Daily Dose: Forget about what makes you "feel good"; do what will really empower people

August 18, 2017


Simon Jenkins had an insightful piece in The Guardian on Wednesday, and he points out quite correctly that "With every sneer, liberals just make Trump stronger."  Jenkins' observations have sound science behind them, beyond the political reality we are living. It is a fact that by repeating the ideas and language evoked by someone, that you cause them to be strengthened, even if you disagree with it or attempt to negate them. George Lakoff's famous book "Don't Think of an Elephant" discusses this in depth. The article makes a point that reaffirms what Lakoff presented in "Elephant". Based on their actions, Democrats are relying on strategy that we know to be anti-science (my term):


"They assume two things. One is that Trump is so appalling it is inconceivable he could win a second term in office. The other is that deploying the same language as he did to win office is the best way to send him packing."


The first assumption is fatally flawed, as we saw during the primary and election results. How many times did Democrats and progressives assume that Trump would either crash and burn, just because he is so "appalling"? And in terms of cognitive science, the second assumption will only serve to make him stronger. As we know, he feeds on the attacks, especially since they reinforce his ideas!


As the article shows in the first paragraph, calling Trump all those names and trying to make a joke out of him does make us feel better. It's a strong catharsis, especially when with a large group of like-minded people. But in terms of diminishing the power of Trump's own words and ideas, the "liberal sneers" only serve to empower Trump AND his radical supporters. In addition, in a very real cognitive sense, repeating these ideas (even by negating them) makes them stronger. It literally changes people's brains. Jenkins article reaffirms this:


"Trump and his supporters thrive on the venom of their liberal tormentors. The old maxim should apply: think what your enemy most wants you to do, and do the opposite. Tolerating Trump may stick in the craw, but it must be counter-productive to feed his paranoia, to behave exactly as his lieutenants want his critics to behave, like the liberal snobs that obsess him."


I don't advocate "tolerating" him and his supporters. But let's not strengthen his authoritarian ideas. I do advocate for undermining them, and taking their power away by evoking a different moral system. One that most people accept and believe, even though it is largely suppressed. Through our actions and idea-evoking language, we can strengthen the very progressive moral worldview of caring for others as moral responsibility - empathy. When you are presented with hate and fear, demonstrate the strength and power of a nation full of people who come together to protect and empower each other through their government. Remember, your freedom comes with a moral responsibility for the freedom of others. 


In conclusion, Tina Fey had a very funny take on this idea on SNL's "Weekend Update" recently:


I agree with Tina Fey. Let's hold peaceful community rallies and gatherings to show how much we care about our friends and neighbors, do something together for everyone in our communities, and serve sheetcake with an American flag on it. Let the people who only care about themselves scream into a vacuum.


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