's hidden wells of rage.
For all who care about the future of the American democracy, these are worrying trends.
Schiffman is author of two biographies. His work has appeared on NPR; in The New York Times, Salon, The Washington Post, The Christian Science Monitor and the Huffington Post, where he is a regular blogger.