2016, Donald Trump, Framing — March 14, 2017 at 4:41 pm

Why liberals can’t stop spreading conservative messages and retweeting Donald Trump


Or, how liberals helped make America more racist by negating Trump

Now that RyanCare or TrumpCare or LoserCare is out, the obvious has been revealed: Trump voters — the 90 percent of them who aren’t rich — should know that they’re about to get screwed, royally.

If you’re a liberal like me, your urge is to say, “Trump promised you something terrific! It’s a terrific kick all the way up your ass.” Or you’ll retweet one of Trump’s bromides about Obamacare killing kitties along with a stinging rebuke about how “terrific” leaving people with cancer at the mercy of insurance CEOs is.

This would be a classic messaging error that the left makes over and over again, according to cognitive scientist George Lakoff.

Every time you repeat your opponent’s frame, you strengthen it in voters’ minds — even if you negate it.

Did Richard Nixon’s “I am not a crook” or John McCain’s “I am not George W. Bush” persuade anyone?

Probably not even the speechwriter who penned those classic clunkers.

Still, over and over you’ll hear liberals make arguments like, “Paul Ryan says the ACA is in a death spiral. Not true!” These words not only reinforce the right’s frame, they do it before you even get to the argument you really want to make, “The ACA is healthy and more Americans than ever have reliable insurance they can count on.”

Our rebuttals are doing the right’s dirty work.

I’ve always wondered by the left loves to repeat the right’s arguments and it was the first question I asked George Lakoff when I had the chance to speak to him. And the answer comes down to how liberals see the world — as a logic problem that just needs to be neatly solved.

In a logic problem, you lay out the argument to either prove or disprove it. Think of an Algebra proof. Not stating the premise is just sloppy.

Lakoff says this thinking is nurtured by what liberals tend to study in college — social sciences, economics, law.

“What you’ll learn in those courses is what is called Enlightenment reason, from 1650, from Descartes,” Lakoff told Salon‘s Paul Rosenberg. “And here’s what that reasoning says: What makes us human beings is that we are rational animals and rationality is defined in terms of logic.”

It’s that belief that human beings are inherently rational that likely caused liberals to underestimate Trump or at least miss how broad his appeal was to those with a “Strict Father” worldview. You probably think I mean to write “racist” worldviews, if you’re a liberal, but Lakoff told me he thinks race is just 1/20th of Trump’s appeal to “conservative values,” which include “winning” and also comprise hierarchical assumptions about gender, religion and sexuality.

The right has been strengthening their frames of “smaller government” and the “free market” in the minds of Americans for generations so that simple right-wing notions like “tax relief” evoke powerful assumptions that play on notions of race and class.

For decades, Conservatives have employed a much stronger sense of how advertising works and have applied the most effective tool of the art to their never-ending campaign — repetition.

Marketing guru Seth Godin points out that it was sheer power of repetition that made advertising so effective in the first five decades of television. And no one seems to understand that better than super salesman Donald Trump. (I know liberals hate to assign any sort of competency to this corrupt fool, but how else to did a minority of America end up buying this crap?)

Last summer, Lakoff warned the left about the power of Trump’s comic book approach to blasting out conservative tropes.

New research from Sean McElwee and Jason McDaniel finds that “Donald Trump successfully leveraged existing resentment towards African Americans in combination with emerging fears of increased racial diversity in America to reshape the presidential electorate, strongly attracting nativists towards Trump.”

But what if Trump not only leveraged that resentment by stimulated it by repeating his messages over and over and convincing liberals to do the same?

How many times did fact checkers or liberals repeat Trump’s claim about Mexico sending us drug dealers and rapists? By logically negating it, we helped spread and activate the notion in voters’ brains.

How many variations on the implicitly racist/misogynistic/homophobic “Make America Great Again” did you hear the left make, subtly reinforcing the fetishizing of nostalgia that made Trump possible?

And why don’t liberals ever seem able to come up with their own frames that they repeat with the diligence with which the right once screamed “Where are the jobs?”

If everything is a logic problem, once you’ve solved it, you’ve solved it, Lakoff told me. Move on to the next proof.

The belief that voters are completely rational and we just need to list policies that poll well helped bring us Trump. Let’s not repeat those same mistakes.

If you want to understand how framing works, start with this article by George Lakoff and then read everything with his name on it.

  • judyms9

    Lakoff makes a good point about liberals’ messaging reinforcing the GOP framing. Bernie Sanders developed his simple message that was basically indifferent to the right wing, played it all over the country, replayed it as his crowds grew, and still Trump took many of his voters because the GOP had 30 years to smear the daylights out of her. The Dems need ninja candidates who leap out at the last minute and steal the limelight with strong messaging before the smear machine can even warm up.

  • Bob

    Almost 40 years ago the Republicans became a PR firm that services (highly) paying customers rather than a political party. Unfortunately, some within the Democrats tried the same approach. Obama attempted a new direction, but was forced to cooperate with the old guard. If new party leaders emerge and decide to represent a segment of society again it will take time to develop and establish an identity. Until then Democrats will continue mostly as anti-Republicans.

  • disqus_Sd6U4rD71N

    I’m new to your site. I like to know who wrote articles I read. LOLGOP suggests this is not a serious publication which I think it may be. Come on, just publish the author’s name. #IncreaseCredibility

    • The Pink Scarletknell

      An interesting request. Would the author’s comments carry more weight if you knew her “real-world” identity? Or would it cause some to deprecate them for the same reason? Most likely both.

      For my money, what really counts is the totality of LOLGOP’s work. Does it make sense? Can it be verified? (This posting is a good example of verifiability—it links to those being cited so you can a) see that they’re being accurately represented, and b) dig into their work to see whether _they_ are well-founded.)

      I think a commentator’s decision to use pseudonymity is to be respected. Think of how many political writers at the beginning of our country chose to do so. Then think of how many since have made that choice. Let the writer’s words stand on their own; good ones won’t fall down.

      Anyway, I think the article is wise, and I wish all lefties would adopt its suggestions.

  • Joan C. Grim

    The DC Dems have learned nothing from their total failures of the last 8 years. No messaging, no long term strategy, no tangible policy changes, no young progressives visible on the future legislative bench.
    I just received mail from the DCCC asking for money to defend Social Security & Medicare. As if they’ve defended us from Republican ideology & torturous policies, ever.
    Like I said, the Dems failed to even acknowledge that 99% of us want a drastic change from neoliberalism. If they can’t even find the language of populism, how will they develop progressive policy? (and I don’t mean more public-private partnership garbage)

  • smusherface

    People are donating money on Crowdsource and elsewhere to any candidate running against a Republican, even though they don’t live in or near that state, and thanks to Republicans habit of shooting themselves in the foot (with their mouths), several have gotten huge boosts. There are people, younger, intelligent, driven, principled, energized people, many of them women, entering politics and running as Dems. We need to support them in whatever way possible. Dems have the apparatus and are all we realistically have for 2018 and possibly for 2020. Rather than focusing on conservatives who will likely never vote Democratic regardless of populism, messaging or charismatic candidates, or even any detriment they suffer under Trump and the GOP, we need to focus on and energize the many, many independents, liberals and progressives out of the 92.6 million (or 40% of the electorate) who didn’t vote at all in 2016, and who may now be realizing that perhaps that was a mistake. I think many would agree that as bad as they thought Clinton was (and there were problems, though some were blown out proportion), they probably recognize that the autocratic, authoritarian, incompetent, possibly compromised Trump, his ethnonationalist cohorts in the White House and the GOP having nearly totalitarian control is far, far worse. I know I personally would’ve voted for George W. again, or maybe even Cheney or a zombie Nixon, to defeat Trump, who turned out to be as bad, or even worse, than I feared. All are contemptible, but still far better than Trump. It’s not like Dems lost in a crushing landslide, either in the congressional or presidential races. In key states, Clinton lost by as few as 77,000 votes. It is possible, but not until liberals, progressives and anti-Trump independents decide to unite and fight with what we have instead of holding out for something better, going third party or throwing all our energies into converting Trump voters who view even moderate liberal policies as socialism, never mind progressive ones. They’ll be time to rehaul, rehab and de-corporatize the Dem party, and to advance progressive policies later, once the far bigger problem is dealt with. Abandoning core values and the most vulnerable in our society because Trump voters don’t like “identity politics,” while they simultaneously engage in white, Christian identity politics, doesn’t help either and will only loose the Dems a bunch of loyal voters needed to win. Taking on Trump’s strategy is short sighted and likely futile. Working class independents and possibly even moderate Republicans who admittedly voted Trump with reservations at the time of the election, will most likely suffer from his and GOP policies, and at the very least, won’t vote for him or Republicans in 2018 or 2020. There IS an inevitable economic downturn coming between their policies, corporate and Wall Street greed/shenanigans and the Trump/GOP failure to deliver on growth because there’s just no way to reach the unrealistic bar they’ve set when the glass is already 2/3-3/4 full, all of which will give the Dems a boost also. There may even be a bubble economy that develops and bursts (though I sincerely hope not, unlike Republicans I’m not okay with people getting hurt so I can win). And then there’s Russiagate which, even if there’s no criminal charges, will be a cloud over Trump’s administration and many of his actions because there’s too much circumstantial evidence and Trump-Russia ties, including in his administration, for people to just forget – kind of like Benghazi and Email-gate. Especially if they’re continually reminded, which I for one, certainly plan on doing. Please forgive the long winded rant, but as someone who’s tried to engage with Trump voters in various forums and in real life, and bent over backwards to just to see if they’d acknowledge an iota of common ground, I don’t think that’s the answer, though I won’t stop trying. I just think other options may be more successful.