George Lakoff explains how it came to be that Donald Trump could be the Republican nominee for President of the United States. Here are some highlights from a must-read article, especially if you are unfamiliar with Lakoff’s work. http://georgelakoff.com/2016/03/02/why-trump/
Electoral competition is seen as a battle. Insults that stick are seen as victories — deserved victories. Why does Donald Trump publicly insult other candidates and political leaders mercilessly? Quite simply, because he knows he can win an onstage TV insult game. In strict conservative eyes, that makes him a formidable winning candidate who deserves to be a winning candidate.
Direct causation v systemic causation
Empirical research has shown that conservatives tend to reason with direct causation and that progressives have a much easier time reasoning with systemic causation.
Many of Trump’s policy proposals are framed in terms of direct causation.
Immigrants are flooding in from Mexico — build a wall to stop them. For all the immigrants who have entered illegally, just deport them — even if there are 11 million of them working throughout the economy and living throughout the country. The cure for gun violence is to have a gun ready to directly shoot the shooter. If Isis is making money on Iraqi oil, send US troops to Iraq to take control of the oil. If a few terrorists might be coming with Muslim refugees, just stop allowing all Muslims into the country. All this makes sense to direct causation thinkers, but not those who see the immense difficulties and dire consequences of such actions due to the complexities of systemic causation.
Conservatives have felt more and more oppressed by what they call “political correctness” — public pressure against their views and against what they see as “free speech.” This has become exaggerated since 911, when anti-Muslim feelings became strong. The election of President Barack Hussein Obama created outrage among those conservatives, and they refused to see him as a legitimate American (as in the birther movement), much less as a legitimate authority, especially as his liberal views contradicted almost everything else they believe as conservatives.
Donald Trump expresses out loud everything they feel — with force, aggression, anger, and no shame. All they have to do is support and vote for Trump and they don’t even have to express their ‘politically incorrect’ views, since he does it for them and his victories make those views respectable. He is their champion. He gives them a sense of self-respect, authority, and the possibility of power.
There is no middle in American politics. There are moderates, but there is no ideology of the moderate, no single ideology that all moderates agree on. A moderate conservative has some progressive positions on issues, though they vary from person to person. Similarly, a moderate progressive has some conservative positions on issues, again varying from person to person. In short, moderates have both political moral worldviews, but mostly use one of them. Those two moral worldviews in general contradict each other. How can they reside in the same brain at the same time?
Both are characterized in the brain by neural circuitry. They are linked by a commonplace circuit: mutual inhibition. When one is turned on the other is turned off; when one is strengthened, the other is weakened. What turns them on or off? Language that fits that worldview activates that worldview, strengthening it, while turning off the other worldview and weakening it. The more Trump’s views are discussed in the media, the more they are activated and the stronger they get, both in the minds of hardcore conservatives and in the minds of moderate progressives.
This is true even if you are attacking Trump’s views. The reason is that negating a frame activates that frame, as I pointed out in the book Don’t Think of an Elephant! It doesn’t matter if you are promoting Trump or attacking Trump, you are helping Trump.
The Democratic Party has not been taking seriously many of the reasons for Trump’s support and the range of that support. And the media has not been discussing many of the reasons for Trump’s support. That needs to change.
George Lakoff is Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley, and is author of several books including the international bestseller on political debate and messaging, “Don’t Think of an Elephant.”