Over the past century, the ways in which governments have used propaganda to influence the masses have changed dramatically. In this essay I will be analysing two pieces of propaganda, one historical piece (Is This Tomorrow? America under Communism, a 1947 comic book) and one contemporary piece (Donald Trump’s 2016 Presidential Campaign slogan “Make America Great Again!”) . I will look at the ways in which each piece was used to influence its target audience and for what reasons they were used in the context of the socio-political climate of their respective time.
The ideology of the comic is closely linked to the philosophy of the American government during and after WW2 (The Second World War). Before the war, the United States was in a period of isolation, in which the country had minimal involvement in international affairs. After the war, the united states were well and truly involved in international relations again, this led to a rise of Xenophobia across the nation, both in government and in ordinary Americans. The USA, as a distinctly capitalist government, have always had opposing principles to that of communists regimes, so when the end of the war led to the creation of a new global superpower that was ruled by a communist government, The USSR, the US government was concerned that the ever expanding reaches of communist ideologies would infiltrate the nation and corrupt the minds of the American people. The purpose then of this comic book was to respond to the spread of communism by instilling a fear of communists into the American people, creating a negative image of communism and what America would look like under communist rule. The USA has had a long history of anti-communism prior to WW2, for example, the mass deportation and prosecution of American socialists during the years following WW1. The end of WW2 led to a second “Red Scare” which would come to last decades by virtue of the Cold War.
This comic strip was produced in the formative years of the Cold War, “Is This Tomorrow? America Under Communism” was published in 1947 by the Catechetical Guild Educational Society, based in St. Paul, Minnesota. It was written by F. Robert Edman and Francis Mcgrade and the art was done by Charles M. Schulz. Catechetical teaching refers to catholic religious education, as such, the catechetical Guild of St. Paul is a Catholic Organisation that produced educational materials for Catholic children. The leader of the organisation was Father Louis Gales, who created the very successful Catholic Digest, which is still being published to this day. This comic therefore had the target audience of catholic children as well as catholic communities. Since before WW2, The Catholic church was already involved in the anti-communist movement in America, which was due to the increase of immigration of Italian Catholics who were seen to have more radical political views than the more conservative Irish Catholics. By the start of the start of the war, the conservative Catholics in the church held most of the power, so when the war ended most Catholics already had a negative view of communism.
In the introduction of the comic, its apparent purpose is stated, “TO MAKE YOU THINK!”. It states the large numbers of the communist party members in the united states and that they are already in positions of power. The fictional story that follows focuses on the USA during a catastrophic drought which leaves the US weak. The communists are shown to adopt racial, ethnic and religious hatred of different organisations. The tactics used by the communists during the takeover in the story seem to mirror those of rise of the Nazi’s in Germany in the 30’s, riots leading to national emergencies resulting in terrorist attacks which kill the leaders of government. The Catholics in the story suffer greatly in the revolution, members of the church are killed for trying to stop the communists and a mass persecution of Catholics begins. This sort of anti-communist propaganda was actually very common after the war, it uses historical examples of similar events to make its point. The comic appealed to a mass audience as many would recognise the symbols used in the comic from school or from news headlines. The authors of this comic used the Catholics’ fear and anxiety of being a minority in a mostly protestant government , as well as the long history of the prosecution of Catholics across Europe, to instil fear into its readers.
To know the purpose of trump’s campaign slogan during his presidential election, we must first look at the ideology that trump holds. Donald Trump has stated many times that he is a “total nationalist”. A nationalist is someone who strongly identifies with his own country and vigorously supports its interests, especially to the exclusion or detriment of the interests of other nations. The purpose then of this slogan is to gain support from voters by appealing to their nationalistic views. During the 2016 election campaign, there was a large majority of Americans who believed that the country was in decline. The slogan became a huge pop culture phenomenon and the famous red “Make America Great Again!” Hats went on to sell millions. Both his supporters and people who have opposed him have used the slogan for their own means and countless parodies have been made of the slogan. The slogan was created by Donald Trump himself in the lead up to the start of his presidential campaign, A similar slogan was used in the 1980 presidential campaign when Ronald Reagan coined the phrase “Let’s make America great again” to which Trump said he had never heard before and that “I(Trump) don’t like it(Reagan’s slogan) as much. With this campaign, Trump did not really have a specific target audience but rather it was more of a “backshot” approach to his message where he attempted to influence anyone and everyone that would listen to him. In studies done on Trump’s voters, it was found that most did not go to university( voters were 65% less likely to vote for him if they had a degree) , most live in parts of the USA with a lot of racial resentment , most are men , most are over the age of 30 , most have a low income and they are mostly white or English-speaking Hispanics . By using the phrase “Make America Great Again!” he is saying to his voters that America, which was once a great nation, is now a punching bag for other countries such as China and Mexico. With just these four words Donald trump was able to garner the support of millions around America. The reason this slogan is so powerful is because of the last word “Again”. Using “Again” invites a with-us-or-against-us reaction, you can either question whether America was ever great or assert that America is still great, or you accept the slogan and support trump in his goals.
Overall by comparing the historical evidence to the contemporary, we can see that propaganda is just as successful today as it was seventy years ago. The same methods are still being successfully employed to influence people today and with technology, trying to discern whether something is or isn’t propaganda is becoming even harder.