This week Trump is fat-shaming  —  and now other people are fat-shaming Trump back, pointing out his hypocrisy. Unfortunately, calling out hypocrisy doesn't undermine shame-based politics. Historically hypocrisy seems to be nearly a requirement for using shame to build political movements:

Case in point, Hitler was not the tall, blond, muscular Aryan hero ideal he endlessly talked about. This was no accident. People who felt like failures listened to him talk about the Übermensch Aryan, and felt OK about it because he was fantasizing just as much as they were. In US politics, Rush Limbaugh has long followed this pattern, claiming superiority and throwing shame while having problems in his own life that he would treat mercilessly in another. 

Not all conservatives frame themselves using shame. Arnold Schwarzenegger is a good counter-example. He challenged people to work hard rather than attacking others as inferior, and he exemplified what he talked about. 

Trump follows the shame pattern. When he says “You’re Fired,” and we watch it on TV, we are supposed to identify [nervously] with the man with bad hair doing the firing. It’s cathartic to take your fears and imagine being with the guy doing the pointing. Imagine if Schwarzenegger had shamed people who weren’t fit: large majorities would feel targeted rather than able to dream that they were with Schwarzenegger pointing fingers at someone else.

Hypocrisy is actually a necessary ingredient to shame-based politics. If Trump were built like Arnold Schwarzenegger, people who felt overweight couldn’t help but see themselves as the target, and the attacks would not be a cathartic release from their fears.

This week Trump is fat-shaming  —  and now other people are fat-shaming Trump back. But it’s no accident or surprise that Trump is overweight and using fat-shaming at the same time, and calling him on it only solidifies his frame. The more shame is in the air, the more that people with insecurities see others being shamed, the more desire to be with the guy doing the pointing rather than the target. That is Trump's frame: that we live in a world of shame and strength. Joining that frame, body-shaming Trump, won't dismantle his frame.

If Trump gets many voters who feel economic insecurity, and adds the votes of everyone who doesn’t like their own hair, every man afraid of the size of his “fingers,” every person who worries about their weight or body image — we’re in trouble.

Shame is not a tool that good people can turn around and use effectively against hypocrites. There are two counters to Trump's shame-based "You're Fired" politics. One, we need to counter shame directly with a sense of empowerment, so everyone feels like they can stand on their own feet and is not so vulnerable that they need to stand behind a bully. Two, we need to connect with the people who still aren't ready to stand on their own, the people Trump shames until they nervously stand with the bully, and help them realize that we (whoever we are) want to stand with them and that Trump will turn on them. To break Trump's self-framing as a strong-man, pointing out hypocrisy is useless, we have to help his followers walk in the shoes of people who trusted Trump and then were betrayed.


From Chapter 5 of Cognitive Politics: Shame, Blame and Authority

Stephen Cataldo Fri, 10/07/2016 - 01:04

Money is handed to a charity, and the donor gets a few more minutes to talk with a politician. Money changes hands, and an investigation is called off. Which is the bigger story? Obviously, the one with Hillary Clinton in it. Why? It’s not about bias — this happens even on tv stations where the reporters’ personal biases are in her favor. What’s wrong with the Clinton campaign's messaging on corruption? What are the promises and moral foundations of each campaign, and why does corruption stick to with Clinton’s campaign more?

Corruption: Slippery & Sticky

What makes corruption sticky in a media circus? A new scandal every week leaves listeners with the sense that they are only one-week scandals. But attacks on Clinton are designed to stick. Republicans still talk about Whitewater. The emails, Benghazi, Pay-for-Play. Pay for Play is framing genius: every politician in DC, even the relatively clean ones like Sanders, take donations and “play” more with donors. So Pay-for-Play is a scandal that is nothing more than (what every politician does) + (Hillary Clinton). Can you name Trump’s scandals? I can’t. I’d hope the Clinton campaign could be creative, but if not, why isn’t handing Bondi money to call off an investigation labeled BondiGate? Why not bring up the same old scandal week after week, until people recognize it? With better framing, and a unified and repeated message, the Democrats could make the Trump corruption much stickier.

Conversely, how does a politician make themselves sticky? Trump brushes off scandal, diverting to a new subject. Clinton defends herself when she's done something wrong but not worse than other politicians. I think she believes in her own honesty, which unfortunately leads her to defend herself when she should divert, leads her to give complex defenses that leave people thinking about what she did wrong.

Corrupting a Politician’s Personal Metaphor and Moral Foundations

How does each candidate frame themselves, what values do they attempt to invoke, and how does corruption break their frame?

When I think Hillary Clinton, I think “qualified.” She represents the establishment way of doing things, done quite well, she is at the top of the class and working hard. Qualified: you can imagine Hillary as the student who breaks the curve in your classroom, she deserves the top grade. Qualified evokes the moral foundation of fairness, she deserves the top job. She claims to be a public servant: becoming a millionaire as a public servant, even if no laws are broken, leaves me with a headache.

When I see Trump, I see a strongman. He focuses on two of the moral foundations that liberals generally ignore: authority and in-group loyalty. Go watch The Godfather. Trump wants to be your Godfather. So the Godfather is under investigation and pays off the attorney general. Is this a problem? No, he’s doing his mob-running job.

He's a gang-leader: corruption won't bring him down, viciously slandering his enemies fits his job title. Disloyalty to people working for him is his weak-spot.

Trump is up-front about it: he is running for Godfather in a corrupt system. For that role, bribing a prosecutor is totally in-role. Many people see the system as corrupt, and want a strong man to make deals for them. What’s left to get excited about? Clinton asks us for something else. She says she is not corrupt and is playing by the system’s rules. Accuse her, and she says other politicians do the same thing. I hate other politicians, I hate that corruption is endemic, baked right into the system.

Of course, this is all framing, and all total bullshit.

Clinton's Corruption: What Sticks to Her Frame

Not everything wrong with Clinton is just fluff and false-framing. Hillary Clinton is corrupt in the ways that most lawyers and politicians are corrupt — it’s basically on another, lower, scale, doing the things you do in politics. Donald Trump is corrupt on the criminal and theft scale, taking money from college students and small business contractors, handing cash to divert investigations.

Although Trump’s corruption is personally worse, the widespread legal corruption, the way politicians and lawyers screw us over, is generally more of a problem for the US. Wall Street was crashed by greed within the law, democracy has been subverted by payoffs and bribes within the law.

Hillary Clinton believes that following the rules that politicians have set for themselves counts as integrity. When Clinton is attacked by people mostly more corrupt than her, she — alone among the political class — gets on stage and defends herself as following the rules politicians have written for themselves. Some of the problems when comparing Trump and Clinton are the fault of a media circus — but this one is real, Sanders was right. She has made herself rich on public service, she is a typical politician. If Clinton isn’t going to have an epiphany and change of heart, then she needs to shut up about her integrity being pretty good for a politician. America is right not to like the status quo, and standing up for the status quo is both unethical and an election-season disaster.

Trump's Corruption: What Sticks to His Frame

Jonathan Haidt says that Hillary needs to show that Trump is a con man, who violates "moral intuitions about fairness." I think that we need to divide Trump's voters in two. The core of Trump's support feels aggrieved, treated unfairly, they want their turn, and fairness is not what Trump offers anyway. Mob bosses are all about loyalty. They want him to be a mob boss or a con man, but their con man. You have to show that he turns on people like them, people who trust him. When Trump pays a contractor less than he promised or declares bankruptcy and moves on from a bad investment, he waivers between being the kind of person you want making deals for you and the kind of person who will be disloyal and screw you instead of making deals for you. To defeat Trump, forget corruption, and focus on disloyalty. His supporters have to walk in the shoes of others who who trusted Trump, not just witness unfairness. There is a second group of grudging Trump voters with traditional conservative values: these people can be, they are, both turned off and unsurprised by Trump's crassness and corruption ... but Trumps' corruption still doesn't stick because Trump's self-framing is not a traditional conservative frame.

Making it Stick

Clinton is a well-qualified rich lawyer-politician and is not particularly on your side, but perhaps she is fair -- cheating sticks to her frame. Trump is strongman and is not fair, but is claiming to be on your side -- disloyalty sticks.

Forget calling him corrupt, except occasionally. It's not the opposite of his frame, so it won't stick. Corruption hurts Hillary Clinton because she isn't charismatic and people don't believe she's on their side, but if she was both fair and qualified that would be enough. A mob boss isn't supposed to be fair, but loyal.

Disloyal Donald.

Have a series of “A Man’s Work” and “A Woman’s Work” that goes into his hotels and other properties with contractors and describes a piece of work, the small business that ran it. Run the ads as if they are pro-Trump at the beginning, you walk in the shoes of small businesspeople who work with their hands. “The electrical system needs this many amps, provides lighting for this many people. I installed it with my two sons, we’ve been a family business for x years. Work like this is how I put my kids through college. We contracted for $50,000, from that I have to pay for the parts as well as my labor, installing the wiring on this Trump hotel. This was a good job, I do good work and get paid fair and that puts food on my family’s table. Trump never paid the bill. I thought working for Trump was a good opportunity, it was not.”

Clinton should, purposefully, break minor laws in creating these mini-documentaries. Tape it inside a Trump property without permission. If Trump says anything, it’s easy to make him look stupid the way he does to her: you didn’t pay the people you promised to pay, and now you want to complain that we took a picture? Be tough. Force Trump to attack ordinary people who look like his supporters, or to be pushed around.

People do work for you, you don't pay them. These should be repeated hundreds of times. Have the names of a dozen people Trump hasn't paid, say it over and over with each name. Doing business with Donald is a bad deal for small businesses, painters, plumbers, electricians. Name as many groups as you can.

People lend you money, you don't pay them. xx bankruptcies. Bankrupt Donald. If you really are a billionaire, pay back the people who lend you money, at least the small business people just trying to make a living for themselves.

Offer to hire lawyers for contractors who’ve been stiffed by Trump where the statute of limitations hasn't passed. If a contractor has been silenced as terms of an agreement, have them violate that agreement and pay their fines. Openly mention that Trump has promised to pay the fines for people who punch. You’ll pay the fines for someone who isn’t silenced.

Your dad gave you a fortune, you wasted a lot of your dad's inheritance. I think if you had put your Dad's money in a mutual fund, you'd be richer. Man up and show your tax returns. If you were an investor working for anyone but your dad, they'd say You're Fired.

Students trust you with their college funds. You take their money in a scam. You claim to be rich, you could make a deal for them, but you don't. BondiGate -- you pay off Bondi to hide your guilt, when you could have taken that money and refunded a few students' tuitions. This has to start by putting people in the students' shoes, not just the corruption of buying off Bondi.

Cognitive Politics integrates political communications ideas. This post is inspired by George Lakoff's ideas on framing and Jonathan Haidt's writings on Moral Foundations. See: And Then There Was Trump for interview with Jonathan Haidt.

Stephen Cataldo Fri, 09/09/2016 - 17:37

This is a framing exercise, exploring why PolitiFact says Clinton lies much less than typical politicians, yet she still has a terrible reputation? Part of a series looking at how lying is framed, rather than fact-checking as PolitiFact does.

Step 1: Think of 2 or 3 lies by Clinton. And half a dozen by Trump. Write them into a comment below.

Imagine that instead of this being an election, it's a sport, and they are athletes from your favorite team. Plus maybe you and they have all been drinking.

Step 2: For each lie, Is it just bragging or smack talk -- does it feel like they are lying to you, or is it just a bold claim you're invited to participate in?


My opponent is satan => smack talk
My program will save a trillion dollars => bragging
I didn't do it => lying to you

Stephen Cataldo Sat, 08/06/2016 - 02:30

My exploration of the fairness, compassion and efficiency of a $15+ minimum wage.


I believe that employers should pay a living wage for a number of reasons:

Fairness: I think the market negotiating power of people doing basic but necessary jobs is very weak, and they get underpaid compared to their real contribution. I think the Walmart owners, for example, are extracting more value than they create, and paying their employees less, thanks to imbalanced negotiating power.
Decency/Compassion/Abundance: Even if people really were incapable of contributing enough to have a living wage, I’d think that our society has enough abundance and many of these people are raising families who will suffer enough at $15 or $20/hour, and it would be decent of the billionaires to help create a world with less misery.
It gets complicated for me from here: Even a $15 minimum wage would cause economic problems (especially in rural areas), not achieving what it sets out to achieve. And $22/hour, which would be a wage that would keep low-paid Americans at about the level that lower-paid white males had a generation or so ago, would create a lot of problems even if I think it is fair.* But a policy proposal designed to create a fair world without creating market distortions would be very complex and would not create the same kind of soundbite.

So my preference is an aspiration politician on the left who calls for at least $15/hour as fair, but is ready to talk to conservatives once elected and negotiate a different approach instead of a minimum wage law — probably minimum income or earned income credit. It might also make sense to demand that large corporations pay enough that all their employees are food stamps and so on; if there have to be horribly underpaid jobs, let them be filled by small businesses, not have Walmart dominate a community employment opportunities — especially because large corporations are better at keeping people pigeon-holed, unskilled and thus low paid, they don’t create the same path upwards you might see in a story of a junior stockboy at a small shop and talking with the owner every day.

The robot economy is going to create vast misery quite soon if we don’t make some big changes.

*fair: That the old minimum is about what people deserved, imo. Though how to be objective about much the person who picked the strawberries I just ate, or a childcare provider without a degree, or stock trader, each “contribute,” I think we’re all just shoving our biases into frameworks that return the results we already wanted to hear. The far left says that labor creates all wealth, the far right says that your contribution can be measured by what you are able to negotiate as pay in a competitive marketplace. I think the truth is somewhere in the middle.

Stephen Cataldo Sat, 06/25/2016 - 19:08

Many Sanders supporters claim there is no difference between Democrats and Republicans. As I write, Democratic Congresspeople are holding a sit-in to demand gun control while Republicans after Orlando still march under the NRA’s orders. 

Today they are calling the Republicans out, demanding change, leading. Today there is no doubt there is a difference, and lives are on the line. When corporate give-aways are on the line, it’s much harder to tell the difference.

This isn’t an accident, it’s a trap. This is the trap that all honest Americans are in. We can’t just say gun control is no biggie, and claim that the parties are the same, and be living in reality. But our politicians are largely bought and sold by the same corporate donors. Conservatives who honestly believe that life begins at conception or that gun control will create more problems then it solves, but who want to see more integrity and competence in DC, are stuck in the same bind.

This isn’t an accident. Forty years ago the Republican Party stood for the interests of the richest of the 1%. But they needed 51% of the counted votes, so they built an election machine based on social issues.

Bernie Sanders movement represents two deep desires. One is for a return of the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party, for leaders who follow in the footsteps of FDR. The American left has had no leaders vying for the presidency in quite a long time, so long we’re forgetting who we are. The other deep desire is for honesty and integrity. Not all leftists have integrity, not all moderates and conservatives lack it. But right now both integrity and traditional Democratic values are wrapped together in Sanders’ double-movement.

Trapped between the Democratic corporate machine & the NRA Think of the Southern Strategy like a bear trap. Our obvious choices are to stay in the trap, fighting for women’s right to choose, for sane gun control, for one war instead of two (Afghanistan but not Iraq, had Gore won.) Or tear our foot out of the trap with a third party run, which will express our anger and almost certainly leave us righteously bleeding to death. Is there a way to spring the trap instead?

We tried to be the left’s answer to integrity in the primary. Sanders double-movement went to the Democrats, and shouted that we should be the honesty party. When that fails, if corruption rules the Democrats even in their own primaries, we need to leave them to fight their own fight with a little support. We should not undermine them from the left nor pretend that they are something they are not. Rejected by the Democrats, instead our movement needs to tack to the center for an election cycle, and focus on integrity. Find allies among conservatives who hate bureaucracy and corruption, or hate strong-man populism, find the libertarians who oppose oil wars, and build a movement in the center. A movement willing to call for a stall or compromise in the social wars — where honest people scream at each other — and instead focus on crony capitalism and corrupt politics together.

Today honest Democrats and progressives alone can’t fight against corporate interests without doing real damage on social issues, without handing the day to the NRA. The trap is real — we will lose if we try that strategy. The trap is real — it doesn’t go away just because we see it. The only way out of the Southern Strategy trap is for honest people on left and right to put our differences on ice and focus on corruption. This will have to involve communication and compromise, it will have to happen during this election cycle only if conservatives and moderates with integrity join, not the left going it alone.

Stephen Cataldo Wed, 06/22/2016 - 18:36

According to Moral Foundations Theory, conservatives are much more attuned to sacredness or sanctity than liberals are. When I say this to liberals, they often use nature as a counter-example.

Are they wrong? Does cutting down a forest seem to violate fairness to liberals: you didn't plant that forest, so you can't cut it down. Does a forest seem in some way alive, so cutting down a forest lacks compassion to the forest itself?

Or have we found an edge case contradiction to Moral Foundations, where liberals do see sanctity, see a natural order that should not be violated?

  1. Is Moral Foundations theory wrong on sanctity? If you re-asked the survey questions about Moral Foundations, and instead of asking about desecrating flags and incest that doesn't lead to children, asked about violating nature, would liberals be the ones who most strongly believed in sanctity?
  2. If you put cognitive-liberals and conservatives in MRI machines, liberals and conservatives seem likely to use the same part of their brains for compassion. Would the MRIs show that abortion and deforestation fired a sanctity response? Or would liberals show compassion for forests?
  3. Is nature an edge case? Do liberals believe in sanctity, fire a response for sanctity, only when they think of the subject as a subject, as an entity? In other words, only cognitive-conservatives have a moral foundation about desecrated symbols, ideas, or independent people making decisions about what would desecrate themselves. If a forest could clearcut itself, liberals would be ok with that. Since a forest can't protect itself, it becomes our job. Liberals cut off their sense of sanctity when another being consents for itself?

Moral Foundations doesn't mean people can't recognize a value. I can assess that Reagan was a skilled leader without personally valuing his leadership. I can see that a forest has a beauty that I might describe with words that evoke sanctity. So the question is, do I as a liberal feel the sanctity of a nature in a similar way to how conservatives feel the sanctity of a man and woman make a marriage?

The words we use can easily create limits to understanding. What is sanctity, and how does it relate to compassion? Is a person who believes that every human being deserves medical care and a roof over their head, who believes no crime should be answered with the death penalty, expressing a sanctity-within-humanity? Animal rights very clearly and rather simply extends this to other beings that have feelings. We can use words like sacredness or sanctity for these feelings. Is a forest also receiving compassion from the same place? Is a belief that government sanction of homosexuality can violate the natural order coming from the same value foundation or not?


I've often encountered this when talking about unspoiled nature, and also GMOs. Haidt mentions that the left cares about food sanctity:… GMOs are a fascinating case because many liberals who oppose GMOs don't trust that they are safe (harm foundation) but also seem to be responding on little evidence. (Whatever the real evidence is, I'm not discussing here -- most people don't know the real evidence and are responding from their intutions..)

Stephen Cataldo Sat, 05/14/2016 - 17:25

The Competing Frames of Clinton and Sanders

There are a lot of ways to see "us and them" in government. Most Hillary supporters see a struggle for decency and sanity between two sides: for a generation or longer, government has steadily had one side fighting for Civil Rights, for women's rights, for constraint around war, against poverty. Sanders supporters see government as owned by lobbyists and run by money, with the same corporations buying both parties. Social issues are used to keep us divided. Both these perspectives have a bit of truth, and are often the divide between Hillary and Bernie. How do you connect across the frames?


If we want to undo BernieOrBust, the first step is to realize who is behind it. Serious activists on the Sanders campaign are desperate for people to phone bank. They post in the Facebook feeds asking people to stop posting memes and phone bank. BernieOrBust is mostly the political non-operatives, people who don't feel like they are part of the system, and therefor feel inclined to blame the whole system for corruption. These are mostly people who wouldn't be active at all in politics if it weren't for Sanders channeling the kind of energy he's had since he was young and rebellious.

Consider the messenger

Messages from the Clinton camp calling for Sanders to stop running, mixed with a message that Sanders supporters have to support you in November -- the story here is "we won, so shut up," the messenger is the opponent. Yes, there is plenty of poorly framed messaging and anger from various Sanders supporters, but that messaging is also completely ineffective or counter-productive.

The best messengers for people who think Sanders is great and Hillary is terrible are people who think Sanders great and Hillary is alright. George Takei… is powerful internet presence in this demographic. Once the primary is over, it seems likely that Sanders will be one of these messengers. So if you can avoid making it personal during this more heated time, avoid getting people to dig in to their positions now, and it'll get much easier after the primary.

Exchange and Fairness.

When Nader ran against Gore, many people made deals: Californian Gore-supporters would vote for Nader in exchange for Floridian Nader-supporters voting for Gore. I don't think we need such complexities now. But if you want the votes of people excited by Sanders who feel that Clinton is a good example of what's wrong with American politics even if she is on "our side" amongst the corruption, spend more time listening. Work with the Sanders supporters you know on things like petitions against Citizens United, be part of the anti-corruption and anti-money work, actively, so you are having a balanced conversation when you ask them to vote for someone they see as corrupt and only a lesser evil.

Considering getting rid of the superdelegates. Superdelegates have seemed like part of the corruption of politics, especially to younger voters waking into a system they feel very little ability to influence. The Sanders movement needs to be given some reforms: young people politically active for the first time in their lives need to leave feeling like they were listened to and that their vote (for Sanders) counted for something. Get Sanders involved, let them win this change that will impact the next primary, so people don't have to feel like the machine can never be beaten at all.

Sanders supporters feel silenced if they lose this primary. Find ways to give them back their voice and you'll mobilize that voter base.

If you want to be able to ask friends who support Sanders to give their vote to the candidate who won't show them her speeches to Goldman Sachs, what can you give them? Look for reforms to make the Democratic primary more democratic. Post about Citizens United. Be the person they hear taking the lead on reducing the corruption that upsets them most. Then you have a right to ask for their vote, rather than just hope their tactical analysis eventually lines up with yours.

Stephen Cataldo Thu, 05/05/2016 - 18:54

The First Rule of the Bernie Or Bust Club is never say the word "Bust."

Stephen Cataldo Sat, 04/30/2016 - 16:11

The Democratic Party, after having a surprisingly mature start to the primary season, is about to tear itself apart. These frames aren't just angry, they are disrespectful. BernieOrBust pretends to be talking to the DNC, but a huge portion of the Sanders base including volunteers (and likely including Sanders) will be very upset if the Sanders primary plays even a small role in a Republican victory. And "Just Vote Blue" is basically saying "shut up."

What are the real messages, how could each of these movements be reframed to work?

The underlying message driving BernieOrBust is one that most Democrats used to agree on. Money interests keep ordinary people at each others' throats over social issues that Big Money don't care about, while rewriting the rules to move ever more of this countries wealth upwards. Our politics will continue to deteriorate as long as money runs rampant. Hillary Clinton has in many ways joined the problematic politics that keeps us divided: guns and abortion and other social issues keep working-class conservatives voting for the Republican side of the machine's coin, and she is stepping into that frame in the role of representing the gun-control and choice side of that coin. We can't cave in to that machine, or the country will drift ever farther to the right and under the boot.

Give me what I want
or I'll bust what you want

BernieOrBust advocates need to disentangle two issues. Sanders is the most honest and high-integrity candidate in this race. And the farthest left. We need to admit to ourselves: we haven't convinced the country to go this far left. We have no right to freak out that a Socialist doesn't win elections in America, or to ruin the chances of moderate-progressives whose views match the center of what America would be if it were a democracy. It is time to get angry, and many moderates and even conservatives are with us, that the machine is crushing honest people. Small doses of anger at people who vote for a candidate they know to be a machine candidate may even be in order -- but if you're angry all the time, right or not, you'll just come across as angry. Sanders movement might know it's right, but it's not going to convince more people unless there is more joy and only limited doses of anger.

Just Vote Blue has generally been living a false narrative. Most of the political operatives on the Sanders side, progressives who have been active for years, are perfectly ready to vote for Hillary Clinton. It's the new people, the young, alive, inspired base, that is furious at politics as usual, and furious at you if you will vote for a candidate who takes briefcases of cash (in digital form) for "speeches" and then won't even release the transcripts. This much money in politics is corrupt, blatantly, unapologetically, widespread. You deserve the fury of your kids if you vote for a corrupt politician when there is an honest choice. I haven't seen statistics, but you should ask yourself: are the people you are telling to just vote blue actually democrats, or people upset with the system who joined politics behind Sanders and will leave again without him. I haven't seen statistics, but in my world, Sanders isn't costing Clinton votes, but the new people he mobilized won't stay without him. How can you convince them that voting for Hillary Clinton is a step on the path forward?

Shut up and Vote Blue
because I told you

If your goal is to convince people who are new to politics to be more pragmatic and stick it out for the long run, you are asking them a big favor. You are asking them to get themselves dirty -- for young voters, you are asking them to join the muck of dirty politics for no good reason, because the other option is right in front of us.

Stephen Cataldo Sat, 04/30/2016 - 14:57

Online comments are one of the worst places for mind-changing conversations. A key techniques to get around this: create your frame and question, but leave it open ended, requesting the reader to draw the conclusion. The example below is in response to someone who believes Sanders is a lost cause because he is too far left:

I think you're right that Sanders is much farther to the left than most Americans identify. But, if he were a left-extremist, we'd see him doing well with Democrats and poorly with independents in open primaries. It's completely the opposite. So something more complex is going on.

If I say "Sanders will win with moderates," the online answer is "no he won't." But even a reader inclined to disagree with me has to engage their thinking to think about what I think is complex.

Techniques from Appendix IV at the back of Cognitive Politics: start by agreeing as much as possible, set a frame but skip the conclusion.

Stephen Cataldo Sat, 04/30/2016 - 12:33
My blog extends the advice from Cognitive Politics to explore metaphors, frames and messaging goals for progressive politics.

The United States isn't fully ready for women to break the glass ceiling, to hold power. As Hillary Clinton aims for a leadership role, it is bringing out ugly speech that exposes more than name-calling.

What does it mean that an audience of progressives applauds "corporate Democratic whores?" If a politician is selling out our nation, and we're trying to come up with the worst insult we can think of, do we compare them to a thief, a bandit, a warlord? No, we collectively intuit that sex is worse than criminality and use sexual terms. The logical insult for someone making a profit selling other people out, with sex thrown in, would be a "pimp." But it would be rare to hear Clinton or Congress referred to as pimps, instead people seeking the worst insult for powerful people often imply that they are women.

The general response to symptoms of sexism has been to get angry, to demand that Sanders disavow statements (as he has this time), but I don't think that gets us very far.

This incident is more interesting than just a bit of sexist name-calling, it exposes how our society and our language teach us to relate to power and gender. When most people people think of a "whore" in the sense that was used on the stage, what comes to mind is a woman in poverty with no good options who sells use of her body, perhaps to feed her kids. Most congresspeople selling us out are men, wealthy, who have many comfortable options besides selling out. Besides being impolite, the word evokes a metaphor that is the opposite of what was meant about gender, power and integrity. Why would a progressive speaker use a metaphor that turns so thoroughly against the reality they consciously believe they are fighting?

Exploring Metaphors and Frames

George Lakoff (Don't Think of an Elephant) describes liberal politics as built upon the metaphor of a nurturing parent who provides support, while conservative politics has a foundation of a strict father who teaches discipline. Calling sell-out politicians "whores" matches neither of these. What underlying way of seeing the world is evoked when naming powerful sell-outs as whores?

Lakoff's hypothesis is that we all think about complex topics with simpler metaphors. Families are a basic, widely shared experience, so people often use parenting styles as a frame for governing styles. Hierarchies are also a basic experience -- something our ancestors knew intimately since before they came down from the trees. Our ancestors and our childhood stories are full of alpha-males, hierarchies and patriarchy. The "whore" metaphor is not about nurturance nor discipline (left or right), it's not a family metaphor -- it's a word related to thinking of the world in raw power structures, seeing power as right. The more you use a metaphor, the more you reinforce that way of thinking about the world. In recent months, more and more of the messaging from Sanders and his supporters has moved from a framework of nurturance to power politics.

Hillary Clinton's efforts to crack the glass ceiling have been unleashed a shower of patriarchy and hierarchy metaphors: as she tries to take on leadership, even many people who would like to think of ourselves as anti-patriarchy are intuitively responding within that metaphor. When people respond to a woman trying to take a leadership role with words evoking those at the bottom of the patriarchy, it's evidence they are participating in a story of hierarchy and patriarchy, whether they know that is their frame or not.

Calling a corporate lawyer Senator a "whore" is implicitly seeking a way to blame the weak.

It's not an accident that we push our insults downwards on the social hierarchy.

We live in a culture that sees a sellout at the top of the financial and power hierarchy, and can only find ways to insult them by comparing them to the people at the bottom, and to women.

Whenever sexist language is used, it's a sign that the speaker is not trying to break down habits of hierarchy. Rather they are participating within that framework: arguing that their side belongs at the top of the pyramid, and that their opponent has characteristics of those at the bottom. If your mind is stuck in a hierarchy framework, you'll use metaphors that try to diminish powerful opponents by comparing them to the people at the bottom of the power pyramid.

The single greatest threat to Sanders' victory is his supporters expressing sexist bias in front of Democratic primary voters, but even that motivation is not enough to stop someone from using the word "whore" in a prepared speech. We're usually not this stupid except when we're derailed by our subconscious biases.

A Learning Moment

These habits don't disappear on their own, they have to be uprooted.

This primary could be a learning moment. Hillary Clinton is as close as any woman has ever come to cracking the highest glass ceiling in the US. She is running against a primary opponent who long ago concurred that she faces sexism. Both campaigns are full of people who see themselves as feminists. A lot of sexism is being dredged up. But so far all that is happening is the Clinton campaign takes shots at Sanders for it, while Sanders keeps his head down hoping to stay on his economic message.

Censoring a few words is trivial and misses the point. Our thinking is built with metaphors, and the controversial words are just symptoms of how we are thinking.

I don't think that having Sanders disavow his supporters when they go too far is interesting or adequate. What more can the Sanders campaign do? I'm curious to hear other readers' ideas, please leave ideas in the comments.

My first thoughts:

  • Sanders shouldn't have ducked, he shouldn't have answered with a short tweet. Don't try to hide our impulses to use inappropriate words, but dig up why we have those impulses. The very quick admonition "Don't say that; get back on topic" should be transformed into longer explorations of why we turn to the words we choose. It's not about inappropriate word use: it is about our tendencies to assume a story of hierarchy and patriarchy, where we want to be at the top of the pyramid. Subservience to the powerful and slandering of the powerless is at the core of Sanders' message when it comes to campaign contributions. When people in his campaign are participating in that worldview, he has the best opportunity to change the way people thing.
  • Sanders needs to teach and empower his supporters to engage each other, using this campaign to reduce sexism. His campaign needs to put out some writings, perhaps an image that works well on social media, that his supporters can use when others use sexist language in his name. He should be asking his supporters to learn. We need to be a bit tougher on ourselves, figuring out why we think what we think, exploring the stories we're telling ourselves. To the extent that he doesn't do this, he is leaving a vacuum that should be filled by both Hillary Clinton and all her supporters. The most powerful technique is to reduce accusations and focus on teaching and getting conversations started. It's very hard to convince people who don't see themselves as sexist that they are sexist, to "score points" when there is no referee. Taking on leadership roles as educators among Sanders volunteers would draw progressives who want politicians to lead, and who need to be reminded of the full breadth of progressive values.

The words are just a symptom. We all need to be asked, and to ask ourselves, what language we're using, and what that tells us about how our minds are currently programmed. Calling a corrupt corporate lawyer a whore is not an accident, it's not just a word; it shows an underlying way of thinking about the world that is backwards.

I would like to see either politician -- or if they are willing to put mission ahead of their campaigns, both, together -- give a speech that calls Americans on our habits. Can they discuss why a woman gaining power is causing people to turn to sexist language?

In an ideal world, Clinton and Sanders would work this out together.

Political Framing Strategy: Clinton

The Clinton campaign has two choices to deal with the sexism she faces. The first, the path chosen so far, is to call out sexism and attempt to score points on Sanders for it: you should not vote for Sanders because many of his supporters and many people in the press are sexist.

The Clinton campaign has often tried to express why she is electably centrist, highly competent, and often aggrieved by the right wing and sexists of all flavors. Many women of her generation have seen her as a pathbreaker. But she hasn't taken on a leadership role beyond the demographic of people who already see things as she does. I believe the rhetoric of the "Bernie Bros" is mostly wrong and misleading: most Sanders supporters have a feminist or at least anti-sexist self-image. Clinton can take on a leadership role that will draw people to vote for her -- now and in November -- if she stops trying to score points, and instead leads us on social issues. Sanders has high integrity, but weak skills, at doing this. He votes for progress in social issues and has even been part of sit-ins and other very personal work, but given a podium he mostly talks economics. Clinton needs to give him his "enough of the emails!" moment, followed by speaking about her own struggles from the heart, and standing up for women who are not rich and powerful and face the brunt of what is behind the "whore" metaphor. She is calling Sanders out for being unable to control his millions of followers; she needs to show how it can be done instead.

Thoughts on framing for the Clinton campaign.

Political Framing Strategy: Sanders

Twenty years ago politicians might receive a briefcase full of cash. Today that would be redundant. They give a speech and get paid. This primary is not about Hillary Clinton's individual competence or corruption. It comes down to this: Can we ever fix our government if we have hundreds of politicians each saying that they are the one politician who can be trusted with millions of dollars that are obviously intended as pay-offs?

Sanders campaign has many positive messages, and this one negative message: the acceptance of money, and the acceptance of accepting money. If they can stay on it, dropping most other negative comments or implying that Hillary Clinton is worse than other typical politicians, they can get their message out without appearing bitter.

If you want to insult Hillary Clinton, you can call her a "corporate-lawyer Democrat," you can call her a "politician," so why in the world do people choose childish sexist language, and language that turns on the weak instead of the powerful? Sanders cannot skip this issue and still be a leader; his supporters can't let this slide and call themselves progressives.

Thoughts on framing for the Sanders campaign

This primary is an ideal time to uproot some very old and foul parts of our culture. The Democratic debates started in the right place. But as politics heat up, we're moving away from metaphors of nurturing or discipline-building parents, and towards gang metaphors. The Trump campaign is not at all framed upon the traditional Republican strict father metaphor, but upon hierarchy metaphors. Trump is the strongman leading his gang of voters, not a disciplined leader demanding sacrifices. We need to be discussing this, and helping our own communities wake out of accidental gang-, power- and hierarchy-metaphors.

Both Democratic primary campaigns are acting desperate now, which suits neither of them. This is a vitally important time for them to figure out what they really disagree about, stick to it, and shake hands on the rest.

Stephen Cataldo Sat, 04/16/2016 - 16:43
This blog extends the advice from Cognitive Politics to today's politics. It is oriented towards citizen-activists and not just politicians.

Goals Overview

Sanders twin goals are to build a movement bursting with enthusiasm and swing swingable voters -- without his movement's bursting enthusiasm offending those swingable voters. The primary seems to be a race against time and and isolation within his demographics.

Value differentiation + Story or metaphor that fit those goals

Bernie Sanders' central story (see chap1) intertwines two threads: like FDR he is a true progressive who will represent ordinary people in a time of trouble, plus he is honest, trustworthy and willing to stand up to corruption.

From a framing perspective, he began strikingly coherent for a modern Democrat: he's an idealist, arrested for Civil Rights long ago, he'll defend his opponent from false charges today, birds land on his podium. He's no slick politician, too busy fighting for you to comb his hair. He is about as as far from the viciousness of online comments as you can get. But he has built a movement that spends a lot of time blasting disagreement online, and is on the edge of watching his movement sink into the bitterness of modern American politics.

For Sanders Supporters

Most people already think that Sanders has integrity. What blocks support for Sanders among progressives is a sense that he is contributing to division instead of supporting other progressives, and setting back the work Clinton could do to reduce sexism and get Americans used to women in leadership roles. Counter this:


Become familiar and better able to express the problems with the glass ceiling than other people in your circles, and get out in front on that issue. Take leadership roles in countering sexism.

The 1996 Article Every Millennial Should Read is a great article for younger Sanders supporters to share -- it's an article that describes the sexism that she faced and blazed a trail through for other women. This matches my values as a progressive, I'll share it. Politically, Clinton is creating a frame where she has faced sexism, and Sanders is on the other side of that frame. You can break that frame by sticking to progressive values: take on leadership roles on sexism, don't stop doing so because you currently oppose a female candidate and support a male one. If Trump used the word "whore" anywhere near the Clinton campaign, we'd be in an uproar -- so, your friends need to see you be in an uproar this time too. Sanders campaign is framed as high integrity, live up to it if you want to win. See also: Shards from the glass ceiling.

Unite Progressive Politics

Volunteer. Invite all your friends to participate in registering new voters. Make sure that everyone who is exposed to your social media about Bernie Sanders also sees you supporting progressives who are running against conservatives, and giving a damn about less sexy down-ticket races. If you are a millennial unsuccessfully trying to convince progressive family members, switch from arguing to inviting them to register voters with you.

What I've seen of the Sanders movement online often looks like this: We're fighting for a very unconventional candidate in a very conventional way. Sanders doesn't bad-mouth his opponent, but we do. When sexism arises in our forums, we don't know what to do, and aren't interested in learning. We use threats -- announcing that "I won't vote for Hillary Clinton if she wins so you better vote for Sanders" is a threat, it is power politics, it is giving up on the idea that I can convince someone to change their mind freely. To help Sanders win, imitate his frame in your circle: lead people to unite and do work for high-integrity politics, without insults or threats, and include less sexy local races and voter registration.

Match Media to Audience

Many political campaigns struggle with the need to simultaneously rally a base and convince swing voters. Bernie's supporters are a team, competitive, making this fun and alive, sounding like their team is about to win the World Series. Symbols are everywhere: I can recognize icons of his hair, his eyebrows, the bird. This will of course feel excessive and cliquish to people outside. If you want to win an election, you need to rally the base -- where Sanders has worked miracles, and you also need swing fence-sitters -- which is going slower. Swingable voters don't need to be convinced that Hillary is evil -- especially difficult with older voters who watched the Clintons lead us through some pretty good years. Sanders merely needs you to convince swingable relatives and friends that Sanders is one tiny bit better than Clinton. The farther you reach, the less likely you are to be believed. Look for articles that don't begin by asking people who've supported Hillary Clinton for a couple decades to see her as a villain, and are very specific and solid on her shortcomings, while also mentioning her strengths. Yes, Hillary Clinton is very hard working and competent -- mention the highly competent work in Iran (the Republicans might have started yet another war) alongside the Reaganesque choices made in Honduras if you want to be heard. [See Chap 3.]

Strategy for the Campaign

Goals Analysis

Usually for Democrats, bridging the fractures between electorates is helpful -- since the Southern Strategy, the Republicans have been moving towards trigger issues instead of calm conversations about economic interests. Sanders campaign is an unusual position: even though he doesn't desire to go negative, it is in his interest to get people to believe that there is a big difference between him and Clinton. Time is against him, complacent people will vote for who they planned to vote for last year; but he can't go negative, since many Democrats have now known Hillary Clinton for decades. It's an unusual election: Sanders can't go negative and still be "Bernie," but has to leave people understanding Clinton's shortcomings.

Analysis: Matching Strategy to Goals and Story

How do you get your movement to understand your opponents corruption, without building a smear-campaign that dirties your own? Hillary Clinton has built a political machine. This is the goal of most politicians, and the bane of citizens but hard to avoid. She is also the target of unending smear campaigns by Republicans. What is the best way to get fellow Democrats to focus on her corruption? I think the best lead is to agree that much of what is aimed at Hillary is mere smears: all progressives and all honest people should notice the unending Benghazi attack squads, purely motivated by politics and vicious. Follow that by agreeing to positives that all Hillary's supporters already believe in -- and press your base to come come back and be rational. Then, only then, target a few aspects of Hillary's willingness to participate in Washington corruption. The Goldman Sachs speeches are the perhaps the best lead issue, because it is something she could change, at any given moment. Is it ok for corporations to hand politicians briefcases full of cash? How is it different if the politician has to give a speech first? The refusal to share the speeches gets to the heart of what I think both Clintons have done: taking the corruption that always occurs in the shadows, and not being embarrassed by it, making it step by step more acceptable.

Engage the Backfire

Sanders has been weak at discouraging endemic sexism in his movement, and light-weight radicalism that is dismissive of other activists' work.

Out-Grouping: @BernieOrBust

When Bernie supporters post this type of message on social media, who are they talking to?
This feels like Bernie supporters trying to have a conversation with Hillary Clinton and the very top people at the DNC, but on social media it's actually read by their friends. The politicians might be corrupt, but their supporters aren't, and we need to get better at connecting with them as human beings, not declaring ahead of time what kind of tantrum we will have if *we* fail to phone bank, donate and get good enough at convincing people to vote for the candidate we like.

This follows a pattern of weak leadership within the movement. This might not be something that can be overcome even in theory: Sanders didn't make this movement, and it likely won't listen to him when it disagrees. But so far, his voice has been very weak at calling for, not necessarily party unity, but progressive sanity and mutual respect. I hear that he will vote for Clinton to prevent Trump, perhaps holding his nose is fine, but there is too little effort to get his supporters to stop holding their noses while taking with Clinton supporters, and not just the politicians.

Tactics that Work

I think the Sanders campaign is adrift after an amazing start. He wishes the sexism in his movement would go away so he can get back to work -- wishes are not leadership. Hillary Clinton is who he said she was, a typical machine politician who is not a good choice for President, but he is getting exhausted with her (in my estimation) and in danger of coming across as an angry person leading an angry movement. The movement is listening to its own voices and radicalizing, spending so much time in the world of politics as to forget what people who don't love politics will experience. The two key changes in his campaign would be to narrow the heat aimed at Clinton to one or two issues [even if as a supporter of his you can find a dozen that make you furious] while remaining conscious and accepting of her strengths, and finding a way to take a leadership role on the hate and sexism permeating so much of our political system. These could be best combined by getting some people who would be good teachers up on stage, jointly with the Clinton campaign.

The best thing supporters of either candidate can do is initiate calls to supporters of the other Democrat and work on voter registration together. Are any of your friends or friends-of-friends on facebook Sanders supporters?

If the Bernie fans were better listeners about sexism, they'd have won this primary; if they mobilize down-ticket and run voter registrations they can heal the feeling of division, which will draw support from many progressives who feel a functioning and unified Democratic Party is our only hope.

Stephen Cataldo Wed, 04/06/2016 - 02:41