If the Trump presidential campaign’s success didn’t convince people, then nothing will. Liberal people want to cling to the belief that just rationally explaining something to a right-winger and reciting policy proposals ought to convince them.
We have an undying faith in education as the presentation of information. We really want to believe that if human beings just hear the facts, they’ll come around.
We think that it’s some misunderstanding or failure of logic that causes people to “vote against their self-interest.” And we’re aghast that people actually accept that we’re in a “post-fact” world.
It’s easy, then, to conclude that people who vote for those who use them are just ignorant of something they should know. So, we expect that enlightening them to their lack is the solution.
There’s a moveable middle that will actually listen to such argumentation, a middle, by the way, that seems to be shrinking because of decades of Republican right-wing consultants’ work to frame the debate about right-wing economic and social issues in their language and its assumptions.
But, as I’ve argued for years, including a column here back in November 2011 entitled “And We Keep Expecting Them to Be Rational…” -
“We could have the smartest President that ever lived on the planet. We could rehearse ad-nauseam and as clearly as possible the facts, the data, the studies, and the logic of it all. We could wish, hope, and believe that people were different.
But again and again we will run up against the reality that the responses of the powers and believers in the religious, political, military and economic right-wing are neither moved by rationality nor ‘the facts.’”
Religious Studies scholars know that symbols always beat rationality and linguist George Lakoff has been arguing for over fifteen years that “frames” trump facts. Yet so many liberal people are stuck in analyses of human behavior that go back to the Enlightenment.
And as I wrote back then, the Republican strategy actually assumes liberals won't get it: “leave the other side in the dust trying to figure out the logic of what you are saying and looking for further arguments about facts and logic that Democrats think work no matter how they’ve failed in the past.”
So, the third necessity emphasized in this series is that we must change the frame of the debate and stop expecting success to be the result of beautiful, cogent arguments.
This doesn’t mean that our arguments shouldn’t be logical and fact-based. It means that we must present our positions and ourselves as if we are the symbol of the points we’re trying to make:
(1) Don’t ever look wishy-washy.
Even if you don’t have the facts at hand, stand for something as if you really believe it. Don’t give the right-wing any excuse to believe that you don’t really believe what you say by how you equivocate on an argument, seem to soften your position, or appear too ready to compromise.
If you don’t show that you hold your position with conviction, you symbolize that you yourself appear to doubt its truth. If you don’t really believe something, don’t stand for it.
(2) Come out as progressive.
You’ve noticed that when you’re with people you just want to get along with and choose not to discuss politics, religion, or social issues to do so, they’ll be the ones to bring them up because of their psychological compulsion to do so. When that happens, all you need to convince them about is that you disagree.
Anything further in the discussion is up to whether you’re willing to put the energy into it – you’re not obligated to solve their problems. You don’t owe anyone explanations or justifications for your position.
Remaining silent, however, symbolizes to them that everyone in the room agrees with them. It doesn’t force them to be confronted with the presence of a person (as opposed to their stereotypes of “those people”) who holds an opposing position.
(3) Never repeat the language they use even by calling it “so-called” or to negate it.
When President Richard Nixon in 1973 famously said: “I am not a crook,” Americans concluded that he was.
Reframe any response and let them object to how you speak of it. Their objections mean you’re getting through. And you’re getting them on a new discussion, the need to deny your words – which reinforces your frame.
For example, never use the word “therapy” after “conversion” or “reparative” unless you intend to communicate that you believe it really is therapy. Call it the brainwashing or mental and psychological abuse of LGBT people.
Don’t repeat the misnomer “tax relief” for attempts to lower taxes. Call taxes the dues or investment we pay for living in civilization.
(4) Maintain your composure as much as possible and try to control any unintentional anger.
Don’t make it look as if they can get to you emotionally. That’s a message to them that their position is effective.
But if your anger isn't an intentional tactic and they do, step back and ask yourself what it was that they triggered in you that touched your feelings. Don’t give in to guilt or negative messages about it, but let everything be a learning experience.
(5) Never hesitate to repeat your position as often as you want.
Education requires repetition of an idea at least three times. It’s often more effective to repeat the exact same words than to try to explain yourself, and explanations often give them excuses to get off topic.
(6) Don’t let them change the topic.
A right-wing strategy when caught in a corner, contradiction, or inability to satisfactorily answer a question is to change the topic. So, you’ll need to point out that they didn’t answer your point or question, and you’ll have to do it over and over again.
(7) Don’t feel as if you must have all the answers.
You can always say: “I don’t know, but I’ll find out.” Just stand strong in your values and how you believe they should be expressed.
Through all, you've presented a symbol: yourself. You embody a position. And in this struggle, your flesh and blood presence trumps any arguments.