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Lakoff writes: "Without knowing it, many Democrats, progressives and members of the news media help Donald Trump every day. The way they help him is simple: they spread his message."

George Lakoff, 2012. (photo: Wikimedia Commons)
George Lakoff, 2012. (photo: Wikimedia Commons)

How You Help Trump

By George Lakoff, Medium

28 May 18


ithout knowing it, many Democrats, progressives and members of the news media help Donald Trump every day. The way they help him is simple: they spread his message.

Think about it: every time Trump issues a mean tweet or utters a shocking statement, millions of people begin to obsess over his words. Reporters make it the top headline. Cable TV panels talk about it for hours. Horrified Democrats and progressives share the stories online, making sure to repeat the nastiest statements in order to refute them. While this response is understandable, it works in favor of Trump.

When you repeat Trump, you help Trump. You do this by spreading his message wide and far.

Nobody knows this better than Trump. Trump, as a media master, knows how to frame a debate. When he picks a fight, he does so deliberately. He tweets or says outrageous things, knowing they will be repeated millions and millions of times. When the news media and Democrats repeat Trump’s frames, they are strengthening those frames by ensuring that tens of millions of Americans hear them repeated over and over again.

Quick: don’t think of an elephant. Now, what do you see? The bulkiness, the grayness, the trunkiness of an elephant. You can’t block the picture — the frame — from being accessed by your unconscious mind. As a professor of brain science, this is the first lesson I give my students. It’s also the title of my book on the science of framing political debates.

The key lesson: when we negate a frame, we evoke the frame. When President Richard Nixon addressed the country during Watergate and used the phrase “I am not a crook,” he coupled his image with that of a crook. He established what he was denying by repeating his opponents’ message.

This illustrates one of the most important principles of framing a debate: When arguing against the other side, don’t use their language because it evokes their frame and not the frame you seek to establish. Never repeat their charges! Instead, use your own words and values to reframe the conversation.

When you repeat Trump, you help Trump.

In the coming weeks and months, I’ll use this space to provide simple, practical advice on how Democrats, progressives and conscientious journalists can use the principles of effective framing to expose and undermine Trump’s propaganda. Knowledge is power! We must arm ourselves with the fundamentals of effective political communication. We must know our values and frame the debate — and avoid helping Trump.

When you repeat Trump, you help Trump. your social media marketing partner


A note of caution regarding our comment sections:

For months a stream of media reports have warned of coordinated propaganda efforts targeting political websites based in the U.S., particularly in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.

We too were alarmed at the patterns we were, and still are, seeing. It is clear that the provocateurs are far more savvy, disciplined, and purposeful than anything we have ever experienced before.

It is also clear that we still have elements of the same activity in our article discussion forums at this time.

We have hosted and encouraged reader expression since the turn of the century. The comments of our readers are the most vibrant, best-used interactive feature at Reader Supported News. Accordingly, we are strongly resistant to interrupting those services.

It is, however, important to note that in all likelihood hardened operatives are attempting to shape the dialog our community seeks to engage in.

Adapt and overcome.

Marc Ash
Founder, Reader Supported News

+19 # pappajohn 2018-05-28 13:36
You tell ‘em, George.

And we don’t call out the lies, innuendo and exaggerations. We allow them to stand, without challenge. When they say something that is clearly a falsehood, we must demand that Sarah or Trump or Giuliani prove their statement.

Unless we do, we allow them to “Goebbels” us into defending reality, as abundant lies and pseudo framing takes center stage.
+2 # Black Hawk Down 2018-05-29 09:51
So true. We can remember how every-time Trump opened his mouth and put his foot in it during the campaign and consequently the press picked up on it resulting in a lot of free coverage for him. It was all 'bad press' but still. I once read a funny one-liner associated with this-- "Well, if Trump got elected because of so much free press coverage... how'd he ever win the election?"
+4 # PeacefulGarden 2018-05-28 13:56
+9 # dotlady 2018-05-28 14:20
This piece alone does the job of keeping the guy in mind. Alas. Please devote the next to our values!
+6 # evolver 2018-05-28 14:42
+2 # moreover 2018-05-28 14:50
I've taken Lakoff's advice to heard for a number of years now. It's not easy but discipline is sorely needed. Please make the effort: don't repeat the charges as it only serves to solidify false accusations.
Example from way back. Barbara Walters interviewed a Reagan official about photo ops with minorities whose interests were severely hurt by his policies. He admitted that the only thing that counted was the sympathetic images, and that the commentary underneath the images, assailing the administration for its cynicism, would be without any effect. He was right. Studies clearly show that.
+21 # goodsensecynic 2018-05-28 15:24
OK, I get it.

Now, the question is: What are "our values"?

I understand that Agent Orange is the unfit to be president by any available standard: criminal, civil, ethical, moral, intellectual, psychological ... never mind political.

So, what alternative do "we" propose? Whatever it is, it can't just be a vacuous celebrity "anti-Trump" with a less boorish, bombastic, misogynistic, racist, potty-mouthed and pirate-brained version of the same neoliberal policies that Trump supports (on those rare occasions when he can focus and mumble out something about "policy.")
That is, it can't be warmed-over "moderate Republicanism" in the manner of Hillary Clinton).

The pain of the much-ignored industrial working class is real. Trump's "solutions" make it worse; but, as long as Democrats think that "medicare of all is a pipe-dream," or that "Dodd-Frank" adequately restrains Wall Street, or that bombing Libya made any sense whatever, then all we're talking about is Donald J. Trump with good table manners and a measure of literacy.

Call it "democratic socialism," LBJ's "great society" brought up-to-date, the second coming of FDR's "new deal" or what you will ... somehow a coherent and mildly left-of-center platform (nothing radical by Western European or even Canadian standard ... but SOMETHING to drag the world's largest and least equitable economy into a set of arrangements that fit with the economic and ecological needs of the 21st century.
+3 # Shorey13 2018-05-28 16:08
Yesterday's NY Times included an article suggesting that "Fake News" and fake advertising eventually lose their power because we start tuning out excess repetition. Good news if true!
-12 # Texas Girl 2018-05-28 16:21
When we repeat Trump, we help Trump by spreading his message wide and far -- and interestingly, more and more people like what they are hearing in that message.
+9 # sweetbabbalou 2018-05-29 10:59
" more people like what they are hearing in that message." This scares me as much as Trump.
+3 # PCPrincess 2018-05-30 10:45
Okay, I'll bite: What particular things does Trump say that you like? There is one rule though: you can only state a 'thing' if it something factual. Don't restate a Trump lie.
+2 # sweetbabbalou 2018-05-28 16:48
Thank you.
+8 # Robbee 2018-05-28 17:14
i don't repeat dickhead, i don't even say his name - how'm i doing?
+3 # Colleen Clark 2018-05-28 17:23
Awaiting further advice.
+5 # economagic 2018-05-28 17:55
I count thirteen mentions of "Trump" in the ten short paragraphs above. It's actually thirteen mentions in SEVEN paragraphs, as "he whose name shall not be mentioned" is NOT mentioned in three of the ten.

I realize Professor Lakoff is making a point, and that he may even have been repeating the name on purpose to illustrate the point. But as he himself suggests, the effect is the same regardless of the intent.

A much more important reason for "millions of people [NOT] to obsess over his words" is that he is NOT "The Problem," but a symptom of a much deeper problem of long standing. One can draw a fairly straight line from the planned "bankers' coup" of 1933-34 to the ostensibly "bloodless" coup we are in the midst of. The fact that it isn't bloodless is in itself evidence of its existence.

If the object of all this foofaraw were to be vaporized today, very few lives would be changed in the least.
+4 # boredlion 2018-05-28 23:53
But George - look what happened to Nixon after his sweat-stained assertion : he was quite quickly and readily revealed to be exactly what he denied himself to be - a low-down, rotten, slimy crook. And, so as to avoid certain impeachment by the Senate, was the first (and let us hope, not the last) p-resident to resign from office. So, you might do well to adjust your expectations.
+10 # politicaleconomist 2018-05-29 07:02
This is so superficial. How can the corporate media not boost Trump in this way? What part of the media is going to forgo the easy money it gets by repeating Trump? (and thereby spreading his word) Or, kforego repeating the big lies about the Russian menace which MSNBC and others do to supposedly counter the Trump message? and thereby promoting the idea that America needs to rebuild its strength which is Trump's main message!)
You can't fight the lying fascist message of Trump with an alternative lying fascist message and expect a good outcome. If you want a Democratic version of neocon-neoliber alism then continue to believe that all we need to do is to get rid of Trump.
But what I believe we need to do is to face reality. The reality is that the current version of capitalism is leading us to hell. That's what we need to face up to. And, that's what we must rid the world of.
0 # RMF 2018-05-30 09:20

Say what, are you saying that Putin's Russia did not help trumpolinin get elected?

If so, in what alternate reality do you reside?
0 # economagic 2018-05-30 17:33
The political economy of Him Whose Name Shall Not Be Uttered goes far beyond militarism ("the idea that America needs to rebuild its strength"), and it was not introduced into the USian discussion by him. One can draw a straight line from the bankers’ plot of 1933-34 (sometimes called the "bankers' coup," although General Butler blew the whistle before it could be implemented), through the infamous Powell Memo (of which I see far too little mention these days), directly to the situation in which we find our nation today. And yes, a major aspect of this situation (emphasized by Powell 47 years ago) is the current version of capitalism. Is there any other version except its earlier stages? I distinguish between capitalISM ("money worship" as the term "capital" came to mean more than a century ago except in introductory textbooks) and market exchanges, which have existed for thousands of years.

I would be interested to hear your proposal for ridding the world of it. I think we are going to have to wait it out, and then when the opportunity presents itself, making chaos our ally as urged by Stab Goff, be prepared to act quickly before it reconstitutes itself.
0 # RMF 2018-06-03 15:11
Yes, it's not surprising that the trumpolini team seeks to beef up US militarism, as a means to better impose it's will on international economic affairs -- a kind of colonialism for the 21st century, which, at same time represents a diminution of diplomacy and negotiation in conflict avoidance or resolution.

As most are aware there are severe imbalances in the US macro-economy at present, most notably in worsening income distribution and stagnating economic welfare of wage earners.

To reverse economic decline in the working class will take a concerted effort involving a panoply of changes in both economic and political regulation -- for example, on the economic front legislation is needed to strengthen the bargaining power of labor unions, while in the political realm reform is needed to reduce the influence, and level the playing field, of campaign finance.

It's unlikely to see this kind of change in the immediate future, and ridding ourselves of trumpolini won't in itself bring it about. But even so, while removing trumpolini may not be sufficient, it is a necessary first step in restoring some semblance of sanity in US political and economic policy.
+6 # chapdrum 2018-05-29 13:43
Agree with this, but suggest that an even larger issue is the complicity of Don's party. They are literally putting party over country and, so far, (not surprisingly) are getting away with it.
+2 # mashiguo 2018-05-29 13:46
It's somewhat arrogant to blame anyone for talking about Trump's tweets when in fact congress is passing all his legislation and more.

But to get to some of your long since discredited points:
"Quick: don’t think of an elephant. Now, what do you see? "
- I see a pink lesbian unicorn taking a dump on congress. Of course if everyone is a robot and not in control of their own thoughts, well then, Trump is their ideal president.

"When you repeat Trump, you help Trump."

Polish your mirror.
... or did he hire you to repeat that endlessly.

What about discussing policy?
+1 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2018-05-29 16:44
Twitter was designed to get people to re-twitt everything everyone says and push out twits like a virus, soon infecting the whole electronic universe. Today, most journalists seem to read twitter more than they actually research a story. They write about the twitter stream following one of Trump's twits.

Maybe we should ban twitter. After all, it was started by the CIA in order to do exactly what it is doing to political discourse in the US.

I don't agree that Trump is good at framing anything. The major media are the great framers, but they are even more dishonest than Trump, if that is possible. Their frames are propaganda.
+3 # librarian1984 2018-05-30 20:29
If I don't mention Bill and Hillary will they go away too?
0 # sashapyle 2018-05-31 13:15
They’re as away as they’re gonna get.

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