In 2016, Jason Stanley published "How Propaganda Works," and we haven't been able to stop seeing it in action. Specifically, we keep seeing authoritarians and propagandists deliberately co-opt their opposition's language in order to disguise their own motives while undermining their detractors, from 2016's "clean" coal, to woke-washing in 2019, to "economic deforestation" and "transportation fairness" in 2020, to calling climate activists "colonialists and would-be slave masters" in 2022, to Alex Epstein's supposed embrace of MLK Jr in 2023.
At this point, they're even having to recycle worn-out phrases as people catch on to their deliberate deception. For example, back in 2020 when talking about the fact that RealClear's founders' intention in 2000 was to provide "ideological diversity," we could point to various sources explaining how it's "not a thing" and "code for granting fringe right-wing thought more credence."
So now, they're trying the same exact thing, but with a slightly different phrase: "Viewpoint Diversity." According to the anti-LGBTQ+ hate group Alliance Defending Freedom’s “Viewpoint Diversity Score” propaganda, “all Americans benefit when powerful corporations respect free speech and religious freedom." But of course "religious freedom" means, to paraphrase, 'the freedom to force my religion on you and the freedom of major corporations to do whatever religious extremists demand, such as restrict abortion healthcare access or provide services to hate groups but not LGBTQ+ communities.'
If that's not an obvious enough example for you, here's one that's impossible to miss. In response to criticism over the United Arab Emirates inviting Bashar al-Assad to the COP28 climate summit it's hosting this year, a COP28 spokesperson told the Financial Times that
“COP28 is committed to an inclusive COP process that produces transformational solutions. This can only happen if we have everyone in the room.”
Aww, how nice! They just want to be "inclusive"! Who could possibly argue against a core pillar of progressive anti-racist acronym jargon featured in so many post-George Floyd racial training seminars on diversity, equity, and inclusion?
Well, for starters, the people al-Assad killed would probably have a choice word or two for the UAE, if they weren't dead. Because you know who's not going to be in the room when Syrian president Bashar al-Assad is present? The 126,000+ Syrian people that he and his regime committed war crimes against, who have no say in the current "normalisation" propaganda campaign to allow al-Assad to escape justice for the atrocities he's directed.
And obviously the unnamed COP28 spokesperson defending the UAE's decision to invite al-Assad knows that no one is going to accept that "inclusive" excuse. While critics of "wokeness" may allege it's brainwashing that destroys critical thinking, obviously no one is going to see the word "inclusive" being used to describe a war criminal and think 'Oh, well, that's fair! I can't complain about that without being a hypocrite.'
So why bother? Because they had to say something and obviously the truth wouldn't do, so by calling it "inclusive," they can at least cheapen a word their ideological compatriots are arguing is hollow and meaningless to begin with.
Authoritarians and propagandists attack terms like "inclusive" when they are being used against them, calling it an ideologically-driven excuse for discrimination (against the powerful). But at the same time, they use these terms themselves in a defensive capacity, specifically in order to weaken the attacks against them.
They call “woke” terms empty political posturing, and then use those very same words explicitly for their empty political posturing, essentially proving their otherwise false allegations with their own deceptive behavior.
It's a deliberate strategy to muddy the waters of the public discourse, confuse those barely paying attention, and exhaust those who are, with an endless stream of lies to filter out.
All we can do is try and make sure it backfires.