NOTE: Today, I am launching Politics Monday, following the PBS NewsHour model, kicking off my blog week with posts relating to government. My Wildcard Weekend post was a book review. Coming up: Travel Tuesday, Wellness Wednesday, Family Friday.
Inauguration night’s Celebrating America television program featured Tom Hanks’ earnest declamations about democracy, inspiring songs from Springsteen and Bon Jovi about better days ahead, and touching vignettes from first responders, children volunteers, and other pandemic heroes. It was both corny and moving, from Hanks’ Lincoln Memorial opening to Katy Perry’s Firework fireworks.
Something about the production felt both familiar and a little uncomfortable, but it wasn’t until I saw this headline in the British newspaper, The Independent, that I understood why.
Biden’s inauguration concert a safe, soothing tribute to anti-fascism.The Independent
It made the hairs on my neck stand up.
American public relations was my father’s USIA work overseas
Celebrating America was exactly the type of program about American democracy that my father, Robert C. Amerson, would have shared with foreign audiences during his career with the United States Information Agency (USIA).
The Smith-Mundt Act of 1948 authorized the State Department, USIA, and the Voice of America (VOA) to exercise “public diplomacy,” telling the truth, painting a convincing picture of America, and explaining our motives in a manner that combatted Russian propaganda. It was the Cold War, and America was vying with the Soviet Union for world domination.
Truth can be a powerful weapon.Smith-Munda Act of 1948
But the same products were prohibited in the USA
USIA told good stories about our country, like a film about Wilma Rudolph, the Black track and field athlete who won three gold medals at the 1962 Rome Olympics during my father’s Italian assignment.
It seems a shame that Americans will never see it, but USIA’s enacting legislation prohibited the domestic dissemination of its materials.Robert C. Amerson journal entry,
Aiming the propaganda machine toward our own citizens was not permitted. The chilling example of the Nazis controlling Germany by saturating the airwaves with Hitler’s demonic messaging was a cautionary tale, and America’s effort needed to stand in contrast to the USSR’s propaganda machine.
Apart from Freedom of Information law access, the prohibitions of the Smith-Mundt Act still stand.
And now we’re selling democracy to americans
The Trump administration took America on a steep slide down a slippery slope into rage-filled self-interest that culminated in the January 6 attack on the Capitol. Giving his inauguration address standing where domestic terrorists had stood, President Biden included the word “democracy” ten times in his Inauguration Address — five times in just the first ten lines — and he closed by exhorting us to work together.
And together, we shall write an American story of hope, not fear. Of unity, not division. Of light, not darkness. An American story of decency and dignity. Of love and of healing. Of greatness and of goodness.President Joe Biden
The evening’s program continued these themes, said The Independent, “highlighting from their very inclusion just how fragile those ideals had become beneath Trump’s fraudulent thumbs.”
Much of the show resembled a public health warning about fascism.The Independent
I am proud. I am concerned. I am conflicted.