Cognitive linguist George Lakoff was right in highlighting the importance of language in political discourse. His 1996 groundbreaking book, Moral Politics, rings as true today as it did in the swirl surrounding Bill Clinton’s scandals twenty years ago. Language matters. Lakoff, in a nutshell, drew distinctions between how Conservatives and Liberals view the world and how that worldview is reflected in their respective use of rhetoric and metaphor.
Conservative beliefs are expressed in the Strict Father paradigm. Strict Father thinks we don’t need government, we just need ourselves, a Bible, and our bootstraps. If you are poor, you are clearly weak or lazy (or both). We don’t need treaties when we have the best tanks and cruise missiles in the world. Liberals, by contrast, are the Nurturant Parent. We’d rather feed the poor than chuck rocks at them for having the audacity to lack the funds for a yacht, and in international hot spots we prefer a visit by the Secretary of State to the Air Force sortie.
Lakoff is key to understanding Trump. When we annoy Trump, he instinctively plays Strict Father on Twitter, chiding us, the wayward children. It’s why the new Administration’s first press conference was a disaster. Press Secretary Sean Spicer was Strict Father, angry at the childish media for disagreeing with dad. If dad thinks his inaugural was bigly, it was, and you must believe and obey or be punished, Metro mass transit ridership numbers and aerial photographs be damned.
Too many on the left are misinterpreting Trump. They see his Strict Father language as a ruse: he is Tweeting nonsense, the theory goes, to distract us from his dark, secret, dastardly deeds. That’s simply not true, and believing it makes it harder for us to fight him effectively. This isn’t an act. It’s asinine behavior, yes, but it is an honest manifestation of his worldview. To fight him, we have to understand, and respond to, the world as he sees it.
In dealing with both the Trump Administration and the GOP Congress, we need to lead with Lakoff. The march was a start—we tweaked Strict Father’s nose. We can follow this up in our calls and letters.
Don’t write like a liberal. That’s worth repeating. DON’T WRITE LIKE A LIBERAL.
We need to approach the other team not as Nurturant Parent, but as Strict Parent. Your letters shouldn’t look anything like your protest signs. Leave the pussy puns and the four letter words on the street. Think and write like Lakoff’s conservative. Play the role of Strict Father. You need to alpha dog Trump and be his Strict Father. Your angle of attack is simply this: Strict Father thinks you, GOP dude, are a prodigal son and would benefit bigly from a Biblical lightning strike on the tuckus.
Own the GOP’s language. WE are the moral majority and WE are the party of family values. It’s not disingenuous, after all. When was the last time you saw Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren mocking a disabled reporter on the nightly news or calling Mexicans rapists? And if you are a parent, mention that relentlessly.
Write like Charles Krauthammer, not Noam Chomsky:
“Mr. President, your sexism is a far cry from the family values your party claims to espouse”
“A moral majority in this country embraces immigration and we will continue to fight your racism.”
“As a parent, I’m appalled by your childish behavior. The only lesson I can draw for my children: when you grow up, never behave like Speaker Ryan.”
This language is more likely to make Trump and his ilk uncomfortable than simply calling them f***faces or twits or whatever invective we likely have on our fingertips as we type. Invective works on the street, when we want to show we can throw a bigger party than they can. When we are writing or calling or lobbying these knuckle draggers, we have a different goal. We need folks on the Strict Father side of the ideological chasm to believe that they are losing their grip on their side of the wall. It’s a rebellion of the Strict Fathers. We win by using the rhetoric of the right to become the Tea Party of the left.
If this writing style gives you the literary heebie jeebies that’s actually a good thing. We need to get out of our linguistic corner to win the fight. And if that makes you uncomfortable, I’ll push you further: use the Bible. Quote it like the goofy crier that used to haunt your campus student union. While Trump and his minions have not seriously perused the Bible, they have certainly taken a peek in there and it is probably the only book that will move them. Facts alone aren’t going to work. Know thy scripture, agnostic.
So, if you are writing about immigration, try this:
Leviticus 19:33-34 and 24:22 – “When the alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”
For a lot more on immigration, head thee here: Biblical References to Immigrants and Refugees.
On wealth and taxes (and the GOP’s tendency to collect the former and avoid the latter):
Mathew 19:24 “For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God”
Mathew 20:21: “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.”
You can also use patriotism. Strict Father is a major flag waver. If you want a different tack on immigration, the Statue of Liberty is handy:
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
Finally, be creative in your choice of targets. There are a lot of places out there where Strict Father rhetoric can strike fear in the heart of the Conservative.
If you live in Massachusetts, you don’t need to write to Elizabeth Warren. But you could write a letter to the state Republican Party. Seriously. And to the Republican National Committee, too. They don’t hear from very many people. And when a letter comes in quoting scripture, they vision that pops into their heads isn’t a millennial with a nose piercing and a pussy hat.
Out West there is a real, and growing, rift within the Mormon Church. About half of the “Saints” are no fans of Trump. Mormons are nothing if not extremely image-conscious. Play on that. Write to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Tell them you lost a great deal of respect for them when they caved on family values and flew to DC to celebrate Trump’s swearing in. This may seem ludicrous, but even 100 letters hitting them hard, from across the county, can have an impact on groups that THINK they alone have the moral high ground.
If you are in high school and headed to college, write to Liberty University, and send a copy to some student groups on campus. Tell them equality, openness to immigration and showing the love to others are core to your values, Ergo, given the hateful rhetoric of their founder, there is no way under the sun you could attend their University.
These may seem like bizarre things to do, but they can be effective over time. I once convinced an admissions officer from a Bible college to resign and go to work for Ohio State. It was just a series of emails. Strict Father is power. It can be our power, if you just learn to use it.