We need to fix our words before
we can fix our Democracy
How the Left often helps the Right
We are on the verge of losing it all. Intentionally divisive and manipulative voices are tearing us apart and driving many of us into a cult-like behavior that seems happy to watch American Democracy die. The number of Americans who realize what is going on is shockingly small – and most of them have no idea how deep the damage goes.
There is no sense in trying to sugarcoat the fact that it is the Republicans and Conservatives who are taking our country to this very dangerous place. For decades they have been using their fear-mongering rhetoric as a means to scapegoat others for the damage caused by their own pro-wealth policies. Not only did it provide them cover but it also slowly pitted us against each other, moving some voters over to their side to find a false sense of security from all that prefabricated anxiety. Over the past two decades, their scapegoating of others gradually turned into control of their followers – to the point where it got out of their control.
How we Lost Control
To fix our Democracy we first need to understand human behavior so we can understand how so many of us could be led astray – and then lead them back (at least some of them). Like everything else, our politics and beliefs come from inside our heads, but as we can clearly see from today’s politics, what goes on in our heads can be easily controlled by others. In other words, if we want to pull people back to the table then we need to understand what lured them away and what pushed them away. It is highly recommended to read this article to provide context for much of the below.
Anxiety and low self-esteem are key drivers of our vulnerability to manipulation and they are abundant in our society, coming at us from multiple directions:
- From real-life financial challenges (often the result of conservative and wealth-driven policies) such as trickle-down economics, a massive and growing wealth gap, offshoring our jobs, growing debt, declining savings, etc. In general most of us are well aware that we are a pink slip or diagnosis away from financial disaster (if we aren’t there already). This is made worse by the underlying pressure from our society that measures our worth by our financial success.
- From prefabricated and bogus issues that have been continuously delivered right into our living room via Fox News and other conservative media sources for years. Examples include the steady “reminders” of things such as the “Left’s attack on Christianity” or pop-up issues such as Critical Race Theory and “grooming”.
- From other issues such as the day-to-day stress of the pandemic, watching our Democracy implode, our steadily growing subconscious dread of climate change, and the general feeling that things are slipping out of our control.
By creating deep anxiety and damaging our self-esteem, these conditions have conspired to make many of us psychologically vulnerable. But even more damaging is the continual flow of manipulative and divisive rhetoric that is simultaneously exploiting this vulnerability, concocting more to be fearful of, and giving us more people to lash out against. Conservatives have driven many of us into a state of mind that will not easily be reversed – certainly not by simple campaign slogans.
If Democracy is going to survive then we must start bringing folks “back to the table” and restoring reason. Unfortunately, anxiety, low self-esteem, and group identification beat out reason almost every time so we need to look for ways to lessen these and help folks see the true approaching evil, that there is another way, and that they have a future. The problem is if we don’t carefully push back against the Conservative’s ongoing rhetoric then their followers will dig in their heels and double-down on their position and well have only increased our divide.
If we can’t find a way to start cooling things, then each election cycle will be more critical and more emotional for each side, and therefore, more desperate and dangerous. Each election will be challenged, the political divide will grow, and our ability to navigate the true challenges before us will be destroyed.
We are learning how important local and district-level elections are to the Right’s plan to dismantle our Democracy from the bottom-up. These elections are often very close and sometimes won or lost by a handful of votes. Every vote counts in these elections and pulling enough people back to reality to either win their vote or keep them home on election day is critically important.
By now, Democrats must certainly realize that they can’t rely on mainstream media to be anything other than spectators at this point and that Republicans will only get worse. Because of this, the Democrats need to adjust. The following discussions look at how we might, at least partially, counter the divisive rhetoric in the areas of our political differences and bigotry. Some simple reframing examples are included, but they are not intended to ignore or smooth over these important issues nor are they provided as a magic fix. The examples are very much a work in progress. The specific demographics of the audience are extremely important when considering these reframing examples.
Fixing Left vs. Right
Other than the typical stereotypes such as driving around in a Prius or planting a “Let’s Go Brandon” flag in the front yard, it is usually pretty hard to determine our neighbors’ political leanings. Yet, somehow we find ourselves in a society where Republicans and Democrats see each other as significant threats to our way of life and our Democracy, and sometimes even literal existential threats. While even the casual observer can see that much of this has been cultivated by the efforts of a small number of influential people, it is the effectiveness of their effort and the associated difficulty in unraveling it all that is difficult to comprehend.
Somehow, these divisive voices have taken America to the point where our politics has devolved into resentment, hatred, instinctual rage, and even revenge. Many of us no longer care about actual policies – at best, we only care about whether policy originated from “our side” or the “other side”. American Democracy, even in the halls of our government buildings, has become gang warfare.
In terms of Left vs. Right, conservatives are taking their rhetoric to dangerous new levels. Using highly inflammatory talking points against the Left such as stealing the election, wokeness, critical race theory, grooming children, supporting pedophilia, etc. There’s a big difference between thinking that a powerless group is coming after your job or wasting your tax dollars vs thinking that half the population and half of our government are coming after you, your family, your religion, your democracy, and even your whiteness.
This rhetoric is repeated over and over again by conservative politicians, media, pundits, and think tanks until their base is thoroughly convinced that liberals hate them, freedom, Democracy, and God. Very bad things will happen when one of two major parties is acting like a cult and whose members believe that the other major party is a direct threat to their world.
It is important to understand that threats such as these are much worse than they appear – they are not cases of simple name-calling, they are existential threats that hit our subconscious hard and they are why many on the Right are okay with taking children from parents, book-banning, bounties against educators, attacking our Capitol, and even rising authoritarianism.
Democrats often make things worse as their campaign rhetoric and policy descriptions can often unnecessarily activate conservative fear-triggers, pushing them away. This, of course, is also turned into soundbites by conservatives to further the damage. Even by simply providing countering facts, challenging beliefs, or pointing out the failings of adored leaders we can easily make people dig in their heels and increase our divide. What follows are some thoughts and talking points on lessening the Left vs. Right divide.
It’s important to understand that Conservatives feel safer in a system of patriarchal and hierarchical authority, heritage, and tradition and are therefore less comfortable with change. Conversely, Liberal candidates and politicians, especially Progressives, embrace and push for “big ideas” or “transformative changes” and the “Progressive Agenda.” While there may be nothing inherently wrong with sweeping changes, they are extremely intimidating to many Conservatives at a subconscious level. At the same time, they are not legislatively realistic goals for the Left to pursue and are usually only added to the pile of unkept promises. It is important to remember that fear beats reason almost every time so explaining why a “sweeping change” is needed will fall on deaf ears. Different wording is required to prevent Conservatives from thinking the Liberals want to chuck everything out the window.
- Don’t tell folks that we need change, remind folks that America is always changing and adapting and that is why we are strong:
- America has a long history of getting things right and making things better.
- We didn’t become the greatest Democracy in history by sitting on our hands and letting other countries pass us by. America has always been ahead of the curve.
- We led the industrial revolution, we saved the world from Fascism in WWII, we were the first to the moon, and now we are going to lead the effort to save our planet.
- Avoid threatening and unachievable policy rhetoric such as “free education for all”
- Reframe policies as efforts to continue our traditions and heritage as leaders in a changing world:
- We’ve led the world for many generations and this Green Energy bill will keep us in the driver’s seat where we belong.
- We have worked hard to create the best medical technology in the world – now it’s time that all of us get to benefit from it.
- Avoid words that imply sudden and significant change as they will create a vision of a future that is unfamiliar and undefined in many people’s minds. Don’t convince people that you are trying to change their world:
- We can do this differently for different regions of the country – whatever makes sense for folks
- We’re gonna roll this out over ten years
Patriots vs. Traitors
For decades, Republicans have successfully anointed themselves as the only party that is strong enough and serious enough to protect American Democracy. But now, with their Authoritarian leanings, they are taking us to a very dangerous place – all of us – explain that – often. Keep in mind that their activities such as fighting the January 6th investigation, minority rule, removing voting rights, attacking personal rights, conspiracy theories, book banning, etc. are perfectly fine with some people so, depending on demographics, specific topics such as these might be good to avoid.
- Explain how everyone eventually loses under Authoritarianism – while initially appealing to many, it expands its control over more and more people – it always has and it always will – that is what it does.
- In too many cases, the Right has gone soft on Russia, even as it attacks our Democracy. Remind folks of what Putin is, what he did, and the reach of his money and control in our country – explain that giving Republicans power will give Putin an advantage
- Now we all know why we have NATO – and why Trump wanted us out…
- Trump respects our troops as much as Putin respects Russian troops
- Reminders of KY Senator McConnell and Paul’s business dealings with Oligarchs and the associate resistance to sanctions in 2019
- Republicans are no longer in government to lead – they don’t know how to protect us against threats from Russia and China
- Republicans only want power and they take all the help from Russia that they can get. They help Russia in return.
- Republicans continue to vote against support for veterans
- There needs to be pushback against the “socialism” claims from the Right. Likewise, the Left needs to stop embracing aspects of it. At one point, Democracy and capitalism were working just fine for the middle class – before conservatives and corporatists broke it – that’s the message. Why push for something new when we can point out that we had it right until the conservatives took over.
- America had some serious mojo before the Republicans let corporations control our government
- A government that protects its people from profiteering and pollution is not Socialism… its’ Democracy
- Wanting a government that represents the will of the people is not Socialism… it’s Democracy
- Who doesn’t like patriotism? Many people think Democrats don’t like patriotism. It’s ok to wrap Democratic policies and ideas in Patriotism
- Restoring jobs in Rural America and on Main Street is patriotic – and that’s what we’re gonna do
- There is nothing more patriotic than getting money out off politics.
- Republicans don’t protect the Constitution, they exploit it.
Who do Republicans care about?
Conservative policies have caused much harm to Americans – and we need to be reminded of this every single day. There is plenty to talk about regarding how the Republicans have spent the last few decades coddling the rich, voting against both Main Street and rural America, destroying the environment, etc.
- Trickledown economics is the biggest con pulled on Americans in history and it has created significant damage to our wallets and the future of our kids. It is ripe for attack.
- Those Republican tax breaks for the wealthy don’t protect your liberties
- Republicans: Making us work harder for less money.
- Republicans are good at two things – tax breaks for the wealthy and tax increases for us
- Drive home the fact that the conservative Supreme Court is acting on behalf of billionaires – and billionaires don’t care about us
- The conservative Supreme Court has been allowing more and more money into our government – giving more and more power to the wealthy.
- While Republicans and the Supreme Court are restricting who can vote, they both also enable more and more corruption. When was the last time Corporate America cared about you?
- Republicans have no interest in leading the country forward or giving Americans a level playing field – they only want power and money.
- We are dealing with climate change, a pandemic, authoritarianism, and war – We don’t need any more Republican chaos
- Republicans don’t fix our problems, they create them.
- Understand and point out the Republican attacks on rural hospitals, rural senior care, etc.
For the near term, talking to the Right about things such as abortion and immigration won’t change anyone’s mind – their minds are made up so there is nothing to gain but there is plenty to lose through triggering. This does not mean to imply that these topics are unimportant, but depending on the demographics of the audience some things are best to avoid. If the polls are correct, then abortion can be a safe topic when discussed in a more appealing context: health of the mother, rape, incest, increasingly losing our rights, etc. Again, there is much more to the issue of abortion (a woman’s control of her own body), but all of this is about easing (not forcing) people back to the table.
Bigot: a person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices. Especially: one who regards or treats the members of a group (such as a racial or ethnic group) with hatred and intolerance. (Merriam-Webster)
Bigotry is on the rise all across America. Our increased attacks against each other based on our race, ethnicity, religion, gender, lifestyle, politics, values, etc. are hard to deny. While President Trump is often blamed for this increase, bigotry is a bit more complicated than that. Trump certainly pushed many of us over the edge, but the groundwork was laid well before he came onto the scene.
As an ancient instinct for survival, we all feel safer by avoiding things that are unfamiliar to us and avoiding people who are different than us. Likewise, we feel safer in familiar surroundings and with similar people. These behaviors are exaggerated when we are experiencing fear or anxiety as our brain goes into “fight or flight” mode or assumes a highly suspicious and defensive posture – again, this is all normal human behavior.
Bigotry, however, is often cultivated by actors within society who manipulate us to greatly exaggerate our differences to create a greater perceived threat. These folks use the tried-and-true exploitation of anxiety, low self-esteem, group identity, and our own biases to pit us against each other and control us. Reading this article is strongly recommended to understand how these can deeply affect us and increase bigotry and also to better understand the motivation behind this article.
Many Americans are repulsed by bigotry and they don’t need further convincing about an inclusive society. At the same time, it is much more important for other Americans to hear these discussions in a way that minimizes fear triggers. It is important to remember that these folks, at least for the moment, have been convinced that an inclusive America will exclude them.
Because we want to calm people down, care should be used when talking about bigotry. In fact, for the near term, and in certain (geopolitical) situations, consider not talking about it at all – few people will change their minds. Once the perceived threat is decreased (and replaced with more constructive ideas) then these discussions can be revisited with the energy that they certainly deserve. Topics to discuss carefully include:
- An inclusive society
- Racial equality
- Religious freedom
Hopefully, improvement to these issues will be an end result of calming people down, but for now, they need to be carefully addressed. It is more constructive to approach these issues by changing the conversation to be about working together for positive change or working against the actual forces that are hurting so many of us. Folks need to be constantly reminded of the existing common issues that are impacting us all. Working together on these issues will not only measurably improve our world and our self-esteem, but it will also create a sense of community and camaraderie that has been proven to reduce our prejudices. Below are some simple examples of reframing certain conversations with certain demographics – these are notional ideas, intended only to provide context:
- America has always done better when we work together
- The great thing about our Democracy is that none of us lose any of our rights if the guy across town has the same rights as us.
- We need as many people as possible contributing to our economy to keep money flowing through our communities and to create jobs.
- The more of us that are better off, the more of us will spend money – and that’ll help out on Main Street.
- A handful of billionaires are taking our money and power while they tell us to blame each other. We need to work together to take back what was ours.
- The big secret? it’s really about rich vs. poor – they just want you to think it’s about black vs. white.
- The only people taking your money are millionaires, billionaires, and Wall Street.
- The billionaires are forcing more and more of us to share that last, shrinking slice of pie.
These are just a few of many resources available to learn more about our psychology and our politics
- A very good starting place
- The physiology of anxiety
- By using our fear of death, psychologists can predictably control who we will vote for
- A significant number of interviews with thought leaders provided by the Hub of New Ideas (Especially Episode 2 on Bigotry and Episode 12 on Self-Esteem)
- How fear increases climate denial
- A deep dive into our Fears and how it controls us
- A random sampling of the many articles on the web
- Eric Hoffer quotations
- One of many examples of cultivating fear
- This has all happened before
- And it is happening again…