Journalists are bravely standing up to Trump’s attacks on the free press, as they should. Yet one way in which they’re expressing their solidarity and resistance shows how little most journalists know about political framing and messaging.

Case in point: Trump has labeled journalists as “enemies.” So, journalists have responded by labeling themselves “#NotTheEnemy.” This hashtag is currently trending on Twitter, which is unfortunate. Adopting this slogan is a big mistake that helps Trump.

Anyone who has read my books or taken my classes at Berkeley will immediately understand why. For those new to political framing and messaging, I’ll explain briefly here.

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 in the cognitive and brain sciences, this is the first lesson in framing I have given my students for decades. 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 a key principle of framing: avoid the language of the attacker because it evokes their frame and helps make their case.

Why? Because, in order to negate a frame, you have to activate it. Frames, like all other ideas, are constituted by neural circuitry in the brain. Every time a circuit is activated, its synapses get stronger. When you negate a frame, you help the other side.

Avoid repeating the charges! Instead, use your own words and values to reframe the conversation. When journalists protest that they are “Not The Enemy,” they should remember how well “I am not a crook” worked for Nixon.

The important frame here is Truth. Donald Trump despises journalists because the duty of a good journalist is to tell the truth and inform the public. Trump doesn’t like the truth – or an informed public – because the success of his anti-democratic agenda depends on lies and distractions.

This is why he has labeled journalists as “enemies.” Because Trump is an enemy of truth, and you can’t have democracy without truth.

Journalists are the courageous people we trust to #ProtectTheTruth.

Ten points for Democracy Activists

1 – To understand the basic issues, read “A Minority President”: https://georgelakoff.com/2016/11/22/a-minority-president-why-the-polls-failed-and-what-the-majority-can-do

2 – Know the difference between framing and propaganda: Frames are mental structures used in thought; every thought uses frames. Every word in every language is defined relative to a mental structure — a frame. Frames, in themselves, are unavoidable and neutral. Honest framing is the use of frames you believe and that are used to express truths. Propaganda expresses lies that propagandists know are lies for the sake of political or social advantage.

3 – Hold Republicans accountable. Trump is dominating the media, partly to establish his authority, but mainly to divert attention and provide cover to Republican leaders. Keep focused on Republican actions. Minimize publicizing Trump — his image, his name, his tweets.

4 – Focus attention on substance, not sideshows. Trump’s attacks on freedom, democracy, and the innocent matter more than his tweets. Positively and strongly reframe his pre-emptive framing (see tweet diagram).

5 – Focus on democracy and freedom. In a government by, for, and of the people, there is, or should be, no distinction between the public and the government. The consequences are:

  • Empathy: government should care about, and for, the public;
  • Transparency: government should inform the public truthfully;
  • Freedom and Opportunity: the private depends on public resources, both for private enterprise and private life. For example, if you’re not educated, you’re not free. If you have no health care, you’re not free. If you’re impoverished, you lack opportunity.

Republicans are destroying all of these by:

  • Removing “regulations,” which are public protections;
  • Imposing gag rules and budget cuts on government agencies removes transparency;
  • Privatizing education, protection, communication, infrastructure, nature; etc. are attacks on freedom)

6 – Be careful not to spread fake news. Check it out, on the “big four” non-partisan political fact-checkers—PolitifactFactcheck.org, the Washington Post’s Fact Checker, and Snopes.com. Subscribe to real news!

7 – Understand the brain’s politics: All ideas are physical, embodied in neural circuitry. The more the circuitry is activated, the stronger the circuitry gets and the more deeply the ideas are held. Worldviews are complex neural circuits fixed in the brain. People can only understand what fits the neural circuitry in their brains. Real facts can be filtered out by worldviews. “Alternative facts” are lies — falsehoods that follow from ideologies that are fixed, that define one’s identity and so are taken as ‘higher truths.”

8 – Remember: We’re the POWERFUL American Majority. No more helpless/hopeless talk. Anger, fear and cynicism benefit Trump’s GOP. Remember: Don’t think of an elephant! Don’t use Republican language, or repeat their positions, even to negate them. Frame using ideas you believe and real facts that are contextualized and morally framed. Avoid isolated facts and numbers. The best resistance is positive persistence.

9- Be positive: frame all issues from a progressive moral viewpoint. Take the viewpoint of the public good, not corporate profiteering. Take the viewpoint of the impoverished and weak, not the rich and powerful. Take the viewpoint of preservation, not the destruction of nature.

10 – Join the Citizens’ Communication Network: until it is officially functioning, you can unofficially join by following me on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/George-Lakoff-Official-165643503477608/) and Twitter (@GeorgeLakoff) for regular thoughts and updates.

Highly recommended background reading:

The ALL NEW Don’t Think of an Elephant!

and Moral Politics, 3rd edition.