Democratic framing guru says stop talking about Trump’s tweets

Thinking about Twitter

This blog was founded on the principles of Dr. George Lakoff, former Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley and the sometimes official, sometimes unofficial messaging and framing guru of the Democratic Party. Last November, we covered an intriguing question Lakoff raised in his blog: “Why are you a Democrat?” Therefore, we are especially interested in Lakoff’s recent piece, where he tells Democrats to stop sharing, repeating and talking about Donald Trump‘s tweets.

Everyone who pays attention to the political landscape knows about Donald Trump’s tweets. Often, Trump’s little written outbursts become the topic of discussion for the day. The news media, overjoyed with this steady stream of free content, is all too happy to assemble cable TV panel discussions to talk about Trump’s latest tweet. Bloggers and social media participants love to share them and either cheer them or ridicule them, depending on one’s political persuasion. It can be addictive for Democrats, as Trump’s tweets frequently contain not just falsehoods but spelling, grammatical and factual errors that make them an easy target for mockery (note that I am not including any examples, because I am trying to follow Dr. Lakoff’s advice, but obviously they can easily be found).

But George Lakoff makes this simple yet important point in his blog post:

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

Lakoff goes on to note:

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.

Lakoff’s admonition to Democrats to stop spreading Trump’s written Twitter messages, even in amusement or derision, sounds a lot like our Messaging Maxim #8: Don’t use the other side’s labels. There, we pointed out that Republican “labels and phrases are always loaded, either in favor of the Republicans, against the Democrats, or both.” We cited the example of the term “Obamacare,” which began as a pejorative shrewdly used by Republicans to conjure up a Big Government, Nanny State healthcare system (the Republicans similarly used “Hillarycare” in the early 1990s to defeat the Clinton healthcare plan) in order to make the Affordable Care Act less popular. And it worked, as “opinion polls prove that Americans like their new health care coverage more when it is called something else besides “Obamacare.” Astoundingly, however, many Democrats and even President Barack Obama embraced the Republicans’ pejorative phrase, which was a big mistake, instead of repeating their own positive name for the healthcare law, the “Affordable Care Act.”

The warning against spreading loaded Republican language, including their crafted pejorative labels and Trump’s loaded and biased tweets (note, for example, that whenever Trump mentions Hillary Clinton, he calls her “crooked Hillary”) also matches the advice of various self-help technologies, including “The Secret” and the Law of Attraction, which essentially say, the more you focus on something, the more powerful it becomes and the more of it you will get, even if it’s something you don’t want.

So let’s heed the advice of the scientifically-minded Dr. Lakoff: if you want Donald Trump to go away, start by making his tweets go away.

Photo by Uncalno Tekno, used under Creative Commons license.

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