Daily Dose: Fear of Immigrants is bogeyman that must be vanquished

July 20, 2017

One of the pillars of Donald Trump's candidacy and presidency is the pursuit of what he refers to as "immigration reform." The very term is consistent with, and evocative of his authoritarian frame and the metaphors associated with it - implying that immigrants pose a problem which requires "reform." Why are the words, phrases, and actions by conservatives/Republicans so effective at making people feel afraid and insecure? And how best to vanquish the bogeyman? 


To know how to change public discourse, it's important to understand why Republicans have been so successful. Most importantly, conservatives and Republicans have been very effective at making their ideas, or frames, dominant. So dominant in fact, that progressives and Democrats have no plan, no strategy that counters their cognitive dominance. Ironically, the political party that claims to follow science fails to do so in its messaging and communication efforts! A recent article in The Guardian science section explains the importance of framing in our politics - it's a spot on read.


Back to the immigration issue. An article from July 18 in Breitbart (reading and following conservative news sites is critical to understanding their frames, metaphors, and messages) provides us with important insights as to why their message is so consistent with their frame, and therefore so successful.


For those of you who have an understanding of the conservative moral frame, this will be a review, but it is important background. The conservative moral worldview (frame) is based on an authoritarian hierarchy. This hierarchy is consistent with their values of self-discipline, success (from discipline), and who ought to have authority based on who is the most prosperous - and therefore worthy and moral. The conservative frame puts God over man, Christians over non-Christians, man over nature, men over women, and people from the US over people from all other nations. It is the cognitive foundation for radical nationalism (along with a host of other prejudices). The Breitbart article makes this very clear from the first paragraph:


"A Washington Post survey of established economists shows growing support for President Donald Trump’s planned merit-based immigration reform to boost Americans’ productivity and wealth."


I've highlighted the critically important framing language. For the average American, whether the economic facts stated are true are secondary - it is the metaphors and frames that influence people!


"Merit-based immigration reform" is a conservative metaphor which means that only people who are deserving will be allowed to immigrate; as opposed to current policy which has created a problem in need of reform. Similar ideas and metaphors are found throughout the article.


The phrase "boost Americans' productivity and wealth" is an idea consistent with "Make America Great Again." When these necessary reforms are in place, people like you will be free to be more productive, and more wealthy. More importantly, putting the two phrases together has the cognitive effect of placing blame for America's economic woes squarely on immigrants - since their hierarchy places them morally beneath Americans. Any messaging of immigration in the context of economic growth also evokes the conservative frame, as "The Market" is a moral system where success = morality. So the promise to relieve America of this "immigration problem" is very powerful! Fortunately, cognitive science and framing can help us vanquish the bogeyman.


 One world leader who consistently evokes empathy (progressive frame) across a host of issues, especially immigration, is Canada PM Justin Trudeau. Of course, he's not perfect, but he's a far cry better than our national leader. This video from 2015 provides us with a great example:


If we are to change public perception and political discourse about immigration, there is a critical need to act and talk in a way that authentically conveys empathy, a moral caring for others, repeatedly and consistently. 


Notice the empathy and connections with people Trudeau  evokes by his actions AND words. Especially here:


"How you receive these people tonight will be something they will remember for the rest of their lives; but also something YOU will remember for the rest of YOUR life...tonight matters NOT JUST FOR CANADA, BUT FOR THE WORLD."


Trudeau's statement connects people by evoking empathy - the good feeling the immigrants will get from their reception will be mirrored by those helping them. This is a powerful cognitive statement, since we are all hard-wired for empathy!


How we care for others, and express those values in word and deed are critically important to overcoming fear. After all, we know for a fact that hope will overcome fear every time. Providing people with a message that immigrants provide us with a hopeful future; and that caring for others will bring us together and make us stronger as a people can go a long way towards vanquishing the bogeyman. Connecting people through those values is the place to start.


In tomorrow's Daily Dose - How do we talk to Trump supporters?

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