In the 1930s, Soviet apparatchiks in Stalinist Russia coined the phrase, "agitprop". The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines agitprop as political propaganda promulgated chiefly in literature, drama, music, or art and goes on to provide us the Russian etymology of the word — a truncated combination of agitatsiya (agitation) and propaganda.
The political theater of agitprop served two important purposes to the Soviets: first, to inform, in a heavy-handed way, the populace about what (and more importantly how) they should be thinking about domestic and international events; second, to distract the masses from the general squalor of their lives.
Although the Soviets coined the phrase that stays with us today, this potent combination — teaching "right thinking" and distracting the masses — has a long and dishonorable history in the course of human civilization. Imperial Rome used "bread and circuses" to the same effect.
These are the thoughts that crossed my mind recently when Chicago officials trumpeted their own municipal version of an ordinance already in effect in Cook County, Ill. — one designed to obstruct federal immigration officials from doing their jobs in identifying and removing alien criminals from the United States. According to the Chicago Tribune, the city ordinance "would allow city police to turn over to federal agents undocumented immigrants who are wanted on a criminal warrant or who have been convicted of a serious crime, but not others."
The hoopla surrounding the announcement is particularly curious in that Mayor Rahm Emanuel was an extremely senior federal official in the Obama administration (he was the White House chief of staff) until he resigned to run for mayor. This is an odd way to show his respect for the concept of federal preeminence isn't it? Particularly since the administration's lawsuit against Arizona for wanting to help in enforcing federal immigration law was based on the notion of federal preemption of state and local laws and began while Emanuel was still in the White House.
The timing of the announcement is also puzzling. Violent crime in the city has become so pronounced that Chicago appears to be on its way to claiming the dubious title of "Murder City USA". Here are a few of the horrific highlights:
- June 10: five dead and 35 wounded in weekend violence
- June 17: eight dead and 45 wounded in weekend shootings and stabbings
- June 25: four dead and 30 others wounded
- July 6: three killed, seven wounded since the July 4th holiday
Even more curious was the statement: "This Welcoming City ordinance will make Chicago a national leader in welcoming those who play by the rules." Since when are illegal aliens, especially those picked up by police, "persons who play by the rules"? Seems oxymoronic doesn't it?
But most curious is that this statement about playing by the rules, which could be found in the initial Tribune online article about the announcement of the city ordinance, no longer appears. Could it be that someone in officialdom realized the statement was a non-sequitur of epic proportion and asked that it be retracted? One wonders.
But, in the finest tradition of agitprop, truth and factuality aren't requisites for conveying a message. What's important is that the message impart what the message-makers want the perception of reality to be; and that it obfuscate what they wish to be hidden behind the curtain.