Rules for Recognizing a Tyrant’s Propagandists

I am going to show you a short clip of Tucker Carlson, on February 16th, interviewing a supposed retired U.S. Army colonel who, like Carlson, is cheering for Vladimir Putin to regain control of the former Soviet slave states, and ultimately to establish dominance over all of Europe. Why do I describe Carlson’s wishes this way? Because everything Carlson and his supposed U.S. military guest are saying, and in particular their way of framing it, conforms to the basic rhetorical strategy of a sophistical propagandist for tyranny, so perfectly so that it might be useful to use this brief exchange as a model for demonstrating how one may recognize when a speaker’s aim is to justify tyranny and legitimize oppression.

Here is the interview clip:

Rules for Propagandizing in Defense of Tyranny:

1. Dismiss any arguments against the tyranny you are defending out of hand, without a hearing, by way of mockery, sarcasm, and ad hominem, in order to circumvent the need for any rational explanation of how those arguments are wrong.


Lackey 1: “Do you find it interesting that Biden is saying ahead of time we have a moral obligation to do this, ’cause ‘for some reason,’ but when we do it, it’s gonna make everything more expensive for you, Mr. and Mrs. America?” 

Lackey 2: “Well, President Biden gave us a profound demonstration of his infinite ignorance of foreign affairs and especially Russia.”

To elide the entire historical context of the Cold War, the long-term American investment in supporting the independence of the former Soviet slave states, and Putin’s open and frequently stated intention of reestablishing Russia’s position on the world stage by reestablishing Russia’s Soviet-era territorial claims, and to dismiss all of that with a snarky “for some reason” or a hyperbolic “infinite ignorance” is a blatant assault on everything that used to be indicated by the term “free world” as Americans and other Western people have consistently employed the term for a century.

2. Assert as forcefully as possible, with all the matter-of-factness you can muster, that there is no reason in the world for anyone to oppose or fear your tyrant.


L2: “There are no grounds for hostility between us and Russia, no grounds for conflict between us and Russia. But he [Biden] has nevertheless managed to cultivate conflict and bad will.” 

No grounds? An ongoing effort to subvert U.S. society and politics through propaganda and digital warfare, an endless series of direct warnings and threats against a military alliance in which the U.S. is a leading member, flagrant violations of international law, the assertion of increasingly dictatorial and aggressive authority over a country possessing a nuclear arsenal capable of wiping out the planet — are these “no grounds” for hostility and conflict? 

And this same sophistical claim, as Carlson and Colonel Bootlicker frame it, leads to Rule 3.

3. Rhetorically identify the tyrant with his country, thereby granting the tyrant’s own preferred view, and thus allowing one to frame the tensions between your nation and the tyrant as indicating an illegitimate or unfair treatment of the tyrant’s country and its people.


L2: “…no grounds for conflict between us and Russia…. [Emphasis added.] Half the population of Russia was alive, or born, during the time that Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union. They tend to look at Ukraine almost the same way we look at Texas. 

L1 (nodding): “Right.”

L2: “In eastern Ukraine, the population is so thoroughly Russian, they have many relatives just on the other side of the border.”

This same argument, in its essence, could be used to make the case for the re-annexing of the entire Soviet bloc which in fact is Putin’s precise intention. Does having a fallacious view of history, based on having been educated during an era when your government education system was controlled by communist totalitarians, justify continuing to believe the lies of tyrants?

And how does the fact that many Russians have relatives in Ukraine justify Putin’s aggression toward Ukraine, anymore than the fact that many Canadians have relatives in Florida would justify a Canadian attack aimed at annexing the “snowbird” state — unless, of course, we begin with the assumption that the West, toward which Ukraine is leaning, is truly the enemy of the Russian people, which is patently false, but precisely what Putin’s propaganda regime needs to inculcate within Russia to justify his expansionist, anti-West tyranny.

There is no hostility or conflict between the West and the Russian population, except to the extent that the population allows itself to serve Putin’s lies and aggression. The hostility and conflict is between the West and Putin, and any rhetorical effort to conflate the Russian people or nation with this one particular tyrant is perfect propaganda for Putin, who, like all tyrants, is eager to sell the very same lie both at home and abroad.

4. Moral equivalency regarding national interests, used to create sympathy with the tyrant by suggesting that thwarting his aggressive and unjust aims is no more legitimate than thwarting the reasonable aims of non-tyrannies.


L2 (in a non sequitur cleverly placed immediately after the nonsense about the Russian population believing Ukraine is rightfully theirs): “But we have consistently failed to acknowledge their legitimate security interests in Ukraine. They will not tolerate Ukraine becoming a platform for NATO, to potentially threaten Russia. And whether we like it or not or believe it, they see NATO as anti-Russian and a threat.”

Notice that, having conflated Putin with the Russian people (the dictator with his subjugated masses), Colonel Kremlin proceeds to spout Putin’s exact line of fear-mongering propaganda about NATO while ascribing it to “them,” i.e., the Russian population. Moral equivalency arguments are always garbage, but they are more rhetorically effective on the weak-minded — and no one alive today is weaker of mind than Tucker Carlson’s regular audience — if you can create the illusion that you are describing different societal “worldviews,” rather than merely opposing discoverable truth with a tyrant’s lies.

Since when have false fears about a threat that does not exist qualify as “legitimate security interests”? The legitimacy of those “concerns” (i.e., Putin’s lies) is precisely what is at issue, which the propagandists carefully avoid by way of conflating Russia with Putin and then employing moral equivalency arguments to rationalize Putin’s lies by ascribing them to the Russian population as a whole. As though Putin were the legitimate and true representative of Russia, rather than a corrupt and murderous usurper of the Russian state.

5. Blame any violence instigated by the aggressive tyrant on those who failed to understand his country’s “legitimate interests and concerns.”


L2: “So I think that his [Biden’s] remarks today probably make it inevitable that the Russians will intervene in Ukraine.”

Again, notice the deliberate avoidance of Putin’s name, and the description of Putin’s intended and long-planned assault on a sovereign country as an act by “the Russians.” Furthermore, notice the description of an unprovoked attack as an “intervention.” Intervention between what and what? (Between Ukrainians and their own national sovereignty, perhaps?)

And notice, above all, the absurd claim that Joe Biden’s comments “probably make it inevitable.” In other words, the propagandist prepares an excuse for his master in advance. This will not be an unprovoked attack by a tyrant, you see. It will be an unavoidable outcome — a fate forced upon the poor misunderstood Russian people — resulting from the U.S. president’s “infinite ignorance of foreign affairs,” and his failure to appreciate the “legitimate security interests” of the “Russian population.” This has been Putin’s main tactic all along, of course. Claim that the West is forcing him to do this, that of course he wanted peace and security for Ukraine, but the West, by failing to protect Russia, has put him in the unpleasant position of having no choice but to occupy and enslave a neighboring country. Colonel Pravda and his welcoming host have got their talking points down perfectly.

6. Redefine morality as capitulation.


L1 (in full squeaking and squinting teenage whiner mode): “We’re told that we should care about this because Ukraine is somehow a democracy, but Ukraine is not a democracy, the opposition leader’s under arrest, and opposition media have been banned. So what is the moral justification for weighing in to support an autocracy? I don’t get it.”

L2: “Well, there is no moral justification for our interest in Ukraine, other than as an honest broker to offer our assistance to Moscow and Kiev to find a solution that both Moscow and Kiev can live with.”

L1: “Right.”

In this situation, one side, Ukraine, is a small sovereign country trying to manage its own internal affairs and forge a reasonable path forward in a growing relationship and conformity with Europe and its democratic norms, while the other side is an aggressive tyranny moving rapidly away from European democratic norms and toward one-man totalitarian rule, and actively seeking to overthrow the government of that small sovereign country and prop up a puppet regime in its place. Under these conditions, according to Tucker, Schmucker, and their KGB hero, the only “moral justification” for U.S. involvement is in the role of signing ceremony facilitator, as Kiev has its ass handed to Moscow in exchange for Mr. and Mrs. America getting to keep their gas prices low.

To define Ukraine as “an autocracy,” while simultaneously depicting Putin’s self-appointed lifetime presidency as the legitimate government of a non-hostile partner with whom the West has no real conflict, may be the most egregious duplicity in Carlson’s entire pack of lies, not merely because the hypocrisy of this comparison is an outrage against moral logic, but also for this deeper reason, one which gets to the heart of Carlson’s dependence on the sheer stupidity and historical ignorance of his audience: This Putinesque depiction of Ukraine blithely assumes that Ukraine’s shaky political system may be understood as its defining reality rather than as evidence of a country in the process of development, and in particular it condemns Ukraine’s current condition without reference to its having had barely three decades to rebuild its society after generations of decimation and oppression by successive tyrannies, primarily the Soviet tyranny Putin seeks to revive, and without reference to the extreme duress under which the Ukrainian rebuilding has taken place, with a hostile nuclear giant continually threatening and deliberately undermining its efforts, and having already re-invaded Ukraine’s sovereign territory in 2014.

7. Claim that your position in favor of the tyrant is just universal common sense that everyone agrees with.


L2: “President Biden acts as though Russia’s [read Putin’s] interests are irrelevant, that Russia [read Putin] has no role to play. Well Russia [read Putin] is about to demonstrate that we are powerless in Eastern Europe to stop them [read Putin], and I do not see any evidence for this overwhelming support around the world for sanctions against Russia [read the Putin regime], over something that most people [read China and alt-right Putin worshippers] rightly regard as a matter of national security interest to Russia.” 

L1: “Yeah. He’s a bloviating child, he has no idea what he’s talking about.”

To state the obvious, every word of that screed from Colonel Shoeshine is a direct translation of a Putin speech. The fact that the entire world, minus tyrannies and alt-right populists, is in fact condemning Putin’s act of war, and rallying behind sanctions, and that there are spontaneous protests around the world, including most bravely within Russia, proves the falseness of the whole diatribe, which is pure intimidation founded in the fallacy of argument from majority opinion — “Most people believe tyrants should be allowed to invade their neighbors, so if you don’t agree, you are in the minority position and therefore a bloviating child who has no idea what you are talking about.”

To summarize these seven rules for recognizing a tyrant’s propagandists, as demonstrated by Tucker Carlsonikov and Colonel Borscht (U.S. Army Lunatic Brigade):

Not a single word spoken between these two clowns bears any resemblance to political discourse from an American point of view. On the other hand, every word of it would fit perfectly as the script of a fake panel discussion on Russian state television this week — because that is exactly what it is

If you are still watching Tucker Carlson or any of his allies and favored guests, know that you are part of Putin’s war machine, and serving his interests with every cell left in your rapidly shrinking brain. Not Russia’s interests. Putin’s, and his alone.

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