Reagan proclaimed that the world was on the precipice of “a new era in human history,” one that would bring “peace and freedom for all.” Communism was crumbling, just as fascism had before it.
Liberal democracies would soon encircle the globe, thanks to the innovations of Silicon Valley.
We especially need to grapple with the fact that today’s right wing has taken advantage of a decades-long effort to decentralize our media.
That effort began at the start of the Second World War, came down to us through the counterculture of the 1960s, and flourishes today in the high-tech hothouse of Silicon Valley.
Roosevelt’s cabinet sought advice from a group of intellectuals calling themselves the Committee for National Morale.
The Committee had been founded in the summer of 1940 by a historian of Persian art named Arthur Upham Pope, who brought together a number of America’s leading thinkers, including the anthropologists Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson, psychologists Gordon Allport and Kurt Lewin, and journalists Edmond Taylor and Ladislas Farago.he Goliath of totalitarianism will be brought down by the David of the microchip,” Ronald Reagan said in 1989.He was speaking to a thousand British notables in London’s historic Guildhall, several months before the fall of the Berlin Wall.The same technologies that were meant to level the political playing field have brought troll farms and Russian bots to corrupt our elections.The same platforms of self-expression that we thought would let us empathize with one another and build a more harmonious society have been co-opted by figures such as Milo Yiannopoulos and, for that matter, Donald Trump, to turn white supremacy into a topic of dinner-table conversation.Members of the Committee joined many American intellectuals in subscribing to the views of the anthropologist Franz Boas, who believed that cultures shape the personalities of their members in predictable ways.Germans, they thought, tended toward rigidity and an affection for authority, hence Hitler’s famously bureaucratic Nazi regime was a natural extension of the German character.In the years before the Second World War, Americans were mystified as to how Germany, one of the most sophisticated nations in Europe, had tumbled down the dark hole of National Socialism.Today we’d likely blame Hitler’s rise on the economic chaos and political infighting of the Weimar era. When Hitler spoke to row upon row of Nazi soldiers at torch-lit rallies, the radio broadcast his voice into every German home. They are living in a Nazi dream and not in the reality of the world.Americans were more open, individualistic, expressive, collaborative, and tolerant, and so more at home in loose coalitions.Whatever kind of propaganda medium the Committee promoted would need to preserve the individuality of American citizens.