The President Is The Nation: The Central Metaphor Trump Lives By

Metaphors in the Brain    

We know from neuroscience that most thought is unconscious, carried out by neural circuitry. In Metaphors We Live By, Mark Johnson and I showed that much of that unconscious thought is metaphorical, and further, that we often live our lives according to those metaphors. A simple example, we understand time as a money-like resource, seen in expressions like saving time, wasting time, budgeting our time, and putting some time aside to see friends. Many of us budget our time, worry about wasting time, and try to save time. We not only take the metaphors as real but we act according to the metaphors — and in fact much our social and business reality is structured by those metaphors, which reinforces their effect. Given human brains, living by metaphor is normal and probably unavoidable.

The Central Trump Metaphor

            Louis XIV, King of France, was famous for saying, L’état, c’est moi — I am the state — a metaphor that a king could live by, or at least try to. Roger Cohen, on May 19, 2017, in a NY Times op-ed titled L’état, c’est Trump, pointed out ways in which Trump has acted as if he had absolute power, like a despot. True. But there is a lot more to say. When John Lengacher and I closely analyzed language coming out of the White House, it became clear that Trump has internalized and has been living by a central metaphor: THE PRESIDENT IS THE NATION.

What Ideas and Actions Follow

  1. The job of senior government officials is to serve the nation. Under this metaphor, their job is to “serve the President.”
  2. The American people swear allegiance, that is, support to their nation. Under the metaphor, the phrase “the American people” comes to mean the supporters of the President. Thus, “The American people want …” means Trump supporters want…” “The American People love the President” means the President’s supporters love the President.
  3. National security becomes the security of the President. The security of the President can be threatened in many ways.
  • He could be shown by the Mueller investigation to be a criminal, doing money-laundering and associated racketeering with the Russian mafia and American mafia figures.
  • He or his closest associates and family members could be shown by the Mueller investigation to have colluded with the Russians in their attack on the 2016 election. The Mueller investigation thus becomes a threat to the President’s security, and an enemy attack to be countered and ended. That his why he has attacked Attorney General Jeff Sessions for recusing himself, which led to the appointment of Mueller. The President sees the Attorney General as having the job of protecting his security.
  • Since revelations by the press also endanger the President’s security, the President sees the press as his enemy and, via this metaphor, calls the press the enemy of the American people.

 

  • The President’s tax returns could show Russian involvement or money laundering in his business, and so the revealing of his tax returns would be a threat to his security.

 

  • The legitimacy of his election could be questioned, for example, by the 3.5 million vote majority of Hillary showing that he is a minority president. The facts of Hillary’s majority must therefore be shown to false, say, by show that the votes were fraudulent.
  • Trust in the President could be undermined by revelations of underhanded immoral or illegal things he is doing.

 

  • The Emoluments Clause of the Constitution makes it crime to profit from the Presidency. Therefore, showing that the President purposely acts so as to profit from the Presidency is unconstitutional and a possible basis for impeachment.

 

  1. “Leaks.” The “leak” frame is about national security leaks: truths that could harm national security is revealed to the public or enemies of the nation. Under the metaphor, “leaks” become truths that could harm the security of the President. Since national security leaks are crimes against the nation — unpatriotic and un-American, so under the metaphor, “leaks” threatening Presidential security become crimes against the nation that are unpatriotic and un-American, matters for the Justice Department and the FBI to look into and for the Justice Department to prosecute.

 

  1. This explains the much-publicized call that then-communications director Anthony Scaramucci placed to Ryan Lizza of the New Yorker, which Lizza recorded and later published. Scaramucci had gone on a rampage to stop leaks. Lizza had tweeted that “ a senior White House official” informed him of an important meeting at the White House with Scaramucci, the President, Sean Hannity, and others. Scaramucci called Lizza and demanded that Lizza name his source. Lizza refused. Scaramucci then said, “You’re an American citizen, this is a major catastrophe for the American country. So I’m asking you as an American patriot to give me a sense of who leaked it.” This makes sense only if you assume that the “leak” was a breach of national security. That follows from the metaphor.

 

  1. The President and the conservative members of the Republican Party share what I have called Strict Father Morality and all the policy positions that follow from that view of what is right and wrong. But the Republican Party does not believe in the President-as-the-Nation metaphor, since it elects legislators and the Legislative branch is a check within the nation on the authority of the President. This created a potential threat to the security of the President and a tension between Reince Preibus and both the President and Anthony Scaramucci. The President depends on the Republican Party both to carry out the policies he shares with conservative Republicans. But, since they failed on health care, his rationale for keeping Preibus was no longer operative and Preibus had to go. He also depends on the Republican Party to help maintain his security. But in the case of Jeff Sessions’ recusal, Republicans support Sessions, who is a former Republican senator and one of their own.

What the Metaphor Explains

            From all of these considerations, it seems clear that the President is living by the metaphor, with enormous repercussions for our nation and the world. We see this in his speeches, his tweets, and his official actions. It also explains the tension with Reince Preibus and why Preibus had to be replaced.

How Can Progressives Counter The Metaphor and Its Effect.

            As one of the discoverers and principal analysts of conceptual metaphors and their power, I have an obligation to report how this metaphor works and the effects it has. As an American citizen, I have the obligation to make these findings public so that it can be countered.

How?

  • We need to reveal the existence of the metaphor. That is why I have written this paper, and why the paper has to be sent out far and wide and its contents spread both by the mainstream media and social media. Pass this paper on to both the mainstream media outlets and to your friends on social media.
  • We need to shift the frame to undermine the metaphor. We and the media have messages to be communicated. Each message must point out to the White House staff and members of the administration that they serve the nation, not the president, in a myriad of ways. Go through the list of nation’s needs:
  • On health care, the duty to the 22 million people whose needed care would be eliminated under republican plans
  • On the environment, global warming, weather disaster, and sea level rise. Cite examples.
  • On the rights of transgender people, 15,000 of whom are serving in the military.
  • On gun violence and the need to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill and criminals.
  • on Russia’s threat to democracy both at home and in many other countries, from Ukraine and Georgia to the Baltic states;
  • and on and on, go down the list.

In example after example, the job of those in the administration is to serve the nation first in all cases, rather than serving the president. The message must be constant in mainstream and social media every day, in every part of the country. And it has to become part of electoral campaigns in red districts. Patriotism is about the nation.

(3) Since the metaphor is inconsistent with the Republican role in Congress, press Republicans to choose to serve the nation over the President.

Two Questions About Trump and Republicans that Stump Progressives

Progressives are stumped. They are asking these questions over and over again on social media, TV, and radio:

1) Why don’t Trump supporters turn against Trump even though he is doing things that hurt them? (like taking away their healthcare)

2) Why do Republicans hate the Affordable Care Act, and why are they so transparently acting to give wealthy people a tax break by making healthcare unaffordable?

Here is the short answer: All politics is moral. Supporting Trump – and gutting public healthcare resources in order to provide tax cuts for the wealthy – fits perfectly within the strict conservative moral worldview, which is hierarchical in nature. Voters don’t vote their self-interest. They vote their values.

The longer answer requires a deeper explanation.

Let’s start with the place where all ideas and questions originate – the brain.

Most thought (as much as 98% by some accounts) is unconscious. It is carried out by neural circuitry in our brains. We have no conscious access to this circuitry, but it’s there. This is basic neuroscience.

When it comes to politics, progressives and conservatives essentially have different brains. The unconscious beliefs conditioned in their brains are nearly exact opposites.

Here are two statements you will almost certainly agree with if you’re a progressive:

1) In Lincoln’s words, the American government should be a government of, by, and for the people.
2) Citizens care about other citizens, and work through their government to provide public resources for all — resources required for the wellbeing and freedom of all.

These imply just about all of progressive policies.

With a government of the people, those in the government are not separated from those outside. There is two way communication and transparency, and response to the people’s concerns.

With a government by the people, those in the government have the same basic experiences as those outside. The government therefore responds with empathy to the basic needs of its citizens.

A government for the people cares for its citizens and gives necessary help as a matter of course. There is no democracy without care.

The second principle – the need for public resources – has been essential to American democracy from the start. From the beginning, the Private Depended on Public Resources.

Public resources, including roads and bridges along with public education, a national bank, a patent office, courts for business cases, interstate commerce support, and the criminal justice system are necessary to have private enterprise. These public resources include protection — not just a military and police, but protection from harm by unscrupulous corporations either by poisoning products, the air, water, etc. or by unscrupulous banks, mortgage holders, and investors. These protections are carried out by “regulations”: protective laws and agencies.

Over time those resources have included sewers, water and electricity, research universities and research support, and technologies like computers and satellite phones.

Private enterprise and private life utterly depend on public resources. These public resources provide freedom: freedom to start and run a business, and freedom in private life.

You’re not free if you are not educated, because your possibilities in life are limited.

You’re not free if you have cancer and no health insurance.

You’re not free if you have no income — or not enough for basic needs.

And if you work for a large company, you may not be free without a union. Unions free you from corporate servitude. They free you to have a living wage, safety on the job, regular working hours, a pension, health benefits, dignity.

If you’re a progressive, you most likely agree with these ideas. If you’re a conservative, you may be apoplectic by now.

It should be clear that most progressive policies follow from these basic, largely implicit and unconscious, principles. When we state them consciously and overtly, we can see where questions (1) and (2) come from.

Why should Trump voters support him when his government does not supply necessary care, when it can hurt them deeply, threatening their health and possibly their lives by, say, taking away their health care? Why should Republicans, who are Americans after all, hate the Affordable Care Act, which was for the people, and which supplies care of the most essential kind for tens of millions of Americans?

From a progressive point a view, questions (1) and (2) are mysterious, especially when you ask them together. What do they have to do with each other — support for a Trump who harms them and hate for government care?

One Answer to Both Questions: Moral Politics

All Politics Is Moral. Progressives and conservatives have opposing moral worldviews. When a political leader proposes a policy, the assumption it that the policy is right, not wrong or morally irrelevant. No political leader says, “Do what I say because it’s evil. It’s the devil’s work, but do it!” Nor will a political leader say, “My policy proposal is morally irrelevant. It’s neither right nor wrong. It doesn’t really matter. Just do it.”
Everyone likes to think of himself or herself as a good person. That means that your moral system is a major part of your identity. To vote against your moral identity would be to reject your self.

What Are Conservative Moral Values?

In my 1996 book, Moral Politics, I examined how political values tend to arise from the fact that we are all first governed in our families. The way that your ideal family is governed is a model for the ideal form of government. This is often a matter of how your real family is governed, though some people rebel and adopt an opposite ideal.

Conservative moral values arise from what I call the Strict Father Family.

In this family model, father knows best. He decides right and wrong. He has the ultimate authority to make sure his children and his spouse do what he says, because what he says is right. Many conservative spouses accept this worldview, uphold the father’s authority, and are strict in those realms of family life that they control.

In this moral worldview, it is his moral duty to punish his children painfully when they disobey. Harsh punishment is necessary to ensure that they will obey him (do what is right) and not just do what feels good. Through physical discipline they are supposed to become disciplined, internally strong, and able to prosper in the external world.

What if they don’t prosper? That means they are not disciplined, and therefore cannot be moral, and so deserve their poverty. In this conservative view, the poor are seen as lazy and undeserving while the rich deserve their wealth. Responsibility is thus taken to be personal responsibility, not social responsibility. What you become is only up to you, not society. You are responsible for yourself, not for others.

The Conservative Moral Hierarchy

The strict father logic extends further. The basic idea is that authority is justified by morality (the strict father version), and that, in a world ordered by nature, there should be (and traditionally has been) a moral hierarchy in which those who have traditionally dominated should dominate.

Why do conservatives love Trump (who harms them) and hate healthcare (which helps them)? It makes more sense when you consider the conservative moral hierarcy.

The Conservative Moral Hierarchy:
• God above Man
• Man above Nature
• The Disciplined (Strong) above the Undisciplined (Weak)
• The Rich above the Poor
• Employers above Employees
• Adults above Children
• Western culture above other cultures
• America above other countries
• Men above Women
• Whites above Nonwhites
• Christians above non-Christians
• Straights above Gays

Sound familiar?

On the whole, conservative policies flow from the Strict Father worldview and this hierarchy. Trump is an extreme case (he wants to be the ultimate strict father), though very much in line with conservative policies of the Republican party.

(Please bear in mind that many, if not most, conservatives are bi-conceptual, that is, “moderates” in that they have a strict father major worldview together with a nurturant minor worldview on some issues or other. Those moderating issues vary from person to person. But in their major worldview, they fit the Strict Father pattern.)

The Two Questions

1) Why don’t Trump supporters turn against Trump even though he is doing things that hurt them? (like taking away their healthcare)

Most Trump supporters have Strict Father morality. It determines their sense of right and wrong. They see Trump as bringing America back to their values in a powerful way, making their values respectable and in line with the way the country is being run. Trump’s presidency has given them self-respect. Their self-respect is more important than the details of his policies, even if some of those policies hurt them. On the whole, they like the way he has restructured the government and what he is doing throughout the government.

2) Why do Republicans hate the Affordable Care Act, and why are they so transparently acting to give wealthy people a tax break by making healthcare unaffordable?

Strict Father morality insists on a particular notion of self-responsibility. Being taken care of by “the government” is seen as immoral because it gives the government an authority above strict father principles. The care of the Affordable Care Act in itself violated the moral sense and the very identity of conservatives – even those who benefit greatly from it.

Moreover, the Affordable Care Act attempted to help people lower on the conservative Moral Hierarchy: the poor, African-Americans and other minorities, women, and so on.

The Mandate to buy insurance went directly against self-responsibility overall, giving Americans responsibility for their fellow Americans. It also went against the laissez-faire market ideology because it put constraints on insurance companies.

And why do conservatives love tax breaks for the rich? Because, in the Conservative Moral Hierarchy, the rich are better than the poor. The poor deserve their poverty. The rich deserve their wealth.

Conservative hatred of the Affordable Care Act makes sense when you understand the mechanics of their moral worldview.

The Importance of Understanding

These two questions provided an opportunity to write about moral bases of progressive and conservative thought and how they manifest in our politics. At a time when the country is tearing itself apart, when progressives and conservatives each see the other as immoral and un-American, and as attacking what is right, we must begin to understand why this is happening. We won’t be able to address the problem until we do.

For further reading, please read A Minority President: Why the Polls Failed, and What the Majority Can Do.

The Women’s Marches and the Politics of Care: The Best Response to Trump’s Inaugural Address

The Women’s Marches across America and the world were peaceful, family-oriented, and cooperative. They required energy and effort, along with the devotion to travel, gather, and march.

The marches had a single, overwhelmingly positive focus: care. Care is the hallmark of what women give to their families day after day. Not that men don’t, but it is care that we rightfully associate with taking care of a family. The women who marched understood instinctively that America is their family and that the world is their community.

America was founded on the idea that citizens care about their fellow citizens, that they contribute through their government to provide resources for the benefit and fulfillment of all. Democracy is more than voting. Democracy and citizenship require us to care about each other.

Kamala Harris said it well: the issues were not about one constituency, because women’s rights are human rights. And women’s issues are all issues — from economy to ecology and from equality to fulfillment. Diversity is strength, and international cooperation is national security. Every issue voiced in the march was ultimately about care.

The intensity of the marches was stoked by the inaugural address on Friday of
the least-popular President in US history, the loser of the popular vote by nearly three million votes. After taking the Oath of Office, he proceeded to give an inaugural speech that showed that he intended to turn America into a version of himself:

• Trump first is to become America first.
• Trump’s interests are to become America’s interests.
• Trump’s lack of empathy, his lack of care about others, is to become
America’s lack of empathy, America’s lack of care about others.
• Trump’s view of worth as money is to become America’s view of worth as
money.

It is the antithesis of care – and the antithesis of the most fundamental American values.

The speech was carefully crafted to deceive, which is a nice way of saying that it was framed to sound like the opposite of his intentions, to make lies sound nice.
It was also an excellent example of extreme conservative framing. The author of the speech, Stephen K. Bannon, is an expert propagandist. Every word and idea contained in the speech was chosen for a specific reason.

The speech was centered on a single Big Lie: that Trump is a populist, a “messenger” of the popular will.

Trump’s speechwriters laced the speech with populist rhetoric. They tried to position Trump as a man of the people who would lead the charge against wealthy elites who have amassed too much power. The speechwriters attacked the “establishment” and promised to remember the “forgotten” people. These parts of the speech sounded more like Bernie Sanders or Robert Reich than Donald Trump. It sounds nice until you remember who Trump really is: a businessman infamous for making money on bankruptcies, for ripping off small business people and refusing to pay workers on his projects. Trump is a billionaire who wants to lower wages for working Americans.

His actions as President-elect revealed an agenda that is the exact opposite of returning power to the people. He’s filling his Cabinet with corporate establishment billionaires who have nothing in common with American families. After losing the majority vote by 3 million, the minority president is handing our government over to Wall Street. He’s chosen people who have always, and will always, serve corporate interests. For instance, Trump nominated Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson for Secretary of State. And he nominated Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt — who famously hates the EPA — to head the EPA. The aim is to use governmental authority to destroy all aspects of governmental care.

What does Trump mean when he talks about “forgotten people”? He’s talking to his base. He’s talking to angry white males who felt uncomfortable in a country with a black President. He’s talking to people who want to blame immigrants, women, the LGBTQ community and people of color for everything they don’t like. If he can keep their anger focused on innocent people, it may take them a while to notice that Wall Street is (once again) pillaging our nation.

Trump’s attempt to speak for “the people” also underscored his central anxiety: he lost the popular vote by an historic margin. He’s a loser — and, deep down, he knows it.

To understand why Trump represents the antithesis of care, we need to understand the Strict Father view of the world.

Trump is a textbook example of Strict Father Morality. In a Strict Father family the father is the ultimate authority. Father knows best. He gets his authority from the claim to know right from wrong, and what he says is by definition always right. His word is law and needs to be strictly enforced through strength — swift painful punishment. Even a show is disrespect deserves to be punished.

There is a Strict Father logic: Discipline needs to be imposed. Children need to learn not to do what feels good (like “feel-good liberals”), but to do what they are told. If they do, they will become disciplined and go out into the world and become prosperous. What if they are not prosperous? That just shows that they are not disciplined, which means they cannot be moral, and so deserve their poverty. In short, the poor are poor because they’re lazy and so it’s their own fault. Responsibility is individual responsibility. There is no social responsibility.

This logic is taken as a matter of nature. It imposes a natural ‘moral’ hierarchy, of who is better than whom. By nature, the winners have deserved to win. The hierarchy goes like this: God above man, man above nature (it’s there for us to plunder), the strong above the weak, the rich above the poor, employers above employees, adults above children, Western culture above nonwestern culture, America above other countries. Then the hierarchy extends naturally to: men above women, whites above nonwhites, Christians above non-Christians, straights above gays.

All of the policies of the far right follow from this hierarchy. When taken to extreme, you get Trump’s worldview, the worldview of the ‘alt-right.’ There is a reason that Bannon is now in the White House.

All of this is reflected in the details of the Inaugural Address.

“I will never, ever let you down,” he said, describing a completely hierarchical world in which America always comes first, and where the “winning” will never stop. In this parallel universe, Strict Father Trump will give the orders, the good will be rewarded, the bad will be punished, and victory (and jobs) will grow on trees. No American company will dare create jobs in other countries because Father Trump has commanded them otherwise.

Of course, this is a lie. Trump’s own trademark red hats are manufactured in China, Bangladesh and Vietnam. When it comes to putting “America First,” he has already betrayed the trust of his followers. There is no way he can keep the promises he’s made, and Trump supporters have already started to realize that he thinks nothing of breaking his word.

Trump wants to be seen as a Strict Father, but he’s breaking the cardinal rules of the Strict Father: he is a betrayer of trust. A Strict Father cannot be a betrayer of trust.

When Trump says to ordinary Americans that he’ll never let you down, here’s what he really means: I’m already letting you down. I will always let you down. But he means it literally when addressing rich conservatives.

The most memorable phrase of his speech was “American Carnage,” which he blames on liberals and on government officials in previous administrations. He is using it both literally and metaphorically. Literally, it means, as Merriam-Webster lists, “great and usually bloody slaughter or injury (as in battle).” Its synonyms are “butchery,” “bloodbath,” “massacre,” “death,” “holocaust,” and “slaughter.” He is using it literally to frame gun deaths in big cities. Metaphorically, he is using it to blame liberals and Washington bureaucrats for the loss of jobs and income among white working people, for inadequate public education, for failing infrastructure. Of course, in his universe, none of this had anything to do with corporate greed or Republican policies over the years.

But “carnage” is exactly what a large number of Americans fear will happen during Trump’s Presidency. That’s why millions of Americans have taken to the streets to make it clear they’ll stand up for democracy, freedom and civil rights. If we wish to prevent Trump’s visions of carnage, these marches must be the beginning of our movement, a movement centered on the politics of care. When citizens care about other citizens, and manage to use their government for public resources, America benefits because Americans benefit.

Persistence is the best resistance — moving from the marches to the everyday politics of care on all levels. Communicate care. Teach care. Pressure your existing officials. Send emails. Make phone calls. Tweet. Elect officials who care at all levels. Run for office. Work in campaigns. Be positive. Positive.

Fortunately, not all conservatives are total conservatives — by no means. Many are “moderate,” which means that they have some progressive views. Many conservatives show in-group care: care for their own church members, or military units, or community groups, or neighbors. When you talk with conservatives, as you should, find out where they express their care — what they are most proud of for helping others selflessly. And then keep talking with them about arenas where they are committed to a life of care. They are your fellow citizens after all.

A Minority President: Why the Polls Failed, And What the Majority Can Do

By George Lakoff

  1. The American Majority

Hillary Clinton won the majority of votes in this year’s presidential election.

The loser, for the majority of voters, will now be a minority president-elect. Don’t let anyone forget it. Keep referring to Trump as the minority president, Mr. Minority and the overall Loser. Constant repetition, with discussion in the media and over social media, questions the legitimacy of the minority president to ignore the values of the majority. The majority, at the very least, needs to keep its values in the public eye and view the minority president’s action through majority American values.

The polls failed and the nation needs to know why. The pollsters and pundits have not given a satisfactory answer.

I will argue that the nature of mind is not a mere technical issue for the cognitive and brain sciences, but that it had everything to do with the outcome of the 2016 election — and the failure of the pollsters, the media, and Democrats to predict it. They were not alone. The public needs to understand better how the human mind works in general — but especially in politics. There is a lot to know. Let us go step by step.

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Understanding Trump’s Name

A Voyage Into Sound Symbolism by George Lakoff

As strange as it may sound, the sound symbolism of a name has become an unnamed central issue in the 2016 presidential campaign. As a cognitive linguist, my job is to study the issue and, at the very least, to name it.

Perhaps the best-known discussion of naming occurs in Juliet’s soliloquy in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Here is Juliet, proclaiming that all that divides her from Romeo are their family names.

Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What’s Montague? It is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;

So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title.

Shakespeare here was writing about love, not profit or politics. Donald Trump’s father changed the family name from Drumpf to Trump. It was a name change worth billions. Herr Drumpf understood the power of naming, as has his son, who renames his rivals: Lyin’ Ted, Little Mario, Crooked Hillary.

Trump has made his fortune by marketing and marketing his name. He slaps his name in large bold letters on Trump Tower, Trump Airlines, Trump Steaks, and so on. He has even managed to get his name on property he doesn’t own! http://politicschatter.com/politics-talk/slideshow/trump-owns-properties-name/

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Understanding Trump’s Use of Language

Note: This is a follow-up to my previous piece, ‘Understanding Trump’. Please read that piece first.

The Responsible Reporter’s Problem

Responsible reporters in the media normally transcribe political speeches so that they can accurately report them. But Donald Trump’s discourse style has stumped a number of reporters. Dan Libit, CNBC’s excellent analyst is one of them. Libit writes:

His unscripted speaking style, with its spasmodic, self-interrupting sentence structure, has increasingly come to overwhelm the human brains and tape recorders attempting to quote him.
Trump is, simply put, a transcriptionist’s worst nightmare: severely unintelligible, and yet, incredibly important to understand.
Given how dramatically recent polls have turned on his controversial public utterances, it is not hyperbolic to say that the very fate of the nation, indeed human civilization, appears destined to come down to one man’s application of the English language — and the public’s comprehension of it. It has turned the rote job of transcribing into a high-stakes calling.

Trump’s crimes against clarity are multifarious: He often speaks in long, run-on sentences, with frequent asides. He pauses after subordinate clauses. He frequently quotes people saying things that aren’t actual quotes. And he repeats words and phrases, sometimes with slight variations, in the same sentence.

Some in the media (Washington Post, Salon, Slate, Think Progress, etc.) have called Trump’s speeches “word salad.” Some commentators have even attributed his language use to “early Alzheimer’s,” citing “erratic behavior” and “little regards for social conventions.” I don’t believe it.

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Understanding Trump

Understanding Trump

By George Lakoff

There is a lot being written and spoken about Trump by intelligent and articulate commentators whose insights I respect. But as a longtime researcher in cognitive science and linguistics, I bring a perspective from these sciences to an understanding of the Trump phenomenon. This perspective is hardly unknown. More than half a million people have read my books, and Google Scholar reports that scholars writing in scholarly journals have cited my works well over 100,000 times.

Yet you will probably not read what I have to say in the NY Times, nor hear it from your favorite political commentators. You will also not hear it from Democratic candidates or party strategists. There are reasons, and we will discuss them later I this piece. I am writing it because I think it is right and it is needed, even though it comes from the cognitive and brain sciences, not from the normal political sources. I think it is imperative to bring these considerations into public political discourse. But it cannot be done in a 650-word op-ed. My apologies. It is untweetable.

I will begin with an updated version of an earlier piece on who is supporting Trump and why — and why policy details are irrelevant to them. I then move to a section on how Trump uses your brain against you. I finish up discussing how Democratic campaigns could do better, and why they need to do better if we are to avert a Trump presidency.

Who Supports Trump and Why

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Why Trump?

 By George Lakoff

         Donald Trump is winning Republican presidential primaries at such a great rate that he seems likely to become the next Republican presidential nominee and perhaps the next president. Democrats have little understanding of why he is winning — and winning handily, and even many Republicans don’t see him as a Republican and are trying to stop him, but don’t know how. There are various theories: People are angry and he speaks to their anger. People don’t think much of Congress and want a non-politician. Both may be true. But why? What are the details? And Why Trump?

Many people are mystified. He seems to have come out of nowhere. His positions on issues don’t fit a common mold.

He likes Planned Parenthood, Social Security, and Medicare, which are not standard Republican positions. Republicans hate eminent domain (the taking of private property by the government) and love the Trans-Pacific Partnership (the TPP trade deal), but he has the opposite views on both. He is not religious and scorns religious practices, yet the Evangelicals (that is, the white Evangelicals) love him. He thinks health insurance and pharmaceutical companies, as well as military contractors, are making too much profit and wants to change that. He insults major voting groups, e.g., Latinos, when most Republicans are trying to court them. He wants to deport 11 million immigrants without papers and thinks he can. He wants to stop all Muslims from entering the country. What is going on?

The answer requires a bit of background not discussed in the media to date.

Some Background…

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George Lakoff: In Politics, Progressives Need to Frame Their Values

Interview online here.

The following is a Truthout interview with Professor George Lakoff about his latest effort, THE ALL NEW Don’t Think of an Elephant!, to convince progressives to “frame” their political language and appeals based on deep-seated and active values. These are positions and actions that most of the public supports, but absent appropriate “framing” often vote their fears instead of progressive beliefs. It is necessary to ground a nurturing politics for the common good and core values in language and a moral foundation that appeals – rhetorically and emotionally – to the better selves of voters.

Mark Karlin: Before we get into the new edition of Don’t Think of an Elephant!, THE ALL NEW Don’t Think of an Elephant!, I wanted to ask you a bit more about something you said to me in a conversation at your home awhile back. You noted that it’s not surprising that Republicans are more persuasive than Democrats because they are more skilled at selling and marketing. Does this also relate to the prevalence of consumer advertising in the US that convinces people to buy things that they don’t need or want?

George Lakoff: The marketing profession uses knowledge about the mind, the brain, language, imagery, emotions, the framing of experiences and products, personal and social identity, and normal modes of thought that lead to action and that change brains over time. Marketing professors in business schools study results in these areas and teach courses on how to market most effectively. Again, they study normal modes of thought – the way people really reason. It would be strange to call such modes of thought “irrational” since they are the forms of reason that we have evolved to get us through life.
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Obama Reframes Syria: Metaphor and War Revisited

HuffPo
President Obama has reframed his position on Syria, adjusting the Red Line metaphor: It wasn’t his Red Line, not his responsibility for drawing it. It was the Red Line drawn by the world, by the international community — both legally by international treaty, and morally by universal revulsion against the use of poison gas by Assad. It was also America’s Red Line, imposed by America’s commitment to live up to such treaties. Continue reading

Economics and Morality: Paul Krugman’s Framing

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By George Lakoff and Elisabeth Wehling

In his June 11, 2012 op-ed in the New York Times, Paul Krugman goes beyond economic analysis to bring up the morality and the conceptual framing that determines economic policy. He speaks of “the people the economy is supposed to serve” — “the unemployed,” and “workers”– and “the mentality that sees economic pain as somehow redeeming.”

Krugman is right to bring these matters up. Markets are not provided by nature. They are constructed — by laws, rules, and institutions. All of these have moral bases of one sort or another. Hence, all markets are moral, according to someone’s sense of morality. The only question is, Whose morality? In contemporary America, it is conservative versus progressive morality that governs forms of economic policy. The systems of morality behind economic policies need to be discussed.

Most Democrats, consciously or mostly unconsciously, use a moral view deriving from an idealized notion of nurturant parenting, a morality based on caring about their fellow citizens, and acting responsibly both for themselves and others with what President Obama has called “an ethic of excellence” — doing one’s best not just for oneself, but for one’s family, community, and country, and for the world. Government on this view has two moral missions: to protect and empower everyone equally.

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The Wisconsin Blues

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By George Lakoff and Elisabeth Wehling

In taking over the framing of just about every major issue, conservatives have hidden major truths. Democrats need to speak those truths from their own moral perspective. To show how, we have just published The Little Blue Book: The Essential Guide for Thinking and Talking Democratic. Here is how the book applies to the Wisconsin Recall:

The Wisconsin recall vote should be put in a larger context. What happened in Wisconsin started well before Scott Walker became governor and will continue as long as progressives let it continue. The general issues transcend unions, teachers, pensions, deficits, and even wealthy conservatives and Citizens United.
Where progressives argued policy — the right to collective bargaining and the importance of public education — conservatives argued morality from their perspective, and many working people who shared their moral views voted with them and against their own interests. Why? Because morality is central to identity, and hence trumps policy.

Progressive morality fits a nurturant family: parents are equal, the values are empathy, responsibility for oneself and others, and cooperation. That is taught to children. Parents protect and empower their children, and listen to them. Authority comes through an ethic of excellence and living by what you say, rather than by enforcing rules.

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What Conservatives Really Want

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—Dedicated to the peaceful protestors in Wisconsin, February 19, 2011

The central issue in our political life is not being discussed. At stake is the moral basis of American democracy.

The individual issues are all too real: assaults on unions, public employees, women’s rights, immigrants, the environment, health care, voting rights, food safety, pensions, prenatal care, science, public broadcasting, and on and on.
Budget deficits are a ruse, as we’ve seen in Wisconsin, where the Governor turned a surplus into a deficit by providing corporate tax breaks, and then used the deficit as a ploy to break the unions, not just in Wisconsin, but seeking to be the first domino in a nationwide conservative movement.

Deficits can be addressed by raising revenue, plugging tax loopholes, putting people to work, and developing the economy long-term in all the ways the President has discussed. But deficits are not what really matters to conservatives.
Conservatives really want to change the basis of American life, to make America run according to the conservative moral worldview in all areas of life.

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Political Biography

Before 1996:

During the 1980’s, George was asked by various institutions to study various social and political questions from a cognitive linguistics perspective. In late 1990, jut before the start of the Gulf War, he wrote “Metaphor and War,” analyzing the metaphors of both George H.W. Bush and Saddam Hussein, revealing a metaphor conflict that ruled out any compromise. He also showed how Bush used a metaphor switch in October 1990 to convince the country to go to war in the Gulf, and outlined the metaphorical narrative under which the war was to be conducted. The paper, which could not be published in the normal media, became the first paper on politics to encircle the globe via the internet.

1996 – 2008:

After conservative Republicans took over Congress in 1994, George realized that the liberal/conservative split in the US was due to inconsistent worldviews, but was not generally understood. He realized that this was a problem for cognitive science, and set about studying it using what had been learned from cognitive linguistics, neuroscience, and the NTL neural computation research. In 1996, he published Moral Politics, which demonstrated that the worldview difference arose from the application of the widespread Nation-as-Family metaphor to two different idealized views of the family — a strict father family for conservatism and a nurturant parent family for liberalism. The basic result was that, from the family-based moral worldviews, one could predict with considerable accuracy not only which policies conservatives and liberals would tend to support, what language would be used, but also what the logic is of apparently “irrational” positions, such as how conservatives could be pro-life and for the death penalty.

Moral Politics was widely read, and led in 1997 to the formation of a small think tank, the Rockridge Institute, in which George joined with seven University of California colleagues in the social sciences. Between 1996 and 2000, George began popularizing the application of morally-based conceptual frames in politics, analyzing why conservatives were outdoing liberals and how they might do better at communicating their moral views and positions on issues. “Framing” meant the using of frame semantics in everyday thought, with the associated language. George proposed using that knowledge to effectively present one’s moral beliefs and their consequences for policy. This has been consistently misunderstood by political figures as PR, just using more effective language to win elections.

In 2002, George published a second edition of Moral Politics, critiquing the Gore campaign of 2000 and analyzing Bush’s success. That edition was used as a guide by Howard Dean in his 2004 campaign for the presidential nomination. Dean publicized the book, which led to George being asked to speak to two Senate Democrats’ retreats, two House retreats, and caucuses of both Senate and House Democrats. It also led to grants for the Rockridge Institute, which put out a large number of framing studies between 2003 and 2008. During that period, George wrote four books on politics: Don’t Think of an Elephant! (2004), Whose Freedom? (2006). Thinking Points (with the Rockridge staff, 2006), and The Political Mind (2008). Those books fleshed out in detail the analysis done in Moral Politics, adding crucial details.

Don’t Think of an Elephant! applied frame semantics to explain in simple terms how framing worked.

Whose Freedom? used the theory of contested concepts that the Strictness vs Nurturance analysis to explain in full detail what different ideas conservatives and liberals have when speak of “freedom?”

Thinking Points focused on “bi-conceptualism” — the discovery that there is no ideology of the “middle,” the “center,” or independents, but rather that many people have both conservative and liberal moral systems applied to different issues. It also explained that elections are not just matters of who has the better policies, but instead focused on values, communication, authenticity, trust, and identity.

Where the other books backgrounded the use of cognitive science and neuroscience, The Political Mind brought it front and center, explaining in readable scientific terms why Enlightenment Reason and the Rational Actor model got in the way of liberalism, and why conservative and progressive moral systems are likely to keep arising throughout history because of the way the neural system gives rise to certain metaphors and not others. The Political Mind also takes up the study of narrative structures, their emotional aspects, and how they are used metaphorically.

2008 – Present:

The Rockridge Institute closed in 2008, having done studies on the framing of a large range of issues, mostly in the years between 2002 and 2008.

The “New Centrism” and Its Discontents

There is no ideology of the “center.” What is called a “centrist” or a “moderate” is actually very different — a bi-conceptual, someone who is conservative on some issues and progressive on others, in many, many possible combinations. Why does this matter? From the perspective of how the brain works, the distinction is crucial.

Because we think with our brains, all thought is physical. Our moral and political worldviews are realized as brain circuits with strong synapses. If you have two conflicting worldviews, you have two brain circuits that are mutually inhibitory, so that when one is activated, it is strengthened and the other is shut off and weakened. When a worldview applies to a given issue, there is a neural binding circuit linking the worldview circuit to that issue circuit in such a way that the issue is understood in terms of that worldview. The right language will activate that that issue as understood via that worldview. Using that language strengthens that worldview.

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