This Week: Deep Propaganda and the Wars on Terror and Drugs


When Donald Trump alarms the world with his calls to put “America First,” which in turn is based on a reliance on raw power and violence, many good-hearted people in the United States get alarmed.  This worries me.  It seems as if many people think that, at some vague and mysterious point in time, the U.S. stance in the world was NOT based on the principle of “America First.”  In a sense, some of the liberals who are totally outraged about Donald Trump are implying that we could “Make America Great Again” if only we could get rid of the current President.  One of my “Quotes” of the Week this week addresses this issue.

This edition of Nygaard Notes takes a small example in a single article in the nation’s Newspaper of Record, the New York Times, and teases out the propaganda that is found there.  The result (I hope!) is a little lesson in how to think about propaganda structures, and how to move away from the individualistic understanding that so many of tend to use when thinking about the world.

It’s important to remember, when resisting the country’s embrace of our darkest nature, that Trump is a symptom, not the disease.  And if we focus our energy on the symptom and fail to treat the underlying disease, we can end up with Mike Pence and, after him, something even worse.

That’s my cheery editor’s note for Nygaard Notes #619!  But wait!  There’s more.

Many, many thanks to those of you who got tired of waiting for a Nygaard Notes Pledge Drive and took the initiative to send in your Pledge of support without being reminded!  The fact is, it’s been far too long since the last Drive.  I’m hoping to run one in the next month or two, as I continue my recovery from various medical issues and the depression that followed in their wake.  Thanks for sticking with me through thick and thin!  Your support has kept Nygaard Notes alive!

Gratefully yours,


“Quote” of the Week: “Trump Can’t Control Trumpism”

Writing in the London Guardian on December 28th, Dutch political scientist Cas Mudde concluded with the following point:

“It is easy to denounce the alt-right, as Democratic – and Republican – leaders did after Charlottesville. But while calling the far right “un-American” might make for good politics, it expresses a blatant and dangerous lack of historical understanding. Populist radical right ideas such as Trumpism have always been widespread within white American society.

“Just as the Republican establishment couldn’t control Trump, Trump can’t control Trumpism. It has been here before him and it will be here after him, because it is part of American political culture and history. The sooner we all realise this, the quicker we can develop an effective strategy to overcome it.”

The essay is headlined “‘Trumpism’ Is Ingrained in White America. When He Goes, it Will Remain.”  Google the headline to read the whole thing.  December 28th Guardian.

Another “Quote” of the Week: “The Left Needs to Learn a Lesson”

This is from an essay on the excellent website Organizing Upgrade.  Socialist Christine Riddiough was responding to Max Elbaum’s article “Left Strategy After Charlottesville.”  Here’s an excerpt:

“If we look back to the situation of the right in 1964, we see a shattered shell, broken by the overwhelming defeat of Barry Goldwater. But the right did not simply pack up and go away. They developed a strategy that looked 16 or 20 years into the future… The left needs to learn a lesson from this—we cannot simply look at the next cycle but at years, perhaps decades ahead. While we can’t know what lies ahead there are some things that we do know. We know, for example, that the demographics of the United States are changing and those demographics—in particular, the increasing proportion of People of Color in this country—have the potential to change US politics. But that’s true only if the left has a strategy to ensure that those communities have a real right to vote and a reason to exercise that vote.”

War on Terror, War on Drugs

I have often made the point that it is very possible to see, when reading a news story, that every single fact is correct, yet the article is all wrong.  Or, at least, wrong in some very important and revealing ways.

Take, for example, a story that appeared on the front page of the December 27th edition of the New York Times.  The headline read “Averting Terror In U.S., at Posts In 70 Countries”.   The story explained that “An estimated 2,000 Department of Homeland Security [DHS] employees … now are deployed to more than 70 countries around the world.”  Why are so many people working in so many countries?  The Times doesn’t say.

On the website of the DHS we are told that “The Department of Homeland Security was formed in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, as part of a determined national effort to safeguard the United States against terrorism.”

Some European countries, the Times tells us, have a problem with U.S. agents running around, which they see as the long arm of the (U.S.) law reaching into their sovereign territories. “But other allies agree with the United States’ argument that its longer reach strengthens international security while preventing a terrorist attack, drug shipment, or human smuggling ring from reaching American soil.”

In September of 2001 George W.  Bush declared that the U.S. would respond to the terror attacks of September 11th by declaring a “War on Terror.”  I believe that this declaration was one of the biggest mistakes made by a President in my lifetime.  Not only did it place the nation on a permanent war footing—since such a war can never be won—but it was also based on the idea that “terror” can be eliminated.  Had we declared the acts to be international crimes rather than acts of “war,” our world would be different today.  No one imagines that we’ll ever live in a world without crime, after all, so no one promises to “eliminate” crime.  Engage with it, limit it, manage it, based on an understanding of what gives rise to it.  We could do this with terrorism.

An earlier and ongoing war, the “War on Drugs,” is equally misguided, as it was based on a similar, and similarly false, idea, which is the idea that forcible prohibition—featuring drug seizures and arrests of drug smugglers—will somehow reduce drug use.  I first wrote about this in 1999, in an essay entitled “How Not to Fight Drug Addiction” (just Google the title).

So how do these two Wars—on drugs and on terror—fit together?  Read on…

Reducing Drug Abuse?

The December 27th New York Times article that I mentioned in the previous essay reports that Homeland Security (DHS) agents ran an operation in Ecuador in December that targeted a suspicious plane, allowing Ecuadoran officials to “arrest seven people and seize more than 800 pounds of cocaine aboard.”  Meanwhile a U.S. Embassy official in Kenya says that “a training program for Kenyan customs officials and its Rural Border Patrol has led to record seizures of narcotics and other smuggled goods.”

The Times reports that “In South Africa, Homeland Security Investigations special agents who are stationed at the United States Embassy in Pretoria have targeted drug smugglers, wildlife traffickers and Nigerian scammers.”

The Times was impressed with “the P-3 surveillance plane [which] may be the Department of Homeland Security program with the longest international reach.” The U.S. “maintains a fleet of 14 such surveillance aircraft; they are sometimes airborne for as long as 12 hours in drug transit zones.  Last year, the P-3 aircrews contributed to 145 drug seizures, helping American and foreign authorities capture a combined 34,108 pounds of marijuana and 193,197 pounds of cocaine, according to Customs and Border Protection records.”

There are two questions that should be asked here.  The first and most obvious question is: Are all these drug busts having the desired effect, which presumably is the reduction of drug abuse in the United States?  The answer is that we don’t really know.  As the London Guardian pointed out in a 2016 article discussing the Nixon-initiated War on Drugs, “… lack of data makes it hard to understand the impact: like most illicit activities, drug production, trade and use is hard to measure accurately. And without knowing baseline values, it’s hard to understand the effect of any given policy – let alone comparing the impact of various policies.”

Having said that, let’s have a look at some of the most-educated guesses that we do have.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse reported in 2015, “According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), cocaine use has remained relatively stable since 2009.”

That report came out three years ago, but according to a recent article in Foreign Policy magazine, it was in August of 2017 that “the Drug Enforcement Agency said that the United States would likely experience in 2018 the highest cocaine supply and usage levels in a decade…”

A couple of months later, in October 2017, the  U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration issued its “2017 National Drug Threat Assessment,” reporting that “Cocaine availability and use have increased significantly, partially due to record increases in coca cultivation and cocaine production in Colombia, the primary source for the cocaine market in the United States.”  Presumably Colombia is one of the 70 countries where the Department of Homeland Security has people fighting the War on Terror, or the War on Drugs, or something.

I mention cocaine first because cocaine busts are possibly the most frequently-reported seizures.  But the same trends appear to be true for illicit drug use in general.  A National Institute on Drug Abuse report, speaking of “Nationwide Trends” in the most recent year I could find, 2015, said “Illicit drug use in the United States has been increasing,” from 8.3 percent of the population in 2002 to 9.4 percent in 2013.

Again, the most obvious question is: Are we reducing drug abuse by trying to reduce the supply of drugs?  The answer appears to be “No.”  And the reason was spelled out by none other than Richard Nixon, who said in the 1971 speech in which he launched the War on Drugs, “as long as there is a demand [for drugs], there will be those willing to take the risks of meeting the demand.”

And the ensuing system, to some extent, acknowledged this reality, so some of the federal spending in the War on Drugs has always been spent on reducing demand.  But the bulk of the spending in recent years “continue to emphasize enforcement, prosecution and incarceration at home, and interdiction, eradication and military escalation abroad,” according to the Drug Policy Alliance.  Then, just last week it was reported that the Trump administration “is proposing a major cut to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, seeking to slash the budget of the agency by 95 percent.”

Anti-Terror, Anti-Drug?

Now, on to Question #2: What do drug seizures have to do with terrorism?  After all, as we saw above, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was created “to safeguard the United States against terrorism.”  And now the DHS has agents in 70 countries (that we know of) who (we are told) are working to prevent “a terrorist attack, drug shipment, or human smuggling ring from reaching American soil.”

What is being reported here—or, perhaps, what is being claimed by DHS and distributed by the Times—is that some number of specific drug shipments have been stopped.  And this is offered as a reason for DHS agents to be employed around the world.

While it is true that terrorist organizations sometimes use money derived from trade in illegal drugs, it is hard to make the case that the misguided War on Drugs is helping the misguided War on Terror meet its stated goals.

Nonetheless, a spokesman for the Drug Enforcement Administration stated the official case in 2014: “Globally, drug trafficking is not just a criminal issue, not just a health and safety issue, it’s a national security issue. Addiction and abuse across the world is funding and fueling insurgents.”  Newsweek Magazine made the point more bluntly with their 2016 headline, “The War on Drugs Is Fueling Islamist Terrorism.”

The argument is that terrorist groups use the proceeds from drug trafficking to finance their activities, producing what is known the “narco-terrorist.”  Such thinking supports what journalist Max Daly, writing in, calls “a much vocalized dream that if only the drug trade can be stopped, so too can the terrorists.”

Security expert Vanda Felbab-Brown of the Brookings Institution has studied this issue and has concluded that “Islamic State, al-Qaeda, and the Taliban are not narco-terrorists.  They are terrorists who simply tax everything in their area—it is very localized.”  A Reuters report from 2016 cites a study by the U.S. analysis firm IHS which underlines the point, saying that “Around 50 percent of the [Islamic State’s] revenue comes from taxation and confiscation, 43 percent from oil and the rest from drug smuggling, sale of electricity and donations.”

So drug smuggling may account for some fraction of 7 percent of the funding of the most prominent international terror group at the moment.

Speaking of the idea that “if you disrupt the drug trade you will defeat terrorists,” Felbab-Brown states that “There is not one example of this happening—be it Peru, Colombia, China, Burma, Lebanon, or Thailand—because they are not bankrolled by drugs.”

Deep Propaganda: Promoting the IC Agenda

In the current moment, we’re hearing a lot about propaganda.  We’re hearing about Russian propaganda aimed at influencing U.S. voters.  We’re hearing about Trump smear campaigns against his enemies.  And of course we hear about fake news.  These are all examples of propaganda, and reporting on such things helps make people aware that there is propaganda all around us, working in various ways to influence how we understand the world.  That awareness is the good news. The bad news is that these are all examples of easy-to-see propaganda, and such a limited focus results in a limited understanding of the phenomenon of propaganda.

In Nygaard Notes I talk about two levels of Propaganda: Overt Propaganda and Deep Propaganda.  What I call Overt Propaganda tends to be specific and conscious.  Examples include Russian attempts to influence elections, or government officials lying to reporters.  Propaganda that is general and unconscious I call Deep Propaganda.  This has to do with the deeper understanding of “how the world works” that already exists in our heads when the Overt Propaganda reaches us.  Deep Propaganda prepares the mental soil in which the seeds of Overt Propaganda are planted.

Threats, Danger, Good Guys, Bad Guys

Nine months ago, then-Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) John F. Kelly gave a speech called “DHS and the Threats to America,” in which he stated that the United States is “under attack every single day. The threats are relentless.”  Among the threats are what he calls “transnational criminal organizations (TCOs),” and they are a threat because of the “vast tonnages of marijuana and hard drugs … they smuggle across our borders to feed both the recreational and addictive U.S. drug demand.”

I’ve spoken in these pages of what I call the core of the reactionary strain of U.S. ideology, which I maintain consists of a powerful pair of ideas that I call Individualism and Competition, or “IC”.  It’s a dog-eat-dog, survival-of-the-fittest, everyone-for-themselves world.  Trumpism is the IC worldview writ large.

The War on Drugs was declared in 1971, and was based in large part on the IC philosophy: The war proposed that “we” would “win” the war by going after the bad guys who were poisoning “us.”  As always, the designations of “us” and “them” were racially coded, and from the beginning the War on Drugs has been used domestically to target poor people, people of color, and immigrants.  The War on Terror plays out in a similar way.

The result of both wars has been untold suffering and failure to reduce either drug use or terror.

The Deep Propaganda highlighted in this issue of the Notes (in the NY Times story) reinforces the ideas of Individualism and Competition.  It’s unlikely that this is the intention of the reporters and editors at the Times.  They’re just repeating conventional wisdom.  And that’s how Deep Propaganda works: It burrows into our heads not because reporters make the argument that it should be believed.  No, they just believe it themselves, which leads them to use it as the basis for their reporting, which in turn forces us to adopt the Propaganda in order for the story to make sense.

Here’s the end result: The Times ran a  report telling us about the Department of Homeland Security having agents working in 70 countries.  This is something that deserves front-page coverage, so kudos to the Times for placing it there.

However, the portrayal of these agents as seekers of justice who are succeeding around the world in their mission to keep the U.S. safe from terror attacks will inevitably produce the result of increasing support for not only the ill-fated War on Terror, but also the ill-fated War on Drugs.  And, as a propaganda bonus (again, not an intended one, at least not intended by the reporter) is that the Deep Propaganda of the Individualistic and Competitive ideology is strengthened, since it is the ideology that forms the basis for the report.

And thus does the ideology of Trumpism get amplified and reinforced by reporters and editors at the nation’s most influential newspaper, a newspaper that otherwise appears to be opposed to the Trump agenda.  This is Deep Propaganda.  And it is dangerous.

Off the Front Page: China “Taking the Lead in Battling Climate Change”

On the inside Business pages of the New York Times of January 3rd appeared the headline, “China Halts Production Of Cars Seen As Inefficient.”  The lead paragraph said, “China is suspending the production of more than 500 car models and model versions that do not meet its fuel economy standards, several automakers confirmed Tuesday, the latest move by Beijing to reduce emissions in the world’s largest auto market and take the lead in battling climate change.”

The Times noted that the ruling was not as strong as it could have been, but is nonetheless “a signal of the government’s commitment to fuel economy.”  This seems like important news to me.  Yet, not only was this article relegated to the inside Business pages, but the story was almost completely ignored by the rest of the agenda-setting media.

A brief search turned up a December 30th article in an automotive website called “Motor Authority” that gave a little important context for this story:

“It’s the first time China has produced such a list to halt production of inefficient cars, though it likely won’t be the final action taken. In September, China announced it will decide on a deadline to ban the sale of new cars powered exclusively by fossil fuels in the near future. China would become the largest country to enact such a ban; the Netherlands, Norway, the United Kingdom, and France have all announced their own fossil-fuel bans. In the United States, California will examine similar legislation in 2018.”

It’s true: Here are some headlines from last summer: “India to Sell Only Electric Cars by 2030”; “France Wants to Ditch Gas, Diesel-powered Cars by 2040”; “Britain Bans Gasoline and Diesel Cars Starting in 2040”.  And this one from June 2016: “Norway to ‘Completely Ban Petrol Powered Cars by 2025’” Neither the Times nor Motor Authority mentioned India, but that country of 1.3 billion people also plans to ban gasoline-powered cars; 2030 is their target.

And, don’t miss that bit about California: The California economy is bigger than the economies of the Netherlands, France, India, and Norway.  In fact, if California were a country, its economy would be the 5th-largest in the world.


The London Guardian reported on New Year’s Day that “For the first time in more than 40 years, the largest source of greenhouse gas pollution in the US isn’t electricity production but transport – cars, trucks, planes, trains and shipping.”  The British paper adds that “Emissions data has placed transport as the new king of climate-warming pollution at a time when the Trump administration is reviewing or tearing up regulations that would set tougher emissions standards for car and truck companies. Republicans in Congress are also pushing new fuel economy rules they say will lower costs for American drivers but could also weaken emissions standards.”

This news about cars replacing power plants as “the new king of climate-warming pollution” also went essentially unreported in this country.