pic of human spine
Encourage politicians to find their spines.

Do you have a Republican representative or senator, who toes the party line instead of doing what they themselves believe is good for the country? And writing them — telling them facts they already know — always feels like a hopeless exercise? Try this, to see if you can reconnect with scraps of integrity they or their staff are hiding in the Trump era.

Write them asking simply:

Would you stand up to Trump if you knew you were retiring?

Don't add team identifiers to it. Get some friends to do it with you, and push for an answer. Hand written postcards would be great. Ask it very, very politely in public places. Leave the conclusion open, it's obvious, you don't have to say it.

Inspired by Robert Reich's introduction of which "Republicans are willing to stand up to Trump"

to Susan B Glasser's For Trump, “Consequences Are Piling Up” with Republicans in Washington.

Cognitive Politics techniques: leading with facts backfires, where questions can get people thinking outside their normal patterns. Remind people of their own values, and it's often most powerful to set up the conclusion while letting them take the last step.

Stephen Fri, 10/13/2017 - 17:26

Summary: Ending political conversations with an invite to participate in a mutual activity together seems to take the edge off.

I post and comment in a number of pro-Trump, Tea Party and mixed groups as part of an effort to encourage people to engage in a crowdstorming effort on how to make government work. Most of us want change. Most people want government of, for and by the people and very few people believe we have it. But sometimes I venture off a bit, trying to bring people back from extreme positions. I can't say what exactly makes it work, but even these get a few likes, an occasional "well said" and absolutely no attacks. I've gotten a handful of friend requests from the "other side' even, and strong endorsements from the founders of the Facebook groups. I don't get many comments, but I wonder if in this environment where people are so harsh online if "no comment" is a breakthrough.

Certainly respecting the other person, our differences and being open to compromise positions helps. I'll typically take into consideration the core differences we might have when addressing a topic.

In addition I (almost) always bring any comment I am making back to the question of how to make our government work for the people. Ending on that note seems to make anything I say before sound more reasonable. Or maybe they are intimidated by my invitation to join our effort (it is true if they challenge me I'll encourage them to join the crowdstorming effort).

Here's an example of a closing:

There's a movement afoot right now to work on these issues. Folks (just ordinary grassroots people, not the politicians or the corporate-funded think tanks) from across the political spectrum are coming together to figure out how to make our government & economy work for the people. It is a crowdstorming effort so the more people who participate the easier it comes for us all, and the better results. I hope you all will consider joining us.

Here's our group:

You'll find there links to reports on what we've come up with so far and instructions on how to join in figuring out detailed solutions to issues we all want fixed.

Bryce Johannes Thu, 10/12/2017 - 15:06

Questions are one of the most powerful tools for mind-changing conversations. Asking someone why they believe in something, encouraging them to list the reasons (so you can argue with their reasons) is not typically effective. Instead of asking someone why they believe in a certain policy, especially a complex one, ask them to explain how their policy will work.

The study Political Extremism Is Supported by an Illusion of Understanding
found this to be particularly useful to help moderate extremism. Progressives might want to use this technique around abortion laws, the conservative desire to fight ISIS, or Republican healthcare bills.

Stephen Cataldo Mon, 10/09/2017 - 14:39

Two recommended communication techniques are to isolate trolls and to stick to your frame and values. These ideas are often in tension:

For example when neo-Nazis and white nationalists grab torches and march through our streets, we can isolate them and their supporters relatively easily, or talk about institutionalized and unconscious bias — where we have a lot of work to do before there is near-universal agreement.

Isolating trolls means finding a way to remind the vast majority of Americans that we are all against people with swastikas, together. Perhaps reinforcing the idea a bit ahead of the current reality, proclaiming the world we want optimistically. It is a reasonable, achievable goal that any politician who associates with white nationalists, swastikas and domestic terrorists can be politically utterly ruined.

Speaking from your frame means calling out the existing racism and privilege, such as failures of most police departments to deal with institutionalized racism. Racism is a deeply entrenched disease in the US; there is a politically powerful demographic that doesn’t see it yet, a giant education campaign ahead — we can't use isolation techniques on that large a population, we have to convince people to change their minds.

On swastikas, we are not divided into two, and have to prevent that situation from getting worse. On institutionalized racism there is not a unified super-majority in agreement.

When discussing these issues, especially online, it’s important to decide whether you are speaking your heart, or isolating a troll — and to do both, but not do both at the same time. When Trump associates with people who use the Nazi “blood and soil” chant, attack him from the center, attack him as an American — isolate him, for that moment don’t represent liberals or the left ... which will press many conservatives to feel aligned with him. At other times, when it is time to really move forward, ignore Trump (don’t say “No” to his position), and proudly state your most idealistic vision.

In social media, it is often a two-step process. Think of it as walking through a door: the first step is to open the door, countering outrageous politicians in a way that supermajorities will feel united with you. Then walk through it, being respectful while challenging, and including ourselves in the group that needs to work on changing.

Stephen Cataldo Mon, 10/02/2017 - 16:41

George Lakoff talks about framing the issues: "protections," not "regulations." This article expands on George Lakoff's advice on framing. If you're not familiar with George Lakoff's ideas, you might want to start with one his books such as Don't Think of an Elephant, or read Chapter 1 of Cognitive Politics

But how do you frame the conversation?

Often, we frame conversations as competitive sports: we score points against each other. Or argue cases like two lawyers, ignoring any point not in our favor, even though no judge will decide our case. Or we read news looking for "ammunition," arguments to defeat the other side at Thanksgiving. Of course, if you fire artillery at someone, you have framed the conversation as one between combatants — there's no reason to be surprised that facts backfire: if we use facts like artillery, people will build bunkers.

We have to change the frame of the conversation, as well as the frame of the issue.

Escape the lawyer, sports team and army metaphors by being what they are not: be curious, listen, reciprocate, or use steel man (the opposite of strawman) techniques. Try to learn something interesting from the other side or see where they are coming from — you simply have to be curious if you want curiosity reciprocated.

These techniques don't require false equivalencies. I'm not going to change my mind about swastikas. A President who can't manage to denounce a mob with torches chanting the Nazi "blood and soil" slogan is as bad as we think. Changing wavering minds and votes means finding ways to be curious, anyway. When you want the conversation to feel mutually curious but you're really not, a trick is to look for smaller ways to be curious: Wonder why a frustrated person voted for Trump, what led to their decision, when did it happen, what do they think Trump’s victory will lead to? Wonder which issues are most important to them, likely different than the ones we’re focused on. If I hope to convince someone about vitally important issues, I have to evoke a conversation that involves curiosity, connection and ultimately being on the same team or in the same community. If I want to talk with someone and convince them, I can't fire artillery, be their judge, or score points against their team.

A conversation framed as "what is most important to you" sometimes leads to reciprocation instead of competition. If you want to flip from an underlying metaphor of competing lawyers, aim to be one team investigating or researching together. Conversations can collect evidence: bring up the points for the other proposition, model a participatory process to see what is happening together.

I have no power to implement my judgment, so playing judge is powerless — not having the power to judge and so not playing judge is different from pretending no political position deserves judgment. There are always ways to be curious about the details, and so have a conversation where the other person is at least invited to be curious — and where anyone witnessing your conversation but not taking part can see you reach out, rather than jumping into the mud with a troll.

Trump is a master at this kind of framing. He imagines and frames a world you can choose to be loyal to him and everyone who is on his side, or you can be an outsider and extremist. When Colin respectfully and quietly takes a knee to protest police brutality and racism, Trump transforms the frame to one respecting the flag and (somehow) veterans. In Trumps frame, the issue is the flag, not racism. And the conversation is one of people unified behind the flag against people protesting the flag. Progressives have a tendency to wander into conservative frames, and most of the conversations on social media that I see are now about Trump's frame, not Kaepernick's.

PS: Angry? If you are angry and want to express it — not the most important goal politically but it's hard to leave behind — remember that lawyers might try to fluster opposing council, and couldn't care less that the other lawyer is angry at them. If you're going to get angry and make it personal, keep it personal, do it within a shared value system where you might be heard — about how a person treats you, and not their political views. This is extremely difficult and not very important, where welcoming a wavering swing voter is much easier and much more important, but I think it provides perspective and might matter in family gatherings where politics is sometimes a cover for verbal abuse or bullying.

Stephen Cataldo Wed, 09/20/2017 - 19:03

What would it look like if the Democrats were more idealistic and stuck to their values with more oomph? What would it mean if they were pragmatic and tried to succeed even when we don't all agree about everything?

These are often questions that seem in conflict, two "sides." But I don't think they entirely are. Right now, both questions are being answered poorly. For example, there is frame, no way to make a deal: "If you want the DNC to cut back on corporate influence, show up and volunteer or donate — and in return if you do volunteer or donate, we'll in turn take your view seriously." Or the conversation about what the right calls "identity politics" and the left fails to frame but sometimes calls [focusing on] "civil rights." The party, as a whole, has failed to be pragmatic, and failed to express values well.

Republicans generally manage this pragmatism better (Trump being a partial counter-example): "coordinating efforts among disparate groups on the right — you support my cause and in return I’ll support yours."*

There has been a squabble in the Democratic Party between having a civil rights focus vs a working-class focus. The lack of a pragmatic approach to getting these sides to cooperate even if they don't convince each other, to being reasonably fluent in each other's perspectives, is in turn leading to a lack of ability to collectively express values with oomph. A more pragmatic compromise based on who shows up, rather than endless chatter and complaining about the other side on social media, is probably part of the path to a Democratic Party able to express values.

If you're unhappy with the state of the Democratic Party, try answering both questions.

I've shared plenty from the Sanders-wing of the party. That part of the party is often on fire with values, and doesn't discuss pragmatism quite so much. I think it's worth reading this blog from a pragmatist, which I think puzzle-pieces well with Sanders movement in a way that the DNC has simply flat-lined the party: *Bruce Bartlett's How I Became a Man Without a Party

Stephen Cataldo Tue, 09/05/2017 - 16:10

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

Stephen Sun, 08/13/2017 - 20:26

The Democrats's new slogan is here, "A Better Deal: Better Skills, Better Jobs, Better Wages."

Let’s break this down: What is the frame? Who is the implied speaker? What does it assume about the audience?

Voters, the audience, will have someone making a deal for you. You need them, your wages and job need an upgrade. In particular, maybe hang your head in shame, your current skills suck, and you need a hand getting better skills. The deal-making frame is of course Trump’s frame (with old connections to the New Deal) — once again completely ignoring the basic advice from George Lakoff's Don't Think of an Elephant, keeping our minds on Trump the whole time. The Democrats' initial frame implies they think your skills suck and want you to trust unnamed experts to take care of you.*

It is a slogan of people at the top providing something to people who need help.

The Democrats need to be “of, by, and for the people;” not policy experts making deals for you. To borrow from Sanders: "not experts, us." They need to offer — oops, not "they" and not "offer," rather we demand — a square or fair deal: “better” sounds charitable, but people simply want a chance to work hard, do their share, and be paid their share. "Fair" is clear, people working hard should together demand a square deal and fair pay — “better” is not clear, you can't envision it.

The slogan needs to focus on the “of” and “by” the people parts: to invite us all to create this economy together as we benefit from it. No one trusts the “for” part alone. And I would recommend differentiating from Trump on the magic-thinking: the economy requires hard work, and so does politics. My job requires attention to detail, and so does policy development, or else policy falls apart.

Liberal values are well expressed by “hope and change.” Underlying conservative values imagine everyone having a place with dignity in the scheme of things — both work and reward. In a liberal world, that scheme is less hierarchical, but however steep the pyramid we all need — and largely no longer have confidence in — a sense of place. I think this year there should be two key themes:

  1. hard work must lead to dignity, success and reward — for coal miners and politicians alike.
  2. and we need to do this together — no deal makers or elites.

After watching the ObamaCare repeal fiasco, a theme of “no shortcuts,” of politicians who work hard just like voters are expected to.

Maybe something like:
“No shortcuts: Back to work together,” a phrase about both voters’ employment and politicians getting their hands dirty. Both of these phrases aim to connect voters’ desire for hard work that leads to rewards, with politicians needing to also work hard.
“Of, by, and for us all: health, education, and rewarding jobs that matter.” Reward people like teachers whose jobs matter instead of rewarding mostly Wall Street, or giving people rewarding jobs with dignity, like factory workers used to feel as they made automobiles and other goods with pride. Discuss the financialization of our economy, where Wall Street is sucking out a huge part of the profits without providing contributions to match.

In any case, the "why" needs to come first. A marketing team attentive to voters' frustration and the frames that would help the Democrats would never have suggested "better skills" or the rest of their slogan.

* Update. They fixed the most obvious part about insulting people's skills, and now it's A Better Deal: Better Jobs, Better Wages, Better Future. "Better"
and "future" are both fill-in words, they don't evoke images of any sort.
Stephen Cataldo Mon, 07/24/2017 - 17:18

Most of the time we write congress to push them on a particular issue. With so many party-line votes, this is usually pointless in my district. What the Democrats are doing wrong is failing to put resources into developing and cooperating on messaging. Let's ask them to. I don't want to push my congresswoman to use the frame I prefer, but I want to hear why she chose the frame she did, to hear that someone bothered to run it past focus groups, and who she is cooperating with. Too often individual congresspeople "Don't Think of an Elephant" — saying no to Republican frames instead of doing the work to craft a progressive frame. Let's change that.

Come back to this page or subscribe to the newsletter; petitions to follow!

Stephen Cataldo Mon, 07/24/2017 - 17:07

If conservatives believe one thing, it’s that government shouldn’t be able to take your property arbitrarily. At least, that was when conservatives believed in something.
Robert Reich, a post going to thousands of progressives, on civil forfeiture.

This act by the Trump administration is a moment when conservatives distrustful of government just might be ready to have had enough.

And this is how our progressive leaders teach us to converse: to assume the worst right from the beginning, to reinforce and remind and conservatives that we are on two teams and our team just scored a point, pushing them to try to score back. With absolutely no chance at an invitation to individual conservatives who actually do believe in something.

If you wonder why most Trump voters — remember how unpopular he was with half of them — are still holding on, this is your answer. We are giving them no place to go. There is no invitation.

This is a good moment to ask conservatives in your life who agree on this issue to write a letter to congress together. The act of standing together is the core action to unravel anger politics.

Stephen Fri, 07/21/2017 - 13:48

A lot of my motivation for activism comes from stories of Nazi Germany.

Empathy — a desire to understand where they were coming from and what they were going through — and even a few small drops of compassion are normally given to actual-Nazis (not including the leaders). In a conversation with people who lost their grandparents or great-grandparents to the Holocaust, it is normal to say that Versailles and the desperation of the Great Depression were part of what led to Hitler's support and success. But this election, even among white middle-class people not particularly in Trump’s crosshairs, saying that global trade and the collapse of the manufacturing class has led to Trump's success is likely to be interrupted more quickly — we're angry, we say that Trump's support is racist and sexist and close the subject, faster than Jews talking about 1930's Nazi voters.

I'm not against anger in all cases, but I think it can mire us easily even when the other side perhaps deserves it. This is coming up for me during a discussion of Arlie Hochschild’s Strangers in Their Own Land. The online conversations get interrupted by so many calls to justify anger that we don't spend time developing the empathy that could help us win some new votes. We need to spend some time not talking about why it's fair that we get angry, spend some time exploring where and why our political opposition gets votes.

I think this is because the desire to make sure the Holocaust never happens again is larger than the desire to punish; I’m young enough that many decades had passed, maybe punishment was more on people’s minds in 1946. Part of my country is on a long descent from the Southern Strategy to Trump. We're still in the stage of grief where we don't really believe, so we keep repeating how upset we are instead of dealing with the grief and the next election. There are people who can be peeled away from this but not through raw anger. I don’t want to police anger or say it’s wrong, but especially for people like me who are more often than not on the privileged side of not being a target of Trump’s policies, anger is a luxury we should not pay for.

Stephen Tue, 07/11/2017 - 17:15

I think the secret to undoing Fox propaganda and Trump is a concerted social media attack on moderate conservatives. We often have social-media backwards: all attention is good attention. At least half the definition of a leader of either side is based on who the other side argues with. If I shout that Trump is wrong, my conservative relative defends Trump. If I should that McCain is wrong, he defends McCain. Find better conservative magazines, find reasonable articles that express a viewpoint we still disagree with, and blast (in a SMART way) away.

If you would like to help organize this, please contact me or leave a comment about what you'd like to do. It shouldn't take that many people to start this up, let's get organized!

Stephen Thu, 07/06/2017 - 16:42