In today’s political landscape, we face a battle unlike those fought by our ancestors just decades ago. It’s a battle where fear and deception are wielded as tools to manipulate and control. Understanding this is crucial for Democrats, independents and progressives aiming to counter conservative strategies effectively. 

We often believe citizens are primarily concerned with “kitchen table issues,” like healthcare, education, job security and affordable housing. While these concerns are valid, the reality is more complex. The effects of inflation touch some of us more deeply than others. 

While some struggle with the price of gas and milk, others debate which vacation destination to choose. This disparity isn’t because our worlds are different but because our values are. 

Many of those most affected by inflation are people experiencing poverty, working class, or college students. Their income doesn’t allow them to anesthetize or distract from what the global vacationers are distracted by.

It’s entirely possible that while many of the working class need fuel, they don’t necessarily need it at the same rate they need milk. Many in Gen Z and Gen Alpha drink milk at much lower rates than Millennials and Gen X.

Why is this important?

Because talking and phrasing things this way (“kitchen table issues”) is rhetorical malfeasance. It is as though we are telling people what their problems are by deflection. A deflection is a distraction and a distraction is a decoy.

Many of us unknowingly fall for decoys and distractions that have long been part of the political framework. We confuse discomfort for survival threats due to masterful rhetoric that tells us to acquire things that aren’t actually affecting our survival.

Decoys and strawmen are designed to divert attention. For instance, when we go fishing, the bait isn’t the fish’s meal; it’s the decoy.

Who benefits from a political decoy? Those who wish to mislead. 

There’s a saying: “A lie can travel halfway around the world before the truth can put its shoes on.” This happens because we often seek the easiest, most comfortable explanations, which are usually the most misleading. 

When a liar offers you a decoy, it distracts you from the truth by feeding your creature-comfort tendency.
For example, “Biden is too old to lead the country” is a decoy because it focuses on his age rather than his performance. Decoys and strawmen divert attention from real issues.

As in the fishing example, the bait suggests a meal rather than an “invitation” to dinner. Politically, decoys like “Biden is too old to lead” distract from fundamental questions about job performance.

This diversion is strategic, preying on our desire for comfort and easy answers.

The focus on Biden’s perceived feebleness is a prime example of a rhetorical decoy. This tactic elevates the seduction of a debate performance— what I call a “debait” performance— over actual job performance. 

The emphasis is shifted from substantial accomplishments and governance to surface-level perceptions designed to mislead and distract. By doing so, the public is encouraged to evaluate leaders based on their debate performance rather than their real-world effectiveness. 

The “debait” performance is a spectacle meant to attract attention and create a false sense of competence or incompetence. It’s a show designed to play on emotions rather than present factual evaluations.

By focusing on Biden’s voice or appearance in a debate, detractors divert attention from his policy achievements and the substantial work being done. 

The real questions are: How is the job being performed? Are the policies effective? Is there a positive impact on the nation? 

The distraction by “debait” performances undermines the importance of these questions, replacing them with trivial assessments meant to deceive and manipulate. 

After Biden’s debate performance, many progressives took the bait and publicly expressed anxiety, saying, “Oh, he let us down.” However, no one suggested the next day that he was too old to report to work. 

This highlights the distraction’s true purpose: to create doubt and divert focus from substantive achievements. Trump’s rhetoric provides another prime example of this tactic.

When he declares, “I’m the least racist person in the room,” what’s the decoy? It’s to cite evidence of this in an effort to impeach him. 

Why is it a distraction? Because it’s essentially unprovable in the context of a debate but it does get the voting citizen to consider its plausibility. It is a distraction because he wants to serve himself up as noble— the most noble.

What is the remedy? To counter the decoy with a maneuver that puts the attention on him in a way he didn’t anticipate. 

Counter his statement with a question, “Are you saying your wife is more racist than you?”

This is a strategic, Tai Chi-type move. Use your attacker’s energy against them; thus, they injure themselves rather than you. 

This is the essence of seductive rhetoric— presenting a statement that sounds noble and irrefutable, designed to lure in the audience and deflect scrutiny. It is an age-old tactic: elevate oneself by asserting a grand, moral high ground, while the true intention is to obscure and distract from more pressing, tangible issues.

As progressives, our compulsion to tell the truth is noble, but it must be exercised with wisdom. Not every truth is the necessary truth to rally for at the moment; it needs to be the right moment.

We must also learn “How to Stand Up to a Dictator.”

With this, we build better strategies to consciously respond on our terms when malicious news cycles and algorithms exacerbate the problems of fear and manipulation. This context is crucial for understanding how authoritarian figures use media as a tool for manipulation rather than education. 

Authoritarians don’t engage in traditional political gamesmanship; they use media exclusively as a manipulation tool to advance their authoritarian evangelizing. This reality necessitates a different kind of warfare— one that is not about matching lies with truth in a head-on collision but about strategically choosing which truths to highlight and when to highlight them. 

This particular battle is not just about presenting facts but about crafting a narrative that resonates emotionally and intellectually with the public. The truths we champion must cut through the noise and reveal the deeper manipulations at play.
It is about showing the public how they are being deceived and what’s at stake if they continue to be swayed by seductive rhetoric. 

The urgency of our current political climate demands that progressives adopt a more strategic approach to truth-telling. We must be mindful of the timing, context and broader narrative we contribute to.

Our goal should be to educate, illuminate and inspire critical thinking, all while staying grounded in the economy of being— valuing authenticity and intentionality over reactionary impulses.

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