Don’t think of a rampaging elephant: Linguist George Lakoff explains how the Democrats helped elect Trump


Salon has the article Don’t think of a rampaging elephant: Linguist George Lakoff explains how the Democrats helped elect Trump.

This is an eye opening article even if you know about George Lakoff and have read some of his books.

I’ll pick out one point in this article to discuss here, but there is so much more to learn by reading the whole article. He is talking about how progressives should conduct their politics in the age of Trump.

how to talk about these things, how to frame their message and not make mistakes and not help the other side, and to do it always from the point of view of what’s positive. Not attacking Trump implicitly, but by saying what’s good for the public and why it’s good and then, by the way, this goes against everything that Trump is doing. But the main thing is to frame it in terms of public good.

This matches a lot of what I have been saying of late. Stop focusing on how bad Trump is, and start presenting a positive image of how you want to reshape the world. You can’t sell a political idea, or a politician, simply by focusing on what is wrong with the alternative. You have to have a positive vision to sell. The way I have put it is that you cannot beat a plan with no-plan of your own.

This may be a lesson I have learned from prior readings of Lakoff, or maybe it is something I have figured out. If you don’t like the other guy’s message, stop repeating it. This just reinforces the other guy’s message. Playing video clips of the other guy delivering his message in his own words is a self-defeating strategy. You have a limited amount of time when you manage to get someone’s attention. Don’t waste it by repeating the other guy’s message.

When you are presenting your own vision, you are using your time wisely. Let the viewer use her or his own time to compare your vision against what they know about the other guy’s vision. If they don’t know what the other guy’s vision is, why spend your time telling them?

One thing I learned from this article is the meaning of George Lakoff’s 2004 book, “Don’t Think of an Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate,” When I read it, I thought the elephant represented the Republican Party, or maybe the big object sitting in your midst that you were trying to ignore. Lakoff explained it in a way that I finally understood.

When I started teaching framing the first thing I would tell the class is “Don’t think of an elephant,” and of course, they think of an elephant. I wrote a book on it because the point is, if you negate a frame, you have to activate the frame, because you have to know what you’re negating. If you use logic against something, you’re strengthening it. And that lesson was not understood. So if people think in terms of logic — it’s a mistake that’s made every day on MSNBC — you go on there and you’ll get people saying, “Well, you know, Trump said this, and some Republicans said that and Jeff Sessions said this and here are the facts that show they’re wrong.” You just keep repeating the things that you’re negating. And that just strengthens them.

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