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Progressives need a grassroots movement to ask our congresspeople what their approach to framing is on particular issues. Instead of saying "please support bill X" in cases where they already do, get them hundreds of letters asking "What is your approach to framing issue X? Do you agree with George Lakoff's suggestions? Which other politicians are you coordinating with to get the message out coherently?" We should put pressure there -- it might not take much! Please add your comments. Do you want to be part of Cognitive Politics and lead this? Create a facebook group with me?

Stephen Cataldo Wed, 07/05/2017 - 19:43

Help name and frame a big, unnamed trend in politics: On both health-care and school's choice, a central goal of Republican policy is to have those with challenges — pre-existing conditions or kids who struggle — placed into pools of people with challenges, and people without challenges not have to help. If you have a pre-existing condition, or are a kid with ADHD, the Republicans want you to bear all the consequences for yourself and others with challenges. Social Darwinism is an old term not out of place, but not "who-what-when" enough for an effective reframing. They are isolating people with challenges instead of us all coming together. This has long been true in public schools, where zoning leaves low-income people living together, so kids from low-income parents wind up in poorer schools. This will come up in more places than just school vouchers and healthcare. So, as compassionate people who do not want to leave people behind (a group including many conservatives pained by the current Republican Party), help me fill in the blank so we can say "there you go again, ________."

Please add your contributions below!

Stephen Cataldo Wed, 07/05/2017 - 14:11
On framing, Overton windows, and messengers



Diane Toomey from Yale Environment 360 interviewed Angel Garcia, a Republican with Young Conservatives for Energy Reform, with the article titled How to Talk About Clean Energy With Conservatives.

I'd argue with both Toomey and Garcia, but in very different ways.

I argue that this is not "how to" frame energy reform if you are an environmentalist, scientist or liberal. Garcia might be a good messenger for clean energy outreach to conservatives, but his framing is not a good "how to." Garcia's organization runs away from the words "climate change" and basic science. If people are not listening to your words or to science because of partisanship, then as long as you are the untrusted messenger, you still won't be heard. This is not a "how to," but "find a messenger they'll accept."

I'd also argue with Garcia. Loud and often! I think it's good to post this article and go after it from the left. Point out the intellectual cowardice of refusing to engage climate science directly. Because all press is good press, and liberals blasting the shortcomings of Angle Garcia's position on climate change is actually the very best thing we can do for him, to get sane conservatives airtime and real conversations started. We shouldn't water down our own views — but stop giving Trump oxygen by arguing with him all the time, and find people like Garcia to argue with. If ten million liberals went after Garcia and filled social media with it, ten million conservatives would defend his views on clean energy.

Stephen Cataldo Thu, 06/22/2017 - 15:27

Many people love to leave comments on social media before reading the article. This time, please do! What is your relationship with judgment in the current political climate?


Do you judge someone for comfortably voting for a man who mocks people with disabilities and brags of grabbing pussies?
Or is it wrong to judge them?

Those are the two most common choices, and many people opposed to Trump are arguing about what choice to make. I've joined a group that is exploring smarter ways to engage in social media than anger and judgment (I recommend joining!) and this conversation over judgment is still unresolved. Neither answer above satisfies me.

What happens if we break the question down:

Should you do the judging? Do you have a right to judge? If you have the right, is it useful for you; useful for the movement?

Should someone who voted for a pussy-grabber be judged? Does it help women if you judge that person — is there value in your judgment? Judges usually create consequences: what are the consequences people face for your judgement, and is this helpful?

If people have done things that a judge would abhor, is judgment what we should be spending on our time and energy on?

If you chose to judge, do you judge someone for voting for Trump? Or very specifically judge someone for undervaluing specific egregious actions: judge them particularly for voting for a man who claims to grab pussies, not weighing his abusive behaviors seriously enough? Or do you only personally judge people who personally offend you: do you ask someone for what you want, with specific requests, and then decide if they have failed you? Can you make a request before engaging in judgment, with each individual?

The judgment frame almost always falls into the "two teams" frame, which is very destructive politically — if you are going to release your fury at someone for being sexist or racist or similar, it's important to stay focused on them, at a specific action of theirs and not on their team. What kind of judgment aims to create broad shame? What kind of judgment aims to create fixable guilt?


My personal perception is that the judgment frame is a bad place to take a conversation, a place with no leverage. This doesn't mean that people have or have not done something that deserves judgment, and doesn't mean you should spend your time policing (and judging) people who are furious and expressing their fury. Just that you can't bend the moral arc toward justice from a place with no leverage and that is usually my personal goal. The entire conversation about what judgment might be appropriate for people who vote for a candidate whom I find racist, sexist and appalling is just one best side-stepped, neither affirming or denying what a judgment might be. It's not my role, it's not useful.
Stephen Cataldo Thu, 06/01/2017 - 19:51

PRRI released a study showing that Trump voters were more motivated by xenophobia and racism than economic anxiety. Except it didn't. This blog aims to explain what regressions are (the statistical method used by PRRI) in a way non-math-nerds can understand and apply (hopefully often). After discouraging overuse of regressions, I'll end by discouraging overuse of averages.

These new results show that feelings of cultural displacement and a desire for cultural protection, more than economic hardship, drove white working-class voters to support Trump in 2016
-Robert P. Jones, PRRI CEO

A moment just on the math: the study used regressions, which separate "independent" variables.

PRRI used regressions to find out what is most related to voting for Trump. Regressions look at many variables and figure out which are most related to the outcome. This can tell you the cause, if the variables are not related to each other.

To try to make the math make sense, imagine a situation where people are being pushed down staircases and many are landing at the bottom. You want to study why people are landing at the bottom. You ask two questions: were you pushed down the stairs? Did you fall half-way down the stairs?

Well, obviously, everyone at the bottom fell half-way. So a regression will show that people fall all the way down the stairs mostly because they fell half-way down the stairs —a regression will show being pushed as a minor factor, since anyone who is pushed but doesn’t fall halfway doesn’t fall to the bottom. Many establishment Democrats seem to really like this conclusion: the reason we have Trump is because people were, for no other cause, in the middle of falling half-way down the stairs; nothing you can do about that.

The alternative hypothesis is that economic anxiety is the big push, driving cultural anxiety, and then both anxieties drive votes for Trump. That doesn’t let people off the hook, morally, as individuals, for allowing their minds to be clouded with racism and xenophobia etc. But if you are a politician and not a judge, blame isn’t your goal. Likely the Democrats could have won either by making sure people felt economically secure, or by helping people (for example, people in the middle of fearing for their jobs, watching their friends commit suicide and communities fall apart) walk in the shoes of strangers.

The chart at the bottom of the PRRI study says "Independent Predictors." It then lists values that are obviously not independent. Crush a person's way of life, generate enough anxiety, and many of them will close their hearts, stop walking in the shoes of strangers. This is the push down the stairs. The PRRI study finds that those who catch themselves after the push and don't fall halfway also don't fall all the way: people who feel economic anxiety but don't become insular and xenophobic don't vote for Trump.

Getting this right is important

If xenophobia and racism just exist and have nothing to do with anything but the character of one's soul, then Clinton and the Democratic establishment cannot be blamed for this election. If xenophobia is the thing a president can fix, we should take one path — any proposals here are wonderful, but this is very hard, especially for politicians to do at scale. If economic stresses are causing wide-ranging anxiety that merely includes xenophobic anxiety, then Sanders was probably right. The PRRI study doesn't help tease these sequential factors apart, though many people are pretending it does.

Averages (and back to Cognitive Politics & communications approaches)

All these studies try to average populations together. Why did people vote for Trump?

I think that caring too much tends to be misleading, or at least not useful, unless you are actually running a campaign. Saying that Trump voters voted for him because of some reason (or Clinton voters voted for her) is a way to cut off your curiosity, and make yourself a less effective communicator. Forget the averages, unless they make you more curious and help you come up with new questions to ask. Take the top half dozen theories of why people voted for Trump: probably all of them explain a few million votes. Economic anxiety, xenophobia, confusion at culture shifts, preferences for authoritarian child-rearing: you don't have to find out which theory is more right even if you could separate them; you have to find a way to communicate with people who fall in each of the categories. Successfully figure out how to reach any of these categories, and you'll landslide the next election.

Notes

Articles that pretend that falling down the stairs is caused by falling halfway down the stairs, not caused by being pushed: It Was Cultural Anxiety That Drove White, Working-Class Voters to Trump; Vox's It wasn’t the economy, but racism and xenophobia, that explains Trump’s rise.

Last Note

This overall error, seeing people as groups instead of as individuals, is the one that would make you think that someone who is deplorable, as in xenophobic, sexist and/or racist, was automatically 100% deplorable and should be written off — whether you should say it out loud is a compounding error. But I know at least one person I might call mildly deplorable for their sexism and racism who still didn't vote for Trump — and this despite being called deplorable by Trump's opponent. I like math, but people are not averages. The people on the edges are often the ones that politicians and political movements can reach, if they try.

Stephen Cataldo Sat, 05/20/2017 - 14:51

Michelle Obama goes high. She goes high while she rips Trump for allowing unhealthy school lunches again.
Her talk on school lunches pulls no punches: I would feel ashamed to be on the receiving end. What specifically does she do to stay clean while landing her punches, while so often progressives wind up just rolling in the dirt with Trump supporters?

  • She calls on all decent people to be above politics. She never blames Republicans as a collective for the outrage — either you want healthy school lunches or not.
  • She sticks to one issue, and is talking about that issue, not talking politics. This is not a list of reasons to not like the other side — which is how Republicans, Democrats and various third parties talk generally about each other. Is Trump a traitor? (Let's find out.)
  • She isn’t talking about Republicans; she is talking about school lunches. What I remember of Hillary Clinton’s speeches, she was generally talking about Trump (electorally ineffective) or his supporters (electoral suicide.)
  • She doesn't demand your loyalty, or choose to be on her side or her team. You can think whatever you want of her, she is talking about whether kids eat healthy. It's not about Trump, Republicans, Democrats or her — it's about kids eating healthy lunches.

This video was posted on Occupy Democrats. If Democrats and allies want to win the next election, we should become more conscious of techniques that let us speak our values with clarity, neither muddling and pretending that nothing so bad is going on, nor sinking to the depths that American politics is mired in. Occupy Democrats is currently mostly shoving Trump's failures in the faces of people who voted for Trump and now no longer feel comfortable with any politicians. There are more effective paths forward; rather than insulting these politicians we can cost them votes and scour them from Washington.

Stephen Cataldo Sat, 05/13/2017 - 18:28

What is the most egregious and well documented part of the new health care act? Something that would speak to [almost] every decent American as needing to be fixed? Perhaps something where you have a personal story or connection?

What could be a “foot in the door” issue, if you wanted to start a conversation across party lines? Could we make a request that this one egregious part of the bill be stopped, and get good people to do so together across party lines?

Please leave your suggestions! Bonus for a story-with-footnotes style, instead of just the policy.

Stephen Cataldo Fri, 05/05/2017 - 14:10
Robert Reich wrote Update for Trump Voters, which I believe is in the style of "basket of deplorables" — the kind of messaging that reinforces team boundaries, so that wavering Trump voters might stick with him because the only other option is a team that is actively insulting them. My blog is almost all Reich's words, rewritten from a theme of "you bought it" to "stand together." I don't want to turn down the outrage or anger,
just turn down the snark. Also, as recommended by Nonviolent Communication, it (at least hints at) actions that people can take today, rather than being angry about what they did in the past.

My rewrite of "You Bought It" follows:

Did you support Trump? Politicians of many stripes often try to turn ordinary people against each other. We built this country together, but now politicians purposefully divide us. I don't want America divided:

8. He said Clinton was in the pockets of Goldman Sachs, and would do whatever they said. Then he put half a dozen Goldman Sachs executives in positions of power in his administration. Politicians of many stripes have their pockets full, let's clean house together. Stand against corruption, and we'll stand with you.

1. Trump said he wouldn’t bomb Syria. Then he bombed Syria. Stand against his lies, we'll stand with you.

2. He said Mexico would pay for the Wall, now he has asked Congress to spend our tax money on it. Stand up, we'll stand with you.

3. He said he’d clean the Washington swamp. Then he brought into his administration more billionaires, CEOs, and Wall Street moguls than in any administration in history, to make laws that will enrich their businesses. Stand against corruption, we'll stand with you.

4. He said he’d repeal Obamacare and replace it with something “wonderful.” Turns out he didn't have a plan past getting elected. Stand against manipulation by politicians — we are all being manipulated — we'll stand with you.

5. He said he’d release his tax returns. He hasn’t, and says he never will. Stand against lies, we'll stand with you.

7. He said he’d divest himself from his financial empire, to avoid any conflicts of interest. He remains heavily involved in his businesses, makes money off of foreign dignitaries staying at his Washington hotel, gets China to give the Trump brand trademark and copyright rights, manipulates the stock market on a daily basis, and has more conflicts of interest than can even be counted. Stand against politicians who get rich instead of serving the country, no matter which party they are in. Stand against corruption, let's do it together.

9. He said he knew more about strategy and terrorism than the generals did. Then he green lighted a disastrous raid in Yemen- even though his generals said it would be a terrible idea. This raid resulted in the deaths of a Navy SEAL, an 8-year old American girl, and numerous civilians. The actual target of the raid escaped, and no useful intel was gained. Stand against chicken-hawks who love war but didn't serve. Stand against politicians who think they are smarter than the generals. We'll stand with you.

10. He called Barack Obama “the vacationer-in-Chief” and accused him of playing more rounds of golf than Tiger Woods. He promised to never be the kind of president who took cushy vacations on the taxpayer’s dime, not when there was so much important work to be done. He has by now spent more taxpayer money on vacations than Obama did in the first 3 years of his presidency. Not to mention all the money taxpayers are spending protecting his family, including his two sons who travel all over the world on Trump business. Stand against hypocrisy and corruption. We'll stand with you.

Inviting people to stand together can be done with just as much fire — we don't have to be cozy and "nice," but welcoming his voters to join us is how we unravel Trump's odd coalition. "Singing to the choir" messages tend to go viral — so it is particularly important for leaders with big followings to teach progressives how to do outreach better, rather than feed us "sugar candy" articles to collect more likes. The next step to improve the framing might be petitions that liberals and conservatives alike can sign, for example, agreeing that tax money shouldn't be spent on the Wall, whether or not they agree about the Wall aside from that. Break down the divisions, rather that mockingly pointing out the obvious, and people will quickly be able to see the Trump administration with clearer eyes.
Stephen Tue, 04/11/2017 - 16:13

Every time we say "You bought it," we're further defining the teams. Trump supporters are not happy. Of course, online, the only people being loud are the loudmouths; no one is introspective while making comments on the internet.

But his voters, huge numbers of them are having doubts. All we have to do is be reasonably nice to them and welcome them, give them some place to go. A bunch of liberals screaming "you bought it" and other us-them insults is basically the only way Trump will hold on to his coalition for long. Trump is powered by deflecting shame; we are feeding him the shame he needs. Give Trump supporters positive ways forward and we'll crush him.

Please stop doing this! Our movement, just like the conservatives, is spending so much time insulting the other side. Whenever anyone posts something bad about Trump -- or his supporters -- we like it, we share it, we bounce it around. If our movement is going to succeed, we need to find the discipline to keep welcoming Trump supporters as they first begin to waver.

If you have a Trump voting relative who's at all willing to talk, "you bought it" is the opposite of how to draw them from Trump. If you listened to them enough to know why they voted for Trump, just ask a friendly question about whichever one of these issues might disturb them, listen respectfully and draw them out. All we need to do now is be respectful and let the quieter voters (not the loudest people who argue online) feel heard; many Trump voters have now witnessed something disturbing about Trump but have no place to turn. Be the person they can turn to, and the Trump era will end. People generally have enough facts, if they don't feel under attack -- I told you so and you bought it are the glue that keeps them feeling shame, keeps them locked to a team as it betrays them.

The more of our own opinions (which they already know) we push, the less chance for people to realize for themselves that they want to change their minds. Changing your mind is hard. Publicly admitting a mistake is not an easy task. We need to make this as easy as possible.

Train Ourselves at Social Media

I think we need to create a completely different type of media than we have so far. The thousands of people listening to liberal media like Robert Reich's posts need to be trained in active listening... or any other technique, just try some approach that is used outside of ego-contest politics. Active listening to a Trump supporter is f.'ing work. It will be hard. We have years of conflict, years of Republicans dividing us into teams and Democrats joining in, to undo. Saying "I told you so" is not work, and doesn't help. At this point, half of Trump supporters would talk themselves out of being Trump supporters if someone listened, merely listened respectfully while they sorted out their own thoughts. His presidency, and the GOP with it, would unravel. But as long as we push, they push back, of course.

Trump acts like a gang-leader, and has convinced just barely enough of the electorate that America is a gang-fight. The way to unravel this approach is to repeat patriotic and unified themes and reach out to people, especially people who have drifted into feeling like they are in a ravel gang from us. Blame, shame, and I told you so solidifies the gangs. We could be doing things like creating all-American petitions against spending tax money on the Wall that welcome both conservatives and liberals to sign together ... that would undo Trump's frame, and give people an exit.

This blog will soon include a guide to social media. Write me if you want to help create it! Or check out Nonviolent Communication guides, or pick up a book on making business sales. Mostly, on social media, stop liking and sharing team identification posts, and start sharing messages that might convince and welcome a quietly wavering Trump voter. Give them an exit. Among allies, share posts that teach us how to reach the middle and how to reach conservatives who have integrity — they are miserable right now and have no home. Share posts that challenge, that make us think, rather than the liberal equivalent of just shouting "USA! USA!"

There is hope if we look for it

People don't often go on social media and give loud "mea culpa" speeches, telling the world they think they were idiots. When people change their minds, they do it quietly. And they look for a friendly face. Trump's quiet supporters — very large numbers of voters — are wavering today. The Democrats could unwind the Republican party in a week if we were nice to ordinary people, separating voters from politicians instead of grouping them together. Stop saying "I told you so," and switch to listening to why people voted for Trump, and politely asking follow up questions, listening to what they say, so they feel heard (people not feeling heard is a lot of the reason for Trump's rise ... not policy positions.) If you want to know why Dems lost the election, this "you bought it" post is as good a place to look as any. Trump said that America is divided into two gangs and he's the Godfather. And liberals said yes, sure, we'll be the other gang and insult your gang.

The minute we stop preaching to the choir and teach the choir to sing, we'll turn this around.

###

I'm a fan of much of Robert Reich's efforts and apologize for writing a negative post, but believe we have to stop giving in to the temptation of writing social media that will go viral by insulting the people we have to convince.

Stephen Mon, 04/10/2017 - 00:38

Nicholas Kristof’s My Most Unpopular Idea: Be Nice to Trump Voters, like most articles about judgment and outrage around this election, comes down on one side. In this case, the “nice” side, awfully close to policing the feelings of other people. "Be nice" shoots down what should be a strawman, except that it is widespread, of shouting outrage at voters you don’t know, who don’t know you, over social media — and pretending that the volume is activism.

But there can be more depth to anger.

{ Part of a Cognitive Politics series aiming to disentangle political fights among allies. }

What would a conversation about outrage, judgment and anger look like, if we broke it into components rather than choosing sides on whether to be angry or nice? Outrage overlaps:

(1) Utilitarian politics. Discussing what works, rather than what is right.
(2) Judgment. Some voters either (a) preferred or (b) tolerated a man who leverages racism and sexism to gain power. What do they deserve? How should they be judged?
(3) Feeling anger. What is appropriate for decent people to feel? What is healthy for us as a community, what is a healthy psychological or spiritual response to living in a country full of racism, sexism and hate?

As soon as you break it down, some things become obvious.

(1) Outrage rallies part of the base. And doesn’t welcome anyone new to join. Activists deserve hugs if they are willing to hold back their anger and be nice to a potential voter — holding back anger is work. Even when it seems to work for rallying the base, anger politics may also burn out quieter and gentler people who feel angry, but don't use anger as fuel. Unleashed, anger tends to take over, whether it is working or not.

(2) Sitting in righteous judgement may be our nation’s current favorite hobby, but no one has given me lightning bolts to strike down the sinners, so I'm moving on.

(3) People working for a more compassionate world have some damned good reasons to feel angry. Even for people who don't believe anger is healthy or don't trust it, it would be strange not to feel angry sometimes in this environment. There is something in the "be nice" argument that is very strange: Kristof's argument feels too safe and easy, the real advocates for "nice" should have gone through anger and chosen not to stay there. If you can skip past anger in this environment, something is off.

The activists around you need a chance to express how they feel: a lot of good people need supportive listeners and hugs right now. In personal relationships, we're generally not encouraged to hold our anger in. Basically, our current expressions of political anger — what I think Kristof is encouraging us to replace by being "nice" — is close to passive aggressiveness. Therapists don't tell us to suppress our anger, nor to tweet nasty messages at someone who wronged us. Social media, like leaving notes around the house, is a very weak way to express anger. Gandhi and King believed in transforming anger, not just flushing it away with niceness: no one was "a deplorable," but they put people on the hook to make their own actions right in a way that is very rare today.

The psychological wraps back to the utilitarian: can anger be connective?

If conservatives and liberals had a therapist, we'd be encouraged to talk about one topic at a time, and have a specific ask to move forward. People already voted for Trump and everything he stands for instead of Clinton and everything she stands for. That might be a reason for a breakup, give up and go to Canada; who you voted for last time can't be fixed, and it's too big to have a sane conversation. But if we're going to apply our anger, it's better to be angry about one thing at a time, and to imagine the action that could lead to forgiveness. If someone you know says "All Lives Matter," maybe you could ask them to go to their circles and demand that Syrian refugees be taken seriously under that quote. If they thought Trump would stand for ordinary people, ask them to write their congressperson and oppose the ISP sellout. Whatever it is, get angry as if they are capable of earning your respect, as if there is a path to forgiveness and connection. It's worth exploring the suggestions from Nonviolent Communication (NVC), or basically any other personal or business theory of communication, and applying it to politics. Don't ask people to repudiate their entire ideology: give them one request that begins change. To go all the way back to the utilitarian points, pull out book on business sales: you need to get your foot in the door, create one point where they feel more connected to you than to the politicians they previously felt loyal to.

When you express outrage, invite your audience to be better, starting now.

On social media, think about how you react to expressions of anger. It's often powerful to echo the voices of people directly impacted by this administration. Don't own their anger, just echo their voices, give them the mic. If someone's life is better for school lunches or women's shelters that are being cut, and they are angry, share (and share and repeat) their blogs with "what do you think of this?" — expose your social circles to their anger, without claiming it as your own.

It's also important to be supportive of friends and other activists: which is very difficult on social media. If people are expressing anger from a place of overall disgust and exhaustion, we need our friends to show up — but not to turn that exhausted anger into blasts of hatred aimed in the general direction of "them." Giving everyone a chance to get their anger out where their friends can hear is important — but answer that with hugs and activism, not with shares that bounce anonymous outrage to anonymous listeners.

...

Kristof is onto a problem: we are angry, everyone on every side of politics, on Facebook and other social media where our anger doesn’t sting, it just separates. "Be nice" took a wrong turn between telling other people to get over it, rather than figuring out both how to be supportive of people whose anger (or fear) is well justified. And even if most social media anger has no sting or positive political value, some does. His article is caught in the whirlpool of anger politics: he's more or less angry at people for being angry, admonishing them not to admonish others. Which, like almost all our political efforts, is coming from a good place and a desire not to see us elect politicians like the ones in office today.

I think Kristof's argument should be limited to this: avoid stale anger. Avoid getting angry at an amalgam of Republican leaders and the person you are talking with. If you're not looking for support from friends but talking to people you feel anger towards, then be sure your anger is personal, connective, and includes a clear and achievable invitation for change.

If the whole argument is that you can win more people to your side by being nice, it is helpful to remember this when talking to your own side: Kristof’s article fits a strange pattern of being a bit outraged at liberals who are outraged — if being nice would work better, then be nice to people feeling angry.

Practice exercise:

Review recent political posts in your feed that express anger. How many have an underlying message: “We are better than you” vs “You are better than this”

Stephen Cataldo Fri, 04/07/2017 - 04:07