IMHO George Lakoff’s work is essential for understanding politics today. His many books, articles and interviews explain why progressives in this country, and indeed around the world, are losing ground to the likes of Trump. At the end of this post, I will provide a few links. They are MUST reading and are the groundwork for much of what I will write.
I do not mean to say that Lakoff’s work is all you need, but understanding what he is saying is critical to understanding what happened.
While I strongly recommend that you read as many of the below links as you can, here is my take on some of his main points:
1) Most of our thought is unconscious, driven by our neural circuitry and all information and experience is interpreted by our unconscious in terms of our frame (or world view as it is sometimes called). Anything that contradicts that frame is either ignored, resisted or explained in terms of that frame.
This explains why facts alone cannot change a strongly held belief, no matter how logical or illogical it may seem to you.
2) The democrats and the media help Trump when they attempt to refute his statements.
To quote Lakoff:
‘In general, negating a frame just activates the frame and makes it stronger. … If a conservative says, “we should have tax relief,” she is using the metaphor that taxation is an affliction that we need relief from. If a liberal replies, “No, we don’t need tax relief,” she is accepting the idea that taxation is an affliction. The first thing that is, or should be, taught about political language is not to repeat the language of the other side or negate their framing of the issue.’ from: https://georgelakoff.com/2016/11/22/a-minority-president-why-the-polls-failed-and-what-the-majority-can-do/
If you have ever tried to learn a physical skill, you know that practicing the wrong motion will make it just as permanent as if you practiced the right motion, and it won’t matter if every time you practice it wrong you shout “That was wrong!”. Most people understand that motor skills are learned in our neurons. What most people don’t know is that thought also exists in our neurons and every time we practice a thought (in this case by hearing language that activates it) we strengthen the circuits for that thought — and it doesn’t matter that every time we activate that thought someone shouts “That was wrong.”
3) The two frames that we see in American politics can be roughly described as the “strong father family” and the “nurturant parent family”.
The strong father morality is the conservative morality. Pro gun, anti women’s choice, pro death penalty, global warming denial, homophobia, racism, Islamophobia, America first and strong military all fit into this morality.
4) Most people have a mix of frames. In some areas they are conservative/strong father, in some progressive/nurturant. Activating someone’s nurturant frame strengthens it at the expense of his strong father frame. (or vice versa).
5) Conservatives have studied and applied the techniques of cognitive science. Progressives, by and large, have not. Instead Progressives tend to use rational logic in their campaigns. Good salesmen understand cognitive science, consciously or unconsciously.
The mainstream media, the democratic and most of us are actually strengthening Trump’s messaging in the minds of many people — including, to some extent, in ourselves. We need to study what cognitive science tells us and learn to apply it.
There’s much more, and he presents it better than I ever could so here are some links, please read or watch them. You will learn a lot and you will understand much more about why conservative salesmanship succeeded in the last election and what we have to do about it.
A very good interview by Tavis Smiley. I highly recommend this as a starting point. It’s only 24 minutes and well worth the time. (Whatever you do, don’t miss the bit from 11:35 to 13:38). Professor of Cognitive Science, George Lakoff | Interviews | Tavis Smiley | PBS
Two articles worth reading. There’s some overlap between the two, but read them both because there is different important stuff in each one. The two together will give you a good overview of what Lakoff is saying.
And this article by Andrés Miguel Rondón describing the experiences of the Venezuelan opposition for a great example of what Lakoff is talking about: https://www.caracaschronicles.com/2017/01/20/culturejam/
And, finally, this link to a fairly long article that goes into detail about many things, including strong father morality and it’s variations: https://georgelakoff.com/2016/11/22/a-minority-president-why-the-polls-failed-and-what-the-majority-can-do/
That ought to get you started.