According to the left-leaning linguist George Lakoff, Donald J. Trump routed the Democrats because, in part, “progressive” Democrats rely on facts, reason, and logic while “conservative” Republicans appeal to peoples’ “frames and metaphors and narratives and images and emotions [.]”
Lakoff laments that “progressives” on (of all places) MSNBC make the “mistake every day” of “think[ing] in terms of logic [!]” when covering Trump and Republican politics. The problem, as he sees it, is that the Republicans advance a “frame”—a constellation of “values” unconsciously or subconsciously held by those to whom they’re appealing—that has little to nothing to do with anything in which they actually believe. “Progressive” Democrats, though, continually attempt to use “logic” against these “frames” that, ultimately, have nothing to do with logic.
Democrats “try to follow the polls,” Lakoff says, while Republicans “try to change the polls [.]” This is “a big difference” between them.
“Conservatives” going into politics know to study “marketing” and “cognitive science” while “progressives” go to university and imbibe “Enlightenment reason,” of which, according to Lakoff, the quintessential representative is the 17th century French thinker Rene Descartes. Philosopher, mathematician, logician, and scientist, Descartes did indeed regard human beings as disembodied souls who were, potentially, reasoning machines. As Lakoff puts it, for Descartes, “reasoning is like seeing a logical proof.”
“Progressives” treat politics this way. Conservative Republicans, in glaring contrast, circumvent reason altogether to produce “frames” that they’ve picked up by way of market strategies that help them to test their product, continue to beat their “progressive” opponents.
Two comments on Lakoff’s analysis are in order.
First, more than a few of us who tend to vote against “progressive” politicians and policies are doubtless tempted to either faint, scream, or laugh aloud at Lakoff’s assertion that it is the Democratic left that can be counted upon to stick to logic and reasoning. It is, after all, the left that long ago put the world on notice that it would achieve its ideological goals “by whichever means necessary.”
It is the left that tirelessly charges their enemies with every dirty, rotten “ism” and “phobia” in the repertoire of Politically Correct insults. It is the left that accuses those with whom it disagrees of wanting to “wage a war on women;” “poison the water and air;” send children to bed hungry, the elderly to the grave, and homosexuals back to the closet; re-enslave blacks, and on and on. It is from the left that we just recently heard that Republicans want to make America “sick” again.
To be sure, Democrats know all too well how to play politics. They virtually (though not really) invented this game. “Progressives” know all about Lakoff’s “frames,” the power of subconscious thoughts and emotions. In fact, they are distinguished on account of, not just their emotionality, but their hyper-emotionality.
The direction of Lakoff’s analysis unmistakably betrays his commitment to a leftist politic. He is, to be certain, a Democrat.
Second, while the specific way in which he casts his terms may be peculiar to Lakoff, the central principle of his analysis that the blood of politics defies explicit excogitation, that its heart is what other thinkers (conservative theorists) have variously described as the “moral imagination” and “tradition,” is hardly original or unique.
Actually, about a century ago, Joseph A. Schumpeter, a professor of government and economics at Harvard, noted that the “classical doctrine of democracy” ascribes “to the will of the individual an independence and a rational quality that are altogether unrealistic” (emphasis original).
In reality, he remarked, the citizen’s “will” is nothing more “than an indeterminate bundle of vague impulses loosely playing about given slogans and mistaken impressions.”
Granted, Lakoff uses terminology that is more favorable than that of Schumpeter, but they are of one mind in regarding the voter as being motivated by non-rational considerations.
What Schumpeter calls “the classical doctrine of democracy” assumes, as Lakoff says Democrats incorrectly assume, that each voter, “according to the rules of logical inference,” should be able to render “a clear and prompt conclusion as to particular issues,” verdicts possessing such “a high degree of general efficiency” that “one man’s opinion could be held…to be roughly as good as every other man’s.”
Schumpeter adds that all of this would have to occur “independently of pressure groups and propaganda, for volitions and inferences that are imposed upon the electorate obviously do not qualify for ultimate data of the democratic process.”
However, this idea of the individual voter as a rational machine carefully attending to his wants and needs and acting accordingly is, like so much else that came out of the eighteenth century—what Lakoff calls “Enlightenment”—is a fiction.
The voter’s will “is largely not a genuine but a manufactured will.” It is a creation or product of the political process—not its impetus.
“The ways in which issues and the popular will on any issue are being manufactured is exactly analogous to the ways of commercial advertising. We find the same attempts to contact the subconscious. We find the same technique of creating favorable and unfavorable associations which are the more effective the less rational they are. We find the same evasions and reticences and the same trick of producing opinion by reiterated assertion that is successful precisely to the extent to which it avoids rational argument and the danger of awakening the critical faculties of the people.”
Notice, unlike Lakoff, who maintains that it is only Republicans who know that human beings, at least when it comes to politics (and national politics particularly), act and think in largely non-rational ways, Schumpeter realizes that this is a truth of which all politicians are well aware.
I would repeat that if we are to learn anything from recent history, it is that Democrats are second to none in their knowledge—and application—of this insight.