What's the best way to frame political arguments? Some argue that we should tell stories that express our own values strongly — preferably with many voices repeating and reinforcing the same story; this is the approach in George Lakoff's Don't Think of an Elephant. At the opposite end of the spectrum, we hear advice as in Jonathan Haidt's The Righteous Mind (and Moral Foundations Theory) to spend more time listening to conservative opposition and coming to understand their values — more empathy, more compassion. Progressives often argue about where on this spectrum we are most effective. What does the Democratic leadership choose?

Even When It Doesn't Save Money: Don’t use other people’s values and logic, use your own by Nathan J. Robinson is a great place to start.

Robinson reviews progressive outreach on issues from the death penalty to drug testing welfare recipients. For each issue liberals have focused on cost-savings as a value-neutral way to push our policies without expressing own own liberal values:

"Each of these arguments has something in common: they support a left-wing policy position, without requiring a left-wing set of moral preferences."

This breaks the spectrum we set up just a moment ago. Saying that the death penalty is expensive does not involve listening to conservatives and understanding their values — we have not slowed down and explored their moral foundations. And we have not expressed our real values.

Democrats have been doing this for a long time now. Robinson finds example after example of triangulation, seeking neutral values between left and right, neither expressing our own values fully nor understanding and engaging our opponents deeper values.

Many Democrats see a conflict between echoing your own story with clarity and sometimes even anger vs. having empathy and taking time to listen on the other. But it's a false conflict, there is time to do both. The problem is doing neither. When it is your turn to listen, listen well, assume that voters (if not always politicians) are decent people and hear their values and their needs — leave people feeling like you are on their side even if you disagree. When it is your time to talk, don't turn down your volume. Don't pretend that your policies are just technically better, a way to save a few dollars, when you really are calling for treating human life with dignity — if you disagree, disagree, share your heart.

Since Reagan, Republicans have been able to accuse Democrats of being "card-carrying liberals" and gotten Democratic politicians to squirm instead of own it. You can not triangulate on values and leadership and stay popular over the long run: our nation is pretty strongly against Socialism, and in the polls right now arguably* the number one politician in the country often — proudly — associates himself with that word. The data from the polls and the last election is clear: you can have your idealism and be popular too. You can also treat voters who disagree with dignity and listen to them, without holding back your real feelings. If the party refuses to give stage time primarily to people who believe, that means the party is gutless, and will come across as gutless, and lose.

* I haven't found a good matchup of poll numbers. Sanders and Obama both seem to be doing quite well. Polls for Obama at 55% and Sanders, more recently, at 61%, but Obama was not in the same poll.

Stephen Cataldo Mon, 03/27/2017 - 15:38
A recent Onion article describes Paul Ryan giving earnest and realistic advice to low-income workers, in line with the policies he is promoting and in tune with his values. This style of describing an opponent’s policies and values truthfully, avoiding their Orwellian misdirection without adding your own mockery or snark, is worth exploring as a framing technique.

The Onion lifts the Orwellian veil and imagines Paul Ryan giving earnest and realistic advice, “GOP Recommends Americans Set Aside Income From One Of Their Jobs To Pay For Healthcare Under New Bill.” A liberal friend commented that “it sounds exactly like the kind of things Paul Ryan is already saying.” But this isn’t accurate: I went and listened to Ryan talking about healthcare, and The Onion describes what liberals hear when our media describes his policies, but it is not how he frames healthcare himself.

The mock report sounds as if Paul Ryan spoke his truth: his policies and his values applied to the real world. It might ring true to liberals, but I've never heard Republicans nor progressive activists frame the Republican health care plan this way: with clarity, without exaggerations or team-identifying “#resist” hashtags, simply taking the values actually felt by Republicans to realistic conclusions.

When Republicans frame healthcare, they avoid words about poorly-paid people working. In their world, "the poor" consume — for example iPhones — but in Republican stories they do not work. They certainly do not work two jobs. The Republican frame implies that work will set them free, and that less consumption will solve their problems, but the real lives of the working poor are never explored. The Republican conversations about healthcare use a lot of magic talk about how each step “will lower prices even more” without consequences. It's rare to hear liberals describe, in memorable story, how each money-saving step will leave someone hurting.

Ryan’s discussions of health care never give recommendations to people on how they will adjust to the new plan. This Onion article is accurate — people with low-paying jobs will need to add another part-time job, perhaps stick their kids in front of the tv and hope for the best, to pay for their healthcare. It is also true to Republican values of hard work, where most of the liberal attacks pretend that Republicans, in their hearts, are motivated by something more evil. Why not say it? Why don’t Democrats and their allies describe the Republican plan as this article does: using the Republican plan and Republican values of hard work, and showing what this means in the real world.

The Onion has lifted the Orwellian veil off the Republican plan, without adding mockery or opposition. They’re describing the Republican values of hard work in an unregulated market made manifest in the real world: and that true story is cutting comedy in a way that #resistance attacks are merely ephemeral shouts from people cheering for the other team.

Democrats and allies should explore framing this way. Use active listening, be able to describe Republican values better than they can, be able to say the positive values that regular people are motivated by. Tell the story while adding neither our disparagement nor their Orwellian veil. Tell a story of healthcare that matches Ryan’s actual, undistorted beliefs, his desire for people to work harder, as it would really work. Don’t tell people what to believe. If people don’t come to the same beliefs you hold at the end of your story, revisit your beliefs or revisit your story.

My Democratic feed has been full of numbers —not stories— of how many millions of people will lose health care. “Millions of people,” but no one with a name or a story. After all the abstractions, or sometimes before the abstractions, a few insults are tossed in. No Democratic frame takes each step of Ryan’s policies and explains, gives an example, of how each step that “will lower prices even more” takes away a needed service.

If Republicans want a strong work ethic, what does this mean for a family who works at Republican-contributor Walmart? If they want cost savings, where will those savings come from? Be willing to admit the positives next to the negatives: yes, my healthcare costs went up under Obamacare because some people with pre-existing conditions were added to my pool and are now insured too. Don’t describe them just by income level: don’t say “People who make $40,000 per year.” Start with a story of people living their lives in a particular way. Pull listeners out of abstractions. Say: "this is what Paul Ryan wants a young couple where both parents work at Walmart to do." Don't exaggerate: describe a healthy person who will pay less at the same time you describe someone with a pre-existing condition who will lose their coverage. Leave no points for them to pick apart. Footnotes with numbers are great, but they're not the story.

Unmuddle the Republican story — without any snark at all. Don’t call Paul Ryan whatever you think of him. Tell the story of what he believes and what he is doing. No paper tigers. None of your opinion. If your story doesn’t make people furious, your story needs work.


Here is what Ryan actually says, choice and freedom:

Stephen Cataldo Wed, 03/15/2017 - 18:31

Here is a powerful video about the GOP wasting $14 billion under Trump's direction, and how much we could do with that money.

Tuning this to Social Media Guide [in the works!] would take two small changes:

(1) Switch from "The GOP" to something like "Trump's GOP" or "Today's GOP." This keeps the cost to the GOP for doing Trump's bidding, but gives space for Republicans to feel that their old loyalties are being poisoned. It makes it easier for people who think of themselves as "The GOP" to decide that they are not "Trump's GOP" and join the big tent of everyone else.

(2) It needs a shared action step. A small foot in the door step, something everyone can do, that puts all decent Americans on the same side. "If you are conservative, liberal or in the middle, write your representative and say that there are better ways to spend, or save, $14 billion. Please write your representatives and tell them your preference: what unmet need do you want your representative to spend this $14 billion dollars on instead of the wall, or do you prefer that save the money?"

It could be amplified, perhaps, by echoing both people more directly impacted and conservatives talking about the need to reduce waste or a conservative voice arguing against this specific waste.

Stephen Mon, 03/06/2017 - 16:33

The Trump administration is battered. Most blows self-inflicted, a good bit more from the left. It is reeling. It doesn't no where to go.

This means that all that pressure is just leading to a wounded presidency. Perhaps it will lead to President Pence.

Where do we want it to lead? I can only see one decent option, which is not President Pence. It is for Trump to redefine himself, to claim all along that he supported policies that would actually be popular. He won't become a Sanders-clone. But he might replace Bannon and similar advisors with responsible people, and he might create schisms in the Republican Party that cost them every time they try to sell out their working-class voters in the future.

This is a draft, please leave comments and help develop this idea. Given that Trump is in the White House, as we build up pressure, what is the escape valve we want to provide for him? I want him to turn on the advisors who encouraged hate, to turn on the people who told him to change his mind on abolishing the electoral college, to turn on advisors who want him to hurt the working class. Pressure him till he turns on them and lies and says this was his plan all along:

- Focusing on those immigrants who have committed a non-immigration crime; he talked about rapists while running for office, he could start there.
- Giving labor a seat at the table on trade deals. We agree the TPP was a bad deal.
- Opposing the electoral college.
- Tell congress to hold off on spending $15 billion on the border wall till you have time to study the best deal. Maybe spend $100M this year and wait till Mexico is ready to pay for it or find an alternative solution {because tactically I don’t think we can stop this entirely -- the left won't stop every photo opp, but perhaps can reduce the problem by a factor of ten.}.

“I’m asking for the support of every voter … who wants to take our government back from the corrupt political class in Washington, D.C.”

If Trump is the narcisist the left things he is, with enough pressure he will seek an escape valve and transform himself to fit it.

Stephen Tue, 02/28/2017 - 12:59

Cognitive politics is the effect of psychological factors on partisan identity. This is in contrast to economic, social or religious reasons. For example, someone could be a social-conservative, fiscal-liberal, or cognitive-conservative. It is a subset of the broader field of “political psychology,” but specifically related to partisan identity.

To the extent you can determine someone’s politics from their income and job, that is economic politics. If you can put someone in an MRI machine and ask non-political questions, and from their answers determine their politics, that indicates cognitive politics.

Cognitive politics (like political psychology) may be bi-directional, with psychology and partisan identity influencing each other.

From Cognitive Politics.

Stephen Sun, 02/26/2017 - 14:16

First in a series on disentangling messaging challenges on the left: Can we use framing and marketing techniques without losing connection to the truth?

"come up with at least one story for every data point."
--Tim Wise

There is a long-running struggle among Democrats: do we want politicians to stick to the truth or start marketing?

Democratic politicians that I respect often aim for truth, facts and policy without framing or marketing. Trump and even Romney build marketing campaigns full of falsehoods (flat-out “lies” in Trump's case). These aren't the only choices. It is possible to figure out how stories and use marketing techniques for what you see as the truth. (Go to marketing professionals for advice, but don't put the marketing people in charge.)

It's important for progressives to catch ourselves when we decide to place the truth above framing: many of our politicians who don't frame are scoring better on PolitiFact, but they are nowhere near shining examples of truth-tellers. Our side does it's share of bending the truth, even if we think the Republicans bend it more. The truth isn't what stops us from creating coherent stories.

Progressives should add a new "ask" to our politicians: I want to know who you work with to get your story out in a way that will influence the center of the country towards our values. The stories need to be shared and repeated. Consider writing politicians asking what their underlying metaphor on an issue is, and which other Democrats use the same metaphor.

None of this means leaving facts and details behind.


Quote from:

"come up with at least one story for every data point"

Stephen Cataldo Fri, 02/24/2017 - 08:52

1 - Don't focus on him. Know who you are focusing on.
2 - Remember this is a regime and he's not acting alone. Aim your messengers to drive a wedge between his collaborators and their supporters. Call on conservatives who believe in the Constitution to stand up today. Don't judge them by who they voted for last time, but by what they do today.
3 - Do not argue with those who support him strongly--it doesn't work. But most of his votes came from people who don't really support him and won't defend him, talk and especially listen to them. If they trust us even a little, if they feel heard, we start to have leverage.
4 - Focus on his policies, not his orange-ness and mental state.
5 - Keep your message positive; they want the country to be angry and fearful because this is the soil from which their darkest policies will grow.
6 - Don't broadcast helpless/hopeless talk.
7 - Support science, artists and the arts.
8 - Be careful not to spread fake news. Check it.
9 - Donate to organizations with a history of effectively fighting for our rights.
10 - Buy from and support corporations that reject his policies. Buy less. Let the others know clearly why you’re rejecting them. Find your power and use it when you have it.
11 - Take time for yourself, your emotions, for solidarity -- and also for time for uncomfortable outreach.
11a - Take care of yourselves. Take time to feel angry and be an ear for people who are hurt. Get it out.
11b - Don't live in a frame of judgment all the time, whether because you believe in loving everyone or just want to win the next election. Be an ear for people who are hurt, from any ideology. Challenge conservatives to be better. Ask them to take responsibility for the parts of Trump's agenda they don't like. Whatever people who voted for him deserve, we need to welcome some of them (not the trolls!) if we want to win future elections. Build a big welcoming tent with education happening inside but no admission requirements.
12 - Repeat key messages. Find a single point of morality that conservatives in your circle should agree with and stand up for, and cut-and-paste it often. Attacking Trump for everything feels like an attack on Trump and wavering people will pick the weakest link in your chain — find one or two things your audience won't stomach and repeat them, giving your conservative friends and family an action step such as writing a letter to their representative. Social media is a stupid way to communicate and it's what we're using, adapt to it. Invite people to talk with you offline (even the unaccepted invitations count!)
13 - Resist! Copy, share, copy or make this your own.

(no attribution, base on a meme floating on facebook)

Stephen Sun, 02/05/2017 - 11:02

Do you live in a liberal enclave, and are heading home to see relatives who supported Trump? Feeling furious while reading advice not to shame people?

There is a lot of advice out there —this blog jumps in with a back-and-forth weaving of communication techniques, politics, and your hopes for connection and sanity at your Thanksgiving dinner table. Recommendations for more focused resources are interspersed; if you have a long flight home, take a copy of Cognitive Politics: a Communications Workbook for Progressives — available free as a PDF until Thanksgiving.

First Step: What are Your Goals

Trump won. What’s next for you? Do you want to maintain your family relationships without feeling silenced? Do you want to be acknowledged? Do you just want to understand? Just get out your anger? Do you want to have an impact on politics from your dinner conversations, either with the person you’re having a conversation with or perhaps nieces and nephews listening?

Before Getting Home: An Exercise

If you’re pissed and angry and feel betrayed by people who voted for Trump but hope to accomplish more than just fighting, a great place to start is imagining a conversation where you get out your anger. Write it down … and then be careful about saying any those things. This doesn’t mean that only gentle conversations make sense, but focus your challenge: unless you are actually sitting down to dinner with Trump himself, blaming and shaming voters with limited choices for everything wrong with Trump isn’t fair. But asking them to take some responsibility for the consequences of their vote may be fair.

Gathering: Start with Questions and Respect

Active listening is often the key tool to a good Thanksgiving conversation. If you want to be heard, start by listening. Get to the point where you can describe the other person’s values back in a way that they feel heard.
Find out what they want, what they care about. Make sure that they, and any listeners, know that you started out respectful.
One of the techniques with the best track record for improving conversations with people who are reasonably respectful but are full of anger based on Fox-news talking points: give them a respectful ear and encourage them to keep explaining until they talk right past the Fox talking-points without your guidance.
Another technique is “tit-for-tat” listening. Seek out everything they believe that you can agree with, and make it clear you agree. People across the political spectrum believe in fairness, if you switch from scoring points off the other person (a metaphor that means you are on opposing teams) to seeking agreement. It may take a long time to turn down the heat in politics, but try to move the conversation from scoring points off each other to seeking small agreements.
If you ultimately decide that dignity or other people listening to your conversation requires turning up the heat, these are still good places to start.

Stay Connected: When Do You Want to Take Things Personally?

Much of the advice on the web (example: Livingroom Conversations) is how to have a good conversation with people willing to have a good conversation with you. I’m jealous if this is your cross-partisan family, reality is often more difficult.
Political conversations go particularly bad when we get personal about the wrong parts. We short-circuit a candidate’s views or corruption with the person sitting in front of us, when our friends and family are not actually the corrupt person or party. We also short-circuit blame in the other direction: if you are talking to someone who is cutting you off, avoid deciding that “all conservatives/liberals are rude” and stay in the room, feel angry toward them and not their group.

I’m ready to have disagreements about politics and still respect you. But right now in this conversation at the Thanksgiving table, I have been trying hard to give you a chance to talk and to listen to you, while you have been interrupting me. I feel [stressed, sad, disconnected…]

How are you feeling?

Sad or afraid might be better leverage points than anger. If you’re feeling angry at people at the dinner table, be careful that you know what you are angry about. There are reasons to feel angry. It’s probably better to say it rather than seethe.

Anger and Respect

If you feel angry, how would you express anger to someone you respect? How can they make it right?
Don’t be vaguely nice at Thanksgiving, nor vaguely rude. A great example and contrast is when Pence went to watch Hamilton along with his family: he was (his family was) boo’d and also given a challenging but respectful speech. Imagine Pence’s family hearing only the speech, or hearing it with the boo’s — which one is more powerful?
Boos indicate disrespect of a personal sort, they are about shame: the person being boo’d (and anyone who voted for him) is not being asked to change, just told that we think they suck. The Hamilton speech was a challenge that came from a place of respecting the other person enough to say exactly what you are feeling and what you want. Anger and respect can go together.
This post started by recommending that you write down a conversation where you get out your anger. What are you most angry about? Can you narrow it down? Can you find one specific example?
Have you felt attacked?

You called me unpatriotic for opposing the Iraq war, and then voted for someone who says he also thought the invasion was a terrible mistake (though he didn’t take the personal risks to stand against the war before it started). You never apologized for calling me unpatriotic. Can you talk about that?
What would it take for you to respect the people you are eating dinner with?

Blasting Facts Doesn’t Work

A pig is as intelligent as a dog.

There, you’ve heard the fact. Are you vegan now, or at least done eating pork? Why not? We need to create stories that help facts make sense or they’ll get lost — and we can’t use us-vs-them stories. Listing all the facts that favor your opinion and oppose theirs creates a metaphor that we are on opposing teams— or a story of lawyers, of opposing counsel, and you can never convince opposing counsel. How can you weave the facts that are important to you back to values, ideally shared values? Bring in the facts that are important to you in unexpected ways that break the old stories.

Power, Protests and Threats

Republicans undermined Obama, doing their best to make him a one-term president. Trump led the racist Birthers. Why should I stand with Trump? Why should I not try my best to make him a one-term president. Trump was lying when he tried to delegitimize President Obama: tell me why I should not use the truth to delegitimize Trump? Wouldn’t that be fair?

This makes sense to me. If you are going to go for expressing power — that we can attack Trump and his policy, that this isn’t something we should just do but should also talk about at Thanksgiving—it’s good to keep focused on the fairness, to ask questions. I do think that some of the disfunction in Washington happens when Democrats fail to create consequences for Republican abuses. But, but as far as communication practices are concerned, you probably can’t do anything with this technique but squabble with your relatives, no matter how right you are. If you want to undermine the Trump presidency, get to work, don’t talk about it with conservatives at Thanksgiving. If you’re going to use power, use it—the young left has developed a growing habit of weak protests and pointless threats that we would be well to leave behind. Nonviolent communication techniques are what have worked to move justice forward in past struggles.

What are you asking for?

Trump won. That’s done. What’s next? Do you want your relatives who claim not be racist to be ready, if they see an immigrant or Muslim or black person being harassed, to not turn away? To talk to their kids and emphasize that we’re all in this together, and they should stand up for other kids who might be bullied? To post on social media to their conservative circle that all Americans should stand up if they see discrimination or harassment, to place their voice in their circle against something specific? To talk to their kids about consent?
Maybe we’re going to go fascist after this election, or maybe this is the infection that helps America finally build an immune response to day-to-day racism that the Civil Rights movement succeeded only at covering up. Maybe in four years our culture will shift, so that everyone knows that not being racist means standing up to racism when you encounter it, not just seeing it as the targeted culture’s problem. Maybe these four years we’ll undo the bystander effect that dominates racism and sexism. How do we get there? Check out: Showing up for Racial Justice. It’s something to work for if you can’t convince people to change votes, if your back-to-early-November time machine is broken.

You can’t easily ask people to regret or take back their vote. You can ask them to watch a video, to think about a topic. Perhaps react to police violence aimed at defenders of Standing Rock.

What’s Your Lead, What’s Your Ask? Seeking Connection?

What would happen if you said something like this — both for the main person you talk to, and for other listeners, exploring how you and they connect:

Today, conservative America is asking for relief from competition with unfair labor practices in China. I first encountered this in my hippy coop, those were the first places to care that products were union-made or at least not from the most abusive places. I opposed the Iraq war—and was called unpatriotic for it—and now your candidate says it was a huge mistake. This country perhaps failed in the primaries, one candidate who thinks it’s ok to take bank’s money and keep speeches secret, one candidate who brags of sexual assault. So why don’t we treat each other like we’re on the same side as a starting point, instead of bringing the failings of politicians to the Thanksgiving table?

If Trump doesn’t work out, at the next election, can we stop separating into factions based on social issues, and seek out politicians with integrity rather than looking at their style? Can we all get engaged, on both sides, in making sure the primaries give us better candidates?

Seeking Responsibility and Engagement?

Seek “foot in the door” types of agreement. Don’t ask people to dismiss their entire worldview at dinner. Find something they can agree on, perhaps something that will cause them to notice things they haven’t noticed in the past.
If someone is harassing a woman wearing a hijab, will you say something? Can you be ready to stand up to racist talk among your friends? If you encounter “locker-room talk” about assaulting women, will you stop your friends and talk it out?
America should honor the treaty — that is a contract, that is our word — at Standing Rock. There is no wiggle room in this. We gave our word, it’s there in writing. Ask: Do you think we should honor our contract? Are you willing to write your politicians? Why, why not? I want to hear your reasons.

It’s Thanksgiving

Don’t let politics define your values; let your values define your politics. Thanksgiving is a powerful holiday for this: we gather around a meal that is usually created mostly by people who earn little or no money for that work. It doesn’t take Steve Jobs’ genius to help us farm, transport and prepare a meal. When possible raise consciousness about the values that underly your politics without bringing up politics: thank all the people involved in creating your Thanksgiving dinner.

Resources to Match Those Goals:

Some guides help narrow the focus: Showing up for Racial Justice is focused on what individuals can do, now, whether they agree on politics or not. Others focus on the communicating through tricky situations; Crucial Conversations is one of the best. Livingroom Conversations is a great resource when everyone wants to come together, when you might discuss ground rules first — similarly, here’s a great list of calm questions to read right before Thanksgiving, or even this suggestion to make a game of arguing each other’s points. Or remind yourself of communication techniques that might help: you don’t ever have the right to disagree with the fact that someone is feeling threatened and vulnerable.

Stephen Cataldo Tue, 11/22/2016 - 19:43

11/16/2016 Draft; big changes likely, suggestions welcome

Trying to figure out why so much of some demographics voted for a racist president, there is a fight between two ideologies. One side believes in acceptance: this is largely the fault of liberals for calling other people rednecks and looking down on them; we should respect everyone. The other side keeps saying things about bringing guns to knife fights, calling out racists, naming names and fighting back hard against the people we don't like.

Neither of these approaches is potential-respectful of the people you disagree with. I say potential-respectful, because not everyone deserves respect in the end, but we should begin by assuming respect as a likely possibility. If you are willing to respect someone, you expect them to earn it, and ask for what you want. Don't judge people, do judge actions.

This is a good time to see what the great thinkers behind the Democratic Party and liberal think tanks some spice company I've never heard of has to say:

Stephen Thu, 11/17/2016 - 17:34

Amidst all the mistakes and casting blame, there were some things done well this election. During the general election, I heard one big ask over and over:

Hey, you Sanders voters lost, and many of you actively dislike Clinton & the neoliberal Third Way politics they've championed in the Democratic Party, but please we need you. Please don't vote Green and wake up on Wednesday with President Trump!

And Sanders answered. He stumped for Clinton for months after a primary designed to keep out his outsider run. The number of people on the left who held their noses and did what Clinton needed dwarfs the number who voted Green — it's surprising how much dislike was answered with so little defection.

I expect for every Sanders support who voted for the Green Party, you could find ten who liked the Green Party but stuck with Clinton. But I've read at least ten posts attacking people who voted Green, and not one post thanking Sanders and others for tirelessly campaigning for their second (or even second-to-last) choice. By that math there should be one hundred thank-you posts to Bernie, but here's one:

Thank you Bernie Sanders, and all the people who quietly stuck clothespins on their noses, doing what they thought needed to be done — most especially the ones who were quiet about it, trying not to interfere with Clinton's last stand.

Stephen Cataldo Sat, 11/12/2016 - 15:45

What Hillary Clinton Needs to Say to Beat Donald Trump by Julie Sedivy is an detailed plan of how the Clinton campaign could be framing its message to reach across the partisan divide. Twelve years after George Lakoff wrote Don't Think of an Elephant, the Democrats still don't bother to frame their message, they still don't put their core values front and center. Why not?

Framing is often seen as a bit dishonest: You don't come up with a marketing plan, you just speak the truth. But the Clinton campaign is famous for holding back transcripts from speeches and carefully limiting what is spoken. This isn't a campaign afraid to take a lawyer's eye to a transcript, while refusing to take a marketer's eye.

Clinton frames herself as qualified [like a job applicant], while Trump continues to frame himself as a deal-maker [like a mob boss]. In the last two weeks before the election we're probably not going to see a revolution in Democratic framing, but it could look like dismantling Disloyal Donald's gang-leader frame while following Sedivy's advice:

"In a race where many conservative voters are wary of Trump’s dystopian, us-vs.-them message, Clinton has a chance to flip the script, but only if she sheds her wonky tendencies in favor of highlighting more expansive American values. Moreover, the most recent Canadian election provides a template for how this can play out outside the laboratory walls."
Stephen Thu, 10/27/2016 - 23:17

Political Metaphors: Nurture, Discipline, and Deals You Can't Refuse.

In Why Trump, George Lakoff divides the Republican party into White Evangelicals, Pragmatic Conservatives, and Laissez-faire free-market proponents. All three flavors of conservatism think about government using a strict father metaphor.

According to Lakoff, we've had families much longer than we've had nation-states, so our brains turn to family metaphors to think about politics. Liberals win with nurturing parent metaphors, conservatives win with strict father metaphors. But if the best conservative strict fathers challenge their constituents and demand discipline – "keep calm and carry on" – then I think* Trump is something else entirely.

I believe he is ripping apart the Republican Party at the metaphor level as well as electorally. He doesn't tell you it is your duty to serve your country. Trump doesn't use discipline as a growth tool – "you're fired" – he only punishes. He claims that he can get Mexico to pay for the wall – he can make deals they can't refuse. If you follow him you won't face challenges, he will do it, he will provide the solution for his followers. He doesn't claim to be strict, only strong. Unlike American leaders from both parties, he doesn't frame himself with a parental metaphor.

Metaphors Underlying the 2016 Campaign

Clinton frames herself as "qualified." Trump frames himself as the man who makes deals you can't refuse. His followers feel like they are under siege, and he casts himself as the man to lead them against their opponents. This matches a gang-leader metaphor, not any flavor of parenting-style metaphor. We've always had families, so we turn to family metaphors to understand new-fangled national politics. But we've also always had hierarchies and gangs led by alpha-males – since before we evolved into homo sapiens – so this too might be a frame to understand modern national politics.

Trump has left behind generations of pragmatic conservatives who were focused on demanding discipline, responsibility and avoiding free-rider problems. Both Democrats and Republicans – both nurturing and disciplined parents – need to be "qualified," need to avoid corruption and be knowledgeable about the details of governance. But a gang leader needs only to be strong and to represent you against others who are your enemies.

The Gang Leader's Weakness: Disloyal Donald

Donald is generating a sense that his followers are under siege.

Hypocrisy is not a key to dismantling a gang leader. He is overweight and fat-shames. This is no accident. When he fat-shames someone, if we fat-shame him back, we solidify his frame of gangs in combat. We need to be careful mocking Trump in ways that could make his followers feel under siege. Mocking his small hands, mocking his weight issues, mocking his hair – all these are insults towards him that he can personally ignore, while voters with similar body-issues will also feel mocked and all the more likely to turn to him.

Corruption is also not a key. Gang leaders are allowed to lie, bluster and be corrupt. When people feel like they have been ignored and abused for decades and are turning to a strongman protector, they don't look for fairness or even integrity, just strength.

The one thing a gang leader cannot be is disloyal. When you want to go negative, target him as:

"Disloyal Donald."

The Clinton campaign should remind people of every loyalty they hold that has been betrayed by Trump.

Remind people that he turned the Republican primary in a tire fire. He wants the loyalty of Republicans but thinks Jeb Bush is a disaster, Rubio was a disaster, Kasich was a disaster. He insulted Cruz's wife and Clinton's husband. Focus on the overlap of loyalties: he invited the Clintons to his wedding and then tears them down, he wants to work with Cruz and then insults his wife. People believe he is on their side when he isn't. Glenn Beck says he is "a bridge too far," Schwarzenegger for the first time ever won't vote for the Republican. People who are always loyal to the Republican Party are rejecting him. He is disloyal and his team is abandoning him.

Use the names of ordinary people who worked for him and were betrayed. A new name every week until people memorize it, and then repeat the names from past weeks in a growing list. This would mean half a dozen names by election day. In every case, start by explaining how someone did something for Donald and then was betrayed. Try to get your listeners walking in the shoes of people excited to work for him. Khizr Khan’s son served his country and Donald turns on his family. Alicia Machado was a teenager who thought she was getting her big break from Donald, and then he turned on her.

Republicans Did Not Want a Gang Leader: Call Them to Their Values

Searching with difficultly for a positive side, most Republicans do not want to join a gang. Donald only had a plurality of support, conservatives are being dragged into this, unhappy with any of their choices. Millions are trying to decide between in-group loyalty to the Republican Party and the values they previously held.

Many of Donald's supporters don't believe he will build the wall. They see him as bluster. Most are grossed out by what he calls "locker room" behavior. They are trapped between their party-loyalty and disgust at their candidate. Their way out of the trap is to compare him to a Clinton, to find a way to make this about teams again.

In Don't Think of an Elephant, Lakoff encourages us not to use (even to negate) the opponent's frame. For 2016, this means avoiding stories where we are pitted against each other. Stop attacking Republicans for nominating Donald – something that has already happened and can't be changed. Switch to challenging them to stand for what they believe, now. Continue to hold out the possibility of cross-partisan respect, continue to hold out that we want an America with leaders from FDR to Eisenhower where we convince each other rather than demonize.
In social media, echo conservative and religious voices that have had enough. Don't attack from the left, or we just create further divisions.

I think it is particularly powerful to demand that conservative friends stand up for their own values when talking with other conservatives. Avoid the question, for the moment, of whether Clinton or Trump is worse, since this allows cognitive bias and team loyalty to run rampant. Instead narrow down to what they believe, and demand they put their voice to it among other conservatives in their circles. If Trump sexually assaulting women is against their values, request they say it to their conservative friends. Move away from liberal vs conservative, to demanding a bit of bravery and integrity.


* George Lakoff has argued that Trump fits with the strict father metaphor. Much of this blog is in debt to Lakoff's approach to framing, but I diverge in regards to the metaphors that underly Trump's campaign, as gang leader rather than strict father. Lakoff's Don't Think of an Elephant is a great introduction to political metaphors and framing. * The t-shirt-ready phrase "keep calm and carry on" is often misattributed to Churchill, but I think the phrase has stuck because it's a good way to express both Churchill's approach to dealing with real threats and the discipline at the heart of healthy conservatism.

Stephen Cataldo Thu, 10/13/2016 - 15:30