Trump is spouting racist rhetoric popular a century ago, like "racehorse theory" — see Trump Praises Good Genes for Haaretz's comparisons to the Nazi era. Four years along, Trump is trolling progressives into fights with Middle America, still successfully. He is playing a game upon the left and we keep playing his game by his rules.

It's time we learn the rules and counter in a way that wins elections.

Trump trolls progressive upset, and leverages it to separate progressives from voters who don't really care about racism one way or the other.

Quite a lot of the people who are likely to vote for Trump both don't want to be racist and have no idea what "racehorse theory" is. If you haven't studied the early 20th century: how are we going from horses to Nazis? Why are progressives jumping from horses to Nazis? And now progressives say they are racist again.

That's *why* Trump's rhetoric works. It's a mirror image of the old dog whistles: Trump says things progressives will hear as racist and the middle will not, and weaponizes our anger to separate us from the middle. Voters who will be watching relatives dying from COVID as the election approaches, while liberals turn our attention to something angry about racehorses.

George Floyd's murder nearly broke the compact that the Birther-in-Chief in had built: the murder (the video) went too far, the video was more than a dog whistle, and he was losing the votes of lazy lazy lazy "I'm not a racist" people who. But Trump has pulled us off that video, and now we're upset at "racehorse theory" — applause in the video was very scattered when he mentioned it, and Andrew Jackson was a US president on a twenty, right?

The actual racists are long past needing to hear dog whistles, that's not the point, they are not the target — the target is us. Getting back to George Floyd, back to the visceral reality of racism, progressives will find many more allies for a more decent America. We need to find the stories of racism that people can see despite privilege and laziness, stay on those stories, make them the country's focus, and do it fast, the election is weeks away. Don't go where Trump leads.



Using progressive outrage to convince lazy centrists to circle their wagons around Trump
Stephen Mon, 09/21/2020 - 14:35

DRAFT: this article is likely to be changed a bit, comments welcome! Co-creators welcome! I'd love an artist to be involved, and am thinking about creating a video blog.

POPUP for all these blogs: Cognitive Politics explores communication strategies for more hopeful and compassionate politics. Across many issues, the explorations here are generally intended for allies: if you have experienced something yourself, speaking your personal truth is more powerful than the advice here. When an issue is not your personal truth, along with making space for those voices and making sure your anger doesn't drown out more direct anger, this site explores ideas for people willing to do emotional labor to change minds and slowly change elections.

Progressives: when you encounter people using racist memes to disrupt anti-racism education or actions, is it to their political advantage, or are you able to make trolling backfire — can you get more voters following along to be even more curious to learn about anti-racism efforts?

"All Lives Matter" is a strange phrase: the words sound sweet, the intention is not. What was the strategy of the people who introduced this phrase: how do they benefit?

We know the phrase is used to interrupt and distract social media conversations about racism. At a strategic level, what's happening — how do the people who first introduced the phrase benefit beyond squabbles on social media, what was their plan? The phrase is not just a distraction but a calculated distraction: understanding how trolling influences voting, how it morphs energy for change into an “us vs them” fight, is the first step to making abrasive trolling strategies backfire.

The Setup

Progressives tend to discuss the ways that "All Lives Matter" is used as an interruption. It implies a "but" that isn't spoken*... and often the words themselves don't even make sense as they are used. I think a lot of people might recognize this from non-political life as similar to passive-aggressive conversations:

If someone says "you should wash your dishes" and you reply "yeah everyone should wash their dishes" while you walk away, those words are not worthy of careful analysis of language choices — but we get distracted into those analyses all the time.

The Trap

This carefully crafted 3-word phrase, “All Lives Matter,” is more than an interruption. It's also a trap. Every time police brutality is caught on video, a few more people who should have been paying attention years ago finally start to care. People who’ve seen videos and are ready to take their first step to learning more, but who have very little understanding of history or the depth of the issues, walk in the door to the conversation, and hear the catch phrases of the movements. The words "all lives matter" sound true and nice before you take a second step towards learning recent history. The purpose of the phrase is get people taking their first step confused when they’re told “All Lives Matter” is a harmful phrase.

As a political strategy with the goal of effecting change, the right-wing trolls don't matter and solid progressives don't matter, their votes are set. It's people new to the conversation who have the power to sway an issue in one director or another— and as progressives, we lose them at the door when they hear “All Lives Matter” and “Black Lives Matter” and choose the one their life experience to date says is true and good..

If you walk into a house with dirty dishes, "Everyone should do their dishes" sounds good. The words themselves aren't passive-aggressive.

Divided and Conquered

The end result of newcomers latching onto “All Lives Matter” is that anti-racists hear them parrot the phrase, and jump to labeling anyone who says it as racist. This instantly creates a wall between anti-racists and people new to the conversation who come with a good intent. That the newcomers are on the other team. Trolls bombard us with this pretty phrase until we hate them, exactly so that we’ll lash out at someone recently drawn to pay attention who thinks that of course all lives should matter.

Whether new listeners are 16 years old or spent decades ignoring police brutality and racism, they open the door to see the entryway that something needs to change about America’s relationship to Black and Brown lives. And they get attacked at the door, faster than anyone explains the attack. Told they are not welcome, that if they think “All Lives Matter” they are racist.

The trap is sprung: instead of a new person walking into the door with a new perspective and potentially a new desire to vote for change, the new person is immediately attacked because they don’t yet fully understand the entire history of what they have walked into.

That's why this is politics, and not just Twitter bs.

This isn't the only phrase with words whose dictionary definitions sound nice, which is nearly never used according to the actual meaning. These tactics could fail if progressives adjusted: Stop arguing about the dictionary definitions and just make sure that we welcome people who do believe in the dictionary definition of "all lives matter," and get them watching documentaries and reading books and learning more, feeling like new members of the anti-racist team instead of pariahs, and then more votes will shift.


Here are some of my posts trying to talk people out of the trap, and welcoming them to learn more and join the anti-racist team — trying to be conversational, instead of rejecting:
Do All Lives Matter? Aren't we all humans living on this Earth?
Aren't black lives matter activists racist if they disagree that "all lives matter"?
What are some positive ways of expressing that black lives matter separate from all lives matter?
Why is it considered racist to say "I don't believe in race"?


Six great examples that might reach people who are honestly confused. We can let go of talking to entrenched opponents: imagine reaching an 18 year old voting for the first time who wasn't paying attention, and now is listening in, perhaps quietly while you converse with a troll. This 18 year old is actually curious about what is offensive about the obvious three word phrase "all lives matter." When a phrase is used as a distraction to a real conversation, our goal is not really to convince people about phrases and definitely not to argue with trolls: our goal is to create an atmosphere where trolling is counter-productive, where a troll who tries to get someone extremely new to anti-racism distracted and angry and instead that 18 year old gets more curious, feeling like they are on the same journey to learn more that you are on.

Once you're aware that this is a trap, how do you get potential but not really yet anti-racists out of the trap? A step-by-step approach to keeping temperatures down while moving forward on social media:…

Stephen Wed, 06/17/2020 - 16:00

Is it helpful to call someone "complicit"?
Will aggressive statements backfire or help?

Activists argue about how hard-hitting to be: Is reform not enough? Will stronger statements backfire? Do weaker statements betray the cause? If this were a sign for a cause you had not been convinced about, would it reach you?

Sometimes we get caught in those questions, but the problem with this sign isn't putting your heart into it: the problem is "othering" the people who haven't joined us yet.

What if how radical we are is not the central point — in either direction, doesn't matter more radical or less. Instead to speak truth without creating a backfire, you just have to be one with your audience, on the same journey with the people you hope to reach:

Changing "you" to "we" doesn't remove any fire from the sign; it's not weaker or more moderate — that has always been a distracting argument to whether we treat people we're talking with as if they are on the same journey, or if we act like we think we are better than them.

Imagine this sign was about an issue that you don't pay close attention to. If you're not vegan, what if it was a vegan sign? What does it mean if the author uses "you" or "we"?

Cognitive Politics explores framing and effective communications approaches for talking across partisan divides.

Stephen Cataldo Sun, 06/14/2020 - 17:56

Much of America is upset at the looting that has happened in the wake of George Floyd's murder by four police officers. Police have been using chemical agents of some sort — I keep hearing denials that these are tear gas, so apparently some other chemical, to disperse the looters.

You don't disperse looters, do you? Looters disperse themselves. Looters steal things and run away, right? Firing canisters of noxious gas at someone running away with a tv won't stop them running away. Police are supposed to be arresting people who break into stores.

But that is not what police are massed on our streets doing. They are firing rubber bullets and chemical devices into crowds of people. People who loot disperse on their own; people who light fires disperse on their own: the only groups the police are blasting away at with all their munitions are the people trying not to disperse, the people trying to assemble in the streets and be heard.

If you live far from the city centers and aren't witnessing this yourself, please keep that in mind: every rubber bullet and gas canister fired is fired at democracy, by police officers not arresting someone breaking into a business.

Stephen Thu, 06/04/2020 - 12:31

Ezra Klien's asks Why are liberals more afraid of the coronavirus than conservatives? Covid-19 and the complex politics of fear.

What does it mean that conservatives think about politics using the part of their brain that evolved to give us a sense of disgust around possible infections — yet don't fear this virus as much as liberals?

To take a step back from politics, someone might be a "visual thinker" who usually thinks in images, such as using the same neurons that process images to process a math equation.

Parts of our brain are wired to tell us when something is disgusting. Conservatism is hypothesized to involve using the same parts of the brain that we evolved for disease avoidance when thinking about something else.

(1) By that theory, they are no more or less likely to think more about disease itself. Everyone is a visual thinker when they are processing an image. Everyone has intuitions about what is icky when they see something icky. A sneeze is a sneeze.

For example, imagine there is a neighboring country threatening yours militarily. A visual-thinker might have a mental map of where both countries armies are. A disgust-thinker may have an intuition about those armies that feels like being sneezed on, or might feel like it is their body and not just their country being invaded. A sneeze is a sneeze for everyone — but is a foreign military a sneeze, is an immigrant a sneeze?

(2) Media framings are huge. We've been told this is just a flu, told it is a threat from China as if that is relevant and sheltering in place is not relevant. It would be interesting to study conservatives who've been in the room with patients showing symptoms. As we are likely to see millions of cases in the months ahead, Democrats should think carefully about how messaging will be heard by people who hold a moral foundation based on disease avoidance, who've been in the room with someone showing those symptoms thanks to their president. In what direction will those fears be turned?

Read more in Cognitive Politics.

Stephen Thu, 05/21/2020 - 14:18

People are saying it's life vs the economy. That we should let coronavirus keep spreading and sacrifice some our grandparents so that young people can work. Yes. people being unable to work is a disaster in the US. People are living paycheck to paycheck and unlike Europe the government is not coming to the rescue. People are locked up with their abusers. Depression and suicide will increase. Everyone knows, everyone agrees.

But here’s the real question:

Are you willing to let less people die to get the shutdowns over faster?

Italy and Spain have shown us that holding out for freedom as long as possible leads to hospitals collapsing. Then everyone who strutted around begs for a shutdown. And infections rates grow exponentially: wait an extra two weeks and you'll have more than ten times as many cases.

Phrased as above, it sounds like stupid question. But it's also the real question. There is no tradeoff. Let this virus spread and the economy will suffer worse.

How much longer do you have to shut down if your state is stubborn when infection rates rise? Not even Italy or Spain held out this long, but some politicians seem to want to hold out long enough that grocery workers and nurses get so sick that essential services collapse too.

So that’s really the choice: like Italy, Spain or New York, stay open until the hospitals fill up — and then stay shut down a long time to clean up. [So yes, to be clear: the choice is to let less people die and get the economy restarted faster, or let more people die and crash deeper. The second does not sound like a choice anyone should make, but it is a choice that Italy, Spain an Cuomo made, that Fox and many GOP scream we should make, and it a choice ahead of us for many US states.]

Or like California or Washington, shut down earlier and get it done faster. Get rates down quickly and then start testing and case tracking, without grinding health care workers into the ground first, and reopen faster. You can't wish this away: if your country didn't have its act together to test and case track, you are going to shut down.

Take your medicine now and get it over or let more people die so that the shutdown lasts longer and really grinds down the economy. It’s your choice.

My choice to face reality: to start soon enough to keep the shutdown as short as possible, and listen to scientists and not politicians about when it is "possible" to end the shutdown with crashing.

The quote at the top of the page is from Indiana Republican Rep. Trey Hollingsworth, who wants us to end the shutdowns. He's encouraging us to pretend that opening the economy — which would make the US look like Italy, if they didn't shut down, so much much worse than Italy — is making the rounds. It is, to be blunt, a lie or at best a delusion: a country that shuts down their hospitals with a flood of disease will not have a functioning economy. If you care that people don't have jobs, if you don't like the idea of us being dependent on government checks because businesses are closing, then stop listening to politicians and listen to epidemiologists: this could be much much worse, both economically and in terms of lives lost. Hollingsworth has power and listeners, and is encouraging that path.


If you don't like shutdowns, look at Taiwan, an open democracy where scientific expertise and appropriate resources avoided both the deaths and shutdowns the US will face. What can we learn for next time?

Stephen Wed, 04/15/2020 - 21:03

Do you have parents whose favorite media is trying to get them killed, and you still care? Or do you want to create consequences for people who endanger lives, and see them lose the next election? This page is intended as an evolving resource guide for both health information and political information intended to cross the partisan divide.

What is your metaphor?

Right now I'm using:

a classroom, with the kids in the back blaming each other.

This works for our lack of preparedness, for the "China Virus" framing coming from the Whitehouse, for blaming states and governors.

Trump is always trying to blame someone. Imagine yourself as an adult, and you catch Trump shoot a spitball, so he says but Johnny shot a spitball first. You don't sit there arguing with the delinquent which class clown shot a spitball first — it doesn't help your case, your conversations will get lost in the details no one listens to. Just point out that he is trying to blame others, again and again and again.

Share This (suggest more in comments) — Health

I've been thinking about two:

[Health & Relatives focused] There are GOP governors giving the right advice. If people in your life need to keep themselves safe, share — without comment, without making it left-vs-right — talks by people like Governor Hogan.

[Political: Cognitive Dissonance] Constantly go on the facebook pages etc of conservatives and share, without comment, two week old tweets and posts that contradict the current right-wing consensus. Do it without saying anything, imagine implying you are a supporter rather than opponent of whoever you are quoting. Make the cognitive dissidence feel internal to their movement

Share This — Raw Politics

Wonder short tweet thread, Captain Crozier cheered by the people under his command for putting their lives above his career. Recommendation to progressives: share without commenting about Trump. Minimize the length of leap people have to take to appreciate Crozier. Small steps happen, big leaps will be resisted! Just say: "Everyone should see this" or "Captain Crozier's crew cheered him for standing up for their safety!"

Share This — Full Nerd

Hammer and Dance
Coronavirus: Out of Many, One: What the US Federal Government and the States Should Do to Fight the Coronavirus: Great look at history of Spanish Flu, and how life and economics follow competence.

Share This — Other

What is it like being an Asian American in the Coronavirus era.

Stephen Fri, 04/03/2020 - 13:50

Much of California is sheltering at home. With CV19 in an exponential growth curve, this is the difference between jumping off a cliff and not jumping off a cliff. Please follow the guidelines — and also note, we chose not to jump off the cliff. We did the right thing, and most of us get to exchange a bit of cabin fever and economic woes instead of real fever and panic.

To put some broad numbers on it: Without the shutdown, an average Californian would have about a one in a thousand chance of getting CV19 in the next few days — a pretty wild guess but not baseless.* So doing nothing unusual you'd have less than a 1% chance of catching it this month at this rate — except that if everyone else wasn't shutting down, the rate would double and double again every few days, your odds would explode, the hospitals would overflow, and California would be a war zone with casualty rates more like World War II not just Vietnam by May. But we didn't do that, so it's ok to calm down. We shut down a smidge earlier than Wuhan, ten times earlier than Italy.

I think it's also good to trust science in the other direction. If you have a Prius and have tried to finagle an extra thousandth of a mile per gallon out of it, congratulations if you're having fun. There's value in some people doing that, coming up with new ideas. As far as I can see, the regulations seem to have involved listening to epidemiologists. Some people around you might be in more danger or caring for a loved one and they do not want to take a one in a million chance of killing their parent, so respect that, respect them, give space. But if that is not you, I think it's also worth noting that the regulations, if basically obeyed, should bring down rates, stopping the exponential growth. People like me cutting back infections 99% vs taking extremely extreme measures to cut it to 99.9% is not, for California, such a big difference — all the fear about exponential growth is covered if we do follow the existing guidelines. In my circles there are sometimes demands to make herculean efforts to cut out the last tiny risk; a choice you can make, but not a fair one to demand of everyone and not backed by science. I'm still eating raw salad and going outside aiming for a 6' separation when reasonable. People reading the science about viruses lasting on cardboard are not wrong, wash your hands, can't hurt, good for you: but if you are low risk realize that this information is spreading on facebook and is a detailed improvement, not being spread aggressively by health institutions, not a reason to panic.

It's tricky to get the balance right, and none of us really know exactly what to do: a lot of people are likely to die here in the next ten days, some people will catch it, but not like Italy, and we've taken actions that will flatten out the explosion ten long days from now. I think that long-run political sanity means balancing fears, and especially noticing when we do something right.

China made the decision to suffer badly in order to really wipe rates down. I'm not sure that isn't a better choice than the US. But exponential growth works the other way too, once you've reduced your personal risk 99% the last cut is really for you, if others aren't draconian too we won't drive CV19 to extinction. We'll have to be living our lives a bit differently for a long time. Don't burn people out by warning them against risks that aren't big risks. Listen to the epidemiologists and don't demand compliance with more than they suggest.

Thank you Bay Area counties, and Governor Newsom, for not waiting for casualties to mount. San Francisco and my county of Alameda are the only places I've heard of that shut down before people started dying, which is (sadly) brave of politicians. We didn't jump off the cliff with Italy.

If you're somewhere that hasn't shut down despite people dying, or you are ignoring the shut down orders, people will die from it, change fast.

* I've seen estimates that for every person who dies, expect 2000 infections — we don't really know. About 20 deaths from 40 million population — of course some regions are much worse — 40,000 cases in 40,000,000. And it doubles every few days without mitigation: 1 in one thousand you have it, 1 in one thousand you get it in the next doubling, double that in a few days, 64 times that in just 6 doublings in less than a month.

Bring your own towel — don't share!

PS: Washington, New York, Florida: Trust science and do panic, loudly, where your governors can hear you.

PS: My other blog on the virus: Playing Chicken with Science: A few numbers.

Stephen Fri, 03/20/2020 - 15:02

Draft: comments welcome!!!! Originally written March 20, 2020

As I write this, the Bay Area — oh, faster than I edit, California too — is in "shelter in place" while Governor Cuomo in New York is fighting back as New York City aims to do the same.

Epidemiologists say that if you don't stop the virus, it will be a disaster — for Americans, not doing anything means overflowing hospitals and casualty rates perhaps as high as all of World War II. Every nation that lets this get out of control has the same response: they stubbornly don't lock down as soon as science says they should, they see people dying, and then lock down anyway, generally the more stalling the worse the lockdown. No country, no matter how stubbornly anti-science on day one, decide they want to send their grandparents to an extra war.

Italy is a disaster. We are on the edge of disaster — what do the numbers say? Are we locking down in time to prevent the hospitals from overflowing?

Since testing is so variable, my intuition of a good measure is to look at the number of deaths when a lockdown happens. To put it super simply, if one city locks down after ten times as many people are dead, it's likely that their end number, after the current infections run their course, will be around ten times as many. Exponential growth means this happens in very short timescales.

These numbers are gathered from newspaper articles and google searches and need confirmation if you want more than ballpark estimates:


It started in Wuhan, 11 million population: On January 10 they had their first death, two weeks later on January 23 they had 25 deaths and locked down.

The US, as I write

  • Where I live on Tuesday 3/17 the Bay Area shut down at 11 deaths — 5 dead out of 700,000 in San Mateo. That's bad.
    6 in Santa Clara, 2 million. Similar to Wuhan. San Francisco and Alamada counties: 0 deaths, and locked down. Unusual to shut down before anyone dies. 3 days later the state at 19 deaths, Out of a few million or 40 million depending on who you count. That's an earlier or somewhat similar shutdown to Wuhan.
  • Washington: 74 cases and climbing. This is bad. Some mitigation efforts but not yet serious. On March 16, events with more than 50 were prohibited, while the San Francisco Bay Area with 11 cases sends people home.
  • New York 31 dead and a very soft shutdown, hard to compare to more serious efforts, March 19. Still allowing businesses open but encouraging telecommuting — looks too soft to compare to lockdowns just a start. At this point, Wuhan did a hard lockdown. My thought is that soft lockdowns will do quite a bit, and are probably good ideas, but need to be done earlier — states should do what New York is doing when they have cases but no deaths, and do what California is doing when they have their first deaths. At 31 dead and curving upwards stop worrying about the economy. "New York currently has up to 6,000 available, but Cuomo expects the state to need 30,000 soon." (…)
  • Florida: 9 and still partying.

My prediction, since I believe it's good to go out on a limb where you might be wrong, is that California will be much better off that New York and Washington, who are starting to pass the point where hospitals can handle things well. The US is not Italy, yet, if they get serious. Californians looking at the news from Italy, I both hope and expect, we can worry less, we're taking action much sooner: we get to deal with cabin fever instead of overflowing hospitals.

Doing it Wrong

  • Italy's "red zone" with 16 million people: around Feb 25 schools close, on March 8 (I think) is the lockdown comparable to Wuhan after softer measures — at 366 deaths; ten times worse than Wuhan. Respirators do run out. Italy compared to China: more warning and more deaths and a total lockdown anyway. 3,405 deaths a week later, 6,078 two weeks later — and starting to drop. So, laggards who hate the government: wait till 150 deaths and finally enact a total lockdown. The next day when the lockdown starts deaths have doubled and still ten times that many ahead before it begins to slow down. I keep hearing excuses that Italy has an older population, instead of hearing that they waited till the problem was more than ten times as bad as Wuhan before acting. It seems to have peaked 14 days after lockdown with almost 20 times as many people dead (already) as when they locked down. So Wuhan was 2,169 after a lockdown at 25, Italy 6,078 half-way through after a lockdown at 366: somewhere in the ballpark of 20-30 times as many people as when you lock down.
  • Spain was I think at 190 dead when they shut down. Like Italy, too late, then very harsh shutdown.

Doing it wrong: Look, one more time, at the chart at the beginning of this article. It is not too harsh to say that if you live outside Wuhan where this first exploded and surprised everyone, your nation had a chance to really fight and fight the infections down. Or wait till your cases start shooting up exponentially, if you prefer, and lock down all the same afterwards. Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, Taiwan: not doing it wrong. Italy, Spain, USA: you had options. Too many nations are making excuses for politicians who could have asked scientists at any time what needed to be done.

Political thoughts

This is a blog about politics and changing minds. I've written my predictions. If I'm way wrong, hopefully I'll notice. I think this is a great time to do active listening that aims to get people to say what they think will happen. Have them look at their assumptions, and learn about other countries. Do this without arguing, just be curious. There are no elections between now and when we'll be looking back at the first phase of this virus, so don't focus on the politics, focus on getting people to notice their assumptions.

Politics: We're all the same. Imagine a very long train racing towards a cliff with you nation's grandparents and a lot of younger folks too. We all pull the brakes. Some nations pull the brakes before the cars start zooming over the cliff, some sit and watch first a few cars fall first.

People vary in their response and their willingness to listen to experts. Some listen early; some want the government to butt out. But once the doctors can all see that the hospitals will soon overflow with wartime type casualties, everyone (except Iran's right-wing religious government) does what the epidemiologists tell them to do. In the end, once more people are regularly dying and doubling every few days, we all do shelter in place or lockdown anyway. The only exceptions are countries like Taiwan that have high compliance with detailed instructions and get started so early that it never gets loose in the population. After China's example, countries that trust science and trust experts and follow instructions are not locked in their houses; countries that love freedom and don't listen to government instructions, like Italy, wind up with police giving them fines if they step outside. We'll see if this continues to play out. I'd bet a dollar (not bet my life savings) that some red states wait, panic, and wind up with more draconian measures than California.

Prediction 1

"Freedom" and populism generally start off opposed to intrusive "experts" and government intervention. The freedom impulse rings shallow to me: not looking at science until it bites them in the ass does not really help freedom. I will predict that early adapters of government intrusion following expert opinion ultimately have less draconian lockdowns. The states and countries that hold off from expert advice on lockdowns the longest will see more deaths AND at some point the pain will be too much and they will lock down as much or more than proactive states, somewhat ameliorated by rural states needing to do much less and hot states needing to do a little less.

California will not do as badly as Italy: Trump has been awol, getting us to this point (which we did not need to reach for a long time) but the governors are not all awol, and so far Newsom stepping in where Trump stepped out is a lot better than what happened in Italy. Californians, please follow the instructions, but also don't panic.
The longer they hold out, the more die first, to no benefit.

Prediction 2

If you write down the ways that the Chinese government covered up coronavirus for how long based on impressions from US news media, and then go learn more, you'll find out that you were lied to and the Chinese response had a higher rate of heroism and less bullshit and hiding than Western media admit, and less than we have had here, and much of the difference ascribed to cultural differences could also be ascribed to China listening to scientists and the West using magical thinking. It's even worse with Taiwan — they've done a great job, as a democracy, and we should be learning from and emulating them.

Fake prediction: Half a million deaths

Fake prediction: If government doesn't take this seriously, America would face somewhere up to half a million deaths — people would freak out and start washing their hands and self-isolate after 10,000 or 100,000 and slow it down even without the government. It would look like a war zone. Real prediction: even very libertarian red states will shut down, I hope, but maybe not till one or two of them have casualty rates comparable to all of China.

Virusphobia and xenophobia

One thing I noticed, on a very small sample set of countries I was paying attention to, they either shut down borders OR wore masks in large numbers but flights to China were still allowed. Want to guess which have 100 cases and which have 10,000 after starting at the same level?

Don't Like Police States?

Me either. Are your friends ignoring the shelter-in-place? This article mentions that Italians did not honor it well until everything blew up, and then they locked down hard. If you want to be able to go on a walk in a park without police ticketing you, you need neighbors who honor the social isolation.

Stephen Fri, 03/20/2020 - 14:21


Cognitive Politics is a book, blog and community dedicated to more effective political conversations across political divides. We need you:

Linguistically, "Vote Blue No Matter Who" — some might now shorten it to just #VoteBlue — is an imperative: I'm telling you what to do. That's about as far from active listening as possible, a way of speaking that listeners might find frustrating even if there is no other conflict.

As the primary season wraps up, the left threatens to tear itself apart. Likely to wreck the dreams of those who want to defeat Trump. Likely to wreck the dreams of those who want skittish primary voters to take bigger risks in 2022 and 2024. This Rapid Response explores ways to work on both those goals: to talk to each other instead of lecturing each other.

From #Blue-vs-#Bust to Solidarity

Same Goal, New Frames for #VoteBlue

  • Arguments always fail: attacks lead to defense, they cause people to defend their original point of view. Try anything else.
  • Assume people know. Most people know, they certainly have heard, how bad Trump is. So the goal is to change focus, not shovel facts.

Instead of demanding #VoteBlue, try these ideas:


Messengers are the easiest option. If you want people to vote blue, don't shout that slogan. Find quotes from AOC and Bernie that say what you want. Don't jam it down anyone's throat. Just make sure these sorts of quotes get extra air time.

Listening and Agreeing Where You Can

Listing is harder, and harder for us to summarize, but works so much better. As I write, people are not at the voting booth. They are angry. The goal for now is to help people get their anger out in some way, so that it doesn't come out at the voting booth.

What's your plan for the next primary?

This is an empowering question, takes the person seriously, and also gently (and realistically)

If you think disempowerment is leading to hopelessness, inject power

Historically, politics attracts corruption. Many people are exhausted by, some lifetime Democrats but many young voters new to the system. They feel powerless to use the political system with all its limitations to slowly bend the arc toward justice. Instead of lecturing them, push them towards activism. Share something like this:

When it comes to moving the Democratic Party and its supporters farther to the left—toward truly progressive causes, away from the agenda of the neoliberal center—the most effective people I've met are the #DemEnter folks.

* My favorite way, ever, across many issues, to get people to cool down on obstruction: ask them to volunteer to fix the problem. If people hate the DNC, telling them where they can volunteer to change that is a great way to deflate the idea that protest voting will transform or crush the DNC, without arguing. Focus on what you want: new activism; don't focus on the problem and scream about protest voting, the attention only makes it worse.

Pulling it together — example long comment to burnt activist

My comment to a burned out #NeverBiden human being, and have them heart my post. A little of this is personal to me, so modify for your experiences. This works:

I hear you. I've been active with the Democratic Party for 30 years. It has always been a party of mostly lawyers — the first thing I was active with was gently kicking their butts towards actually giving a damn about God-damned Apartheid, not cocktail hours, back with Young Democrats. It is depressing. We are closer than we have ever been and I don't think we're there yet, a very long road.

When it comes to moving the Democratic Party and its supporters farther to the left—toward truly progressive causes, away from the agenda of the neoliberal center—the most effective people I've met are the #DemEnter.

I've been doing this thirty years — the Wall Street people, there is no way to "teach them a lesson." They'll keep their jobs if Trump wins, they’ll control blue states if Trump wins. We have to defeat them — not just the Bidens and Clintons at the top, but much more easily defeated minor party functionaries.

- I think it might be worth moving volunteer time from national elections to cleaning up the Democratic Party. The people doing it keep complaining about a lack of help: if a river of #bust folks showed up at the boring meetings, the Democratic stables could be washed out. And if they don't show up, it won't be washed out.

- I'm angry too and would like to get it out. I wondering if it's powerful to make eye-contact or the closest simulation you can on facebook with Biden voters and tell them how many hours you planned to volunteer for Biden and say you can respect them if their guy wins if they put in those hours for you. I'd like to explore this, for people to try it and report back: I think it might be more effective, better heard, and also harder hitting then saying who we won't vote for. It feels fair to me: if you all win the primary, I've got no good choices, but it's your turn to do the work. I think it's likely to be a disaster — nearly every person volunteering in my circles supports Sanders, a few were Warren (they generally volunteered less), and maybe zero Biden. "If you beat my choice fair and square and put in the hours I was planning to spend, then I don't want politics to come between our friendship. If you're going to sit on your ass while handing the election to Trump, and wonder why I didn't keep volunteering and blame me for not volunteering instead of stepping up yourself, then unfriend me and get out of my life."

I want to say: I'm with you in the primary. I do think it's important to stay in solidarity with each other. There are a lot of burned out people just done volunteering for a candidate they believe in and not just a lazy half-sleeping choice — all of us are hurting, we need to get better at asking for and giving hugs or virtual hugs and supporting each other. The idea of Trump winning — and the idea of broken solidarity, or our own communities giving up on each other — it hurts. People proclaiming they're willing to see Trump win if the Democrats betray us — something a lot of us are fighting against — that hurts people who should be in solidarity. It is deeply horrifying to a lot of people who're also exhausted. I want to be in solidarity with you, and I'm trying to figure out how.

Singing to the #VoteBlue Choir

If you and your circle believe in #VoteBlue, the Blue Solidarity project wants you to explore other frames. If you agree, share a message like this, or parts of this:

I want people who are grieving and angry to vote for Biden. If you want people to vote Democratic: right now is a good time to let people grieve, to let people be angry, and get it out.

Especially if you feel like a winner from the primary, be the person who helps hold space for people who feel like they lost.

Don't lecture people. Don't tell people what to do. Most of us double down when told what to do — do you?

If you don’t want other people to express righteous anger at the ballot box, model it for them: put your anger away and listen. Let people feel heard.

Hear people out: our goal is to let allies get out their anger and complete their grieving as fast as possible, to get it out of their system before it's time to volunteer and vote in the autumn. That's something we can actually help with.

A Future to Believe In

As issues come up, as we see things that are disturbing about the Democratic Party, find ways to keep our conversations focused on moving forward, for example:

Join Us

Join a small team that wants to explore new slogans and frames for improving communication and solidarity among progressive voters. Our first drafts have a solidarity theme instead of an "I'm telling you what to do theme." If you want someone to do you a favor and vote as you suggest, do them a favor first — like listen to them, or listen to their list of internal party changes. We want to welcome, and generate better conversations between, people whose burning passion is defeating Trump in November and people whose burning passion is a transformation of the political left. We think the #blue-vs-bust fight hurts both causes, and our intention is to do work to reframe the conflict.

Timeline: start in late April. Announce early May. Improve and spread through May.

If you'd like to volunteer and make this happen contact Stephen

Related early resources:

Stephen Sun, 02/23/2020 - 22:36

The left-vs-right political spectrum has been an informative model to understand politics for more than a century, so we're still trying to use it. But it is mostly dated, at least for anyone who might swing. It's not that swing or undecided voters are between left and right: they are not using this model anymore. Left-vs-right is of fading importance, and nothing clear is taking it's place.

Huge numbers of Americans are pissed. They'll vote for an anti-establishment candidate on the left end or the fascist end of the spectrum without blinking. All the politically active people are scratching their head: in our world, those are opposites on the all-important left-right spectrum. But the new "center" has no left and right: it's not half-way between the two, it just doesn't care.

Stephen Sun, 02/23/2020 - 11:08

No other issue costs Democrats the votes of compassionate voters the way choice|abortion does.

There is no other issue where we so desperately need to have a "big tent" for people who see the world differently, to use progressive communications styles with active listening — and no other issue where we could burn our big tent down by making the wrong compromises and failing to stick to our frame.

I'd like to start with an imagination exercise:

Imagine it's the Democratic convention, and you're hearing from a woman who became pregnant when she didn't want to, and considered abortion, and chose to give birth.

Does it surprise you that she's on stage at the Democratic Convention? Why does it feel surprising? Do the Democrats really believe in their own frame — or in just saying 'no' to the GOP frame?

I think there are a few simple absolutes for Democrats:
* Do we want the participation of voters who are conflicted on abortion? Absolutely yes.
* Do we listen to them, welcome them, find policies that will make them happy? Yes.
* Do we compromise choice, at all, including making it difficult for lower income women to choose? (eg, the Hyde Amendment.) Absolutely not.

The following materials look the space between these absolutes, and are also a guide to the differences between framing and policy.

Choice Strategy Plan: For Campaigns

Download the Choice Strategy Plan we are sharing with campaigns.

Rapid Response: For Social Media

What posts and comments help change the Overton Window on Choice? How do you get people to see the value of policies Democrats have long supported that do in fact, lower abortion, as life-affirming? Participate in helping the Rapid Response team prepare progressives to be more effective on social media.

Framing-vs-Policy: The Hute Amendment

Much of this is my effort to implement George Lakoff's core ideas in Don't Think of an Elephant which I strongly recommend; I've also tried to summarize linguistic framing in Chapter 1 of Cognitive Politics.

Framing Choice; Framing Abortion. Which are you doing?

What is your frame on abortion? What is your metaphor?

Are you "Saying No" to a Republican frame, or saying your own frame? Are you practicing active listening with people who disagree on this one subject — and being clear about the fundamental reasons when you can't compromise without simply disagreeing via partisanship?

Chapter Sanders

Bernie Sanders recently said that "Abortion is medical care." After decades of saying that our theme is a woman's right to autonomy and choices in her own life, he's switched themes and metaphors! This is a great example of progressives winging it while Republicans stay on message: I don't think Sanders chose to not use the Choice framing, so much as wandered off message. And this is typical of Democrats' problems framing: it's not about being honest vs lying or anything complicated like that, just the discipline to learn what framing is and apply it when there is no controversy. Most of my medical decisions do not involve my faith or deep decisions — so Pro-Life says that a fetus is very important; describing abortion as medical care is the same frame: A pregnancy is _________. A pregnancy is a human being; no, a pregnancy is a medical decision. In neither case are women involved at the framing level, though obviously ithe policy choices are opposite in how they treat women. But that's one level of thinking deeper than the slogan.

Stephen Thu, 02/13/2020 - 23:53