Framing Exploration: Nazis in America

By Stephen, 13 August, 2017

A variety of flavors of American white nationalism are on the rise. The Republican President has waffled about how evil Nazis are, often comparing them to the people protesting them. The racism-apologist frame is that this is a free-speech fight. That people giving Hitler's sieg heil salute and Americans who oppose them, if they get into a brawl, are equally at fault.

The Free Speech Elephant

Free speech is somewhat the "elephant" of George Lakoff's Don't Think of an Elephant framing advice. It's good to avoid that frame when possible. When others use that frame, active listening means recognizing it but look for contradictions within the conservative perspective, perhaps centered around the idea that the generation that fought World War II was the Greatest Generation. If so:

Our grandparents would have beat the living shit out of Nazis marching through our streets. Americans coming home from World War II who were Republicans or Democrats wouldn't have noticed their party affiliations if they saw a "sieg heil" in our streets. So now we believe in free speech even for Nazis, but every one of us has to find our voice.

This hopefully harmonizes with a lot of Trump-voter values — a feeling that kids these days are too soft, that past generations would actually have dealt with Nazis rather than getting tripped up with free speech for people who are obviously enemies and obviously would not extend it to you. Reminding them that when America was proud, we were not like Trump.

The Progressive Frame

It's important to start with goals and audience. Not all conservatives are confused about Nazis, so for these marches, we are not trying to turn conservatives into liberals, but trying to get them to either fix their party or abandon it. To make it impossible for them to maintain the coalition that got us here, where "responsible" business Republicans and Birthers were one big happy party. A key goal is to put pressure on the Republican Party to choose its responsible wing and dump the "Alt-Right" wing, or lose the responsible wing.

Effective team-building or redefining often involves a request. There are Nazis in the streets. Ask everyone to get their voice out there, to take a side. It's quite possible for Republicans to side with the many conservative voices appalled at Nazis in our streets, and this is probably a good place to start. Messages can be sent up the chain: Orrin Hatch has said "we should call evil by its name." Now we ask him to demand that Trump call out evil, or that he abandon Trump. Choose a side, are you with the torch-carrying mob that Heil's Hitler? Not all conservatives want to see America become this mob, but you have to choose a side.

I like "not all conservatives." Based on a phrase used very annoyingly, in this liberal's view, by whiny men to defend themselves and not care about women. But it resonates with many conservatives: individual rather than group responsibility resonates, plus I hope the phrase will sound like internal to their team, not an outside attack.

Example poll that disengages their frame

If Nazis marched through the streets and gave a Heil Hitler salute in our grandparents' days, Americans of every stripe would have beaten them half to death. Today we are a gentler nation that believes in free speech rights for everyone. What do you think:
* It's ok to let Nazis march. Only arrest the ones who commit acts of violence.
* Our grandparents were right.
* They can march. But every one of is responsible to take a stand and, in Senator Orrin Hatch's [R] words, "call evil by its name." You have to take a side.

More resources:
Messengers: Prominent Republicans distance themselves from Trump's tepid response to Charlottesville violence