Going High When They Go Low Isn’t How You Win; You Gotta Fight to Win
There’s an interesting interview with cognitive linguist George Lakoff going around in which he discussed this problem. His thesis, essentially, is that it’s not so much policy differences that make Liberals so unappealing to conservatives. It’s that Liberals have erroneous ideas about how to win people over while Republicans have it down to an art form. He argues, and has been arguing for decades now, that Republicans are masters of messaging and framing while Democrats prefer to work from facts, idea and reason.
Basically, Republicans understand how people think about the world in real life because they approach politics from the perspective of marketing and communications. Most people reason from their emotions, their values and their worldview with facts, ideas and reason serving primarily to shore up what they already believe. If a fact, idea or reason doesn’t fit with their values, worldview or emotions, it will be dismissed or explained away because to do otherwise would require adjusting if not completely overturning the mental framework they depend on to function. Which is a much bigger upheaval than the simple admission of error and adjustment of opinion which liberals assume would be the response to encountering information which conflicts with current beliefs.
Liberals on the other hand, tend to rely on academic ideas about how people should think. The problem, of course, is that how we think things should work, generally has little effect on how they actually do work. It’s always going to be more effective to start with how things actually work and try influence change from that point of reality than it is to simply stand on how you think things should work and demand that everyone move to where you are. The Democratic insistence on working from facts, ideas and reason without learning the nitty gritty of messaging and framing which would allow them to show how their policies fit into or build on existing conservative worldviews dooms them to failure over and over again.
Probably the most glaring example of this failure on the part of liberals has to do with liberal’s unwillingness to fight. Somehow liberals seem to have decided that they are above fighting and they eschew it whenever possible in favor of trying to persuade or when persuasion fails, regrouping to try again. No where was this on more vivid display than during the aftermath of the election. Obviously, the election was close. And there were reports of serious discrepancies between exit polls and election results of the sort which are known to be possible indicators of fraud. And how did the DNC respond? They didn’t. It fell to Jill Stein to raise the money necessary to demand a recall in effected states. When it came time to execute the actual recounts, the RNC had lawyers crawling everywhere, challenging ballots and processes left and right while the DNC’s presence was barely visible.
After the recounts, there was still the hope that the electoral college might save us. Protecting the country from a foolish mob electing a despot is literally one of the reasons the founding fathers created the electoral college. We all know that if the roles were reversed, the Republicans would have mounted a coordinated, well funded campaign and media blitz to convince the electoral college to give the election to the winner of the popular vote. They would have been working it from any and every angle they could think of, no matter how outlandish. The DNC, however, did essentially nothing. Told us to accept that an apparently racist, unhinged, authoritarian con-artist would be running the country and move on for the sake of unity. What fight there was on that front came from private citizens and social media.
Not only is the unwillingness to fight bad strategy, it absolutely guarantees that conservatives will prefer voting for a dirty sock over a liberal. At least the sock has the temerity to raise a stink. Conservatives tend to place a very high value on community and loyalty. Part of that sense of community and loyalty knowing that someone’s got my back and will go to battle for me if need be. Someone who won’t even fight for themselves can’t possibly be trusted to fight for someone else. Liberals don’t know how to fight and they don’t want to fight. They seem to have eschewed fighting as somehow beneath them. They seem to have conflated fighting with “going low” and they want to be known for “going high”. But going high is NOT synonymous with refusing to fight.
The fear that liberals have – and I’ve gotten some of this pushback myself – is that by fighting we make ourselves no better than the belligerents who went to figurative war with Obama after he was elected. We’ll be seen as sore losers, they say. They worry that we’ll alienate people. And all of that is pure and utter rubbish.
From the conservative perspective, if you won’t fight, you can’t be trusted to defend. If you won’t fight, you’re not committed. If you won’t fight, you don’t really have confidence in what you’re saying. If you won’t fight, you’re not a person who can be trusted much less followed.
And yes, when you fight, you will be chided for being rude, for being stubborn, for sowing conflict. You will be accused of being a sore loser. You will be told that you’re alienating people and hurting your own cause. You will be told that you’re being unreasonable and pushy and unfair. You will be mocked and ridiculed and called names and told that you smell bad and your mother dresses you funny. Because that’s what fighting looks like; you put your truth out, people push back and see if they can get your to back down. So you double down, stand your ground and do exactly what your opponent tells you you must not do. In a fight you have to be indefatigable and creative and confidently certain as all get out. It’s a fight, not a prayer circle.
And here’s the thing about conservatives; by and large, they mean to be good people. They want to do right by people. They in no way intend to cause harm. And they want pretty much the same things that liberals want for themselves and our country. The problem is that on one side, you have this dishonest, manipulative, untrustworthy party who, by any reasonable measure, seeks power rather than the best interest of the American people. But they’ll fight you tooth and nail. They’ll wage a war on you that you aren’t even participating in and win three battles in the time it takes for you to learn chords to kumbaya or construct your next argument. They don’t care if their enemies get mad and say mean things about them. They’ll just use that as a badge of honor and a weapon to wield.
And whether liberals like it or not, whether they think it’s the way it should be or not, the reality is that fighting works. A lot of people simply feel safer throwing their support behind people who they can trust to fight for them in the face of threat over someone who may be right all the time, but don’t even have the wherewithal to fight for their own ideas and their own share of the power. It’s much easier to change the way people think by working with current reality than by just demanding that they change, after all.
So that’s the kind-of bad news for a lot of liberals. If they really want to win and have a shot at offering a serious counterweight to the unAmerican right wing radicals who have taken over our country, they’re going to have to learn to fight. They’re going to have to learn to absorb the blows, the criticism, the rejection, the accusations and nastiness that are part and parcel of fighting without shifting, moving or bending. They’re going to have to learn to dish it as well as they take it. And that’s damn uncomfortable for a lot of us.
A lot of people associate open conflict and the intense battles of a fight with those who are abusive, dishonest, manipulative and cruel. But you can be plenty abusive, dishonest, manipulative and cruel without fighting. It’s not the fighting that’s the problem. You don’t have to fight dirty, be dishonest, dehumanizing or even particularly harmful to fight. You just need to fight clever, judicious and strong. Because the good news is that if we fight, we’re going to win. The other side leans so heavily on dishonesty, cruelty and manipulation because what they’re fighting for is bullshit. Behind that strong, take-no-prisoners, fight to the death front, there’s not really much there that anyone actually wants.
On the issues, once you strip off the liberal label, the American people agree with us. They just can’t trust us or take us or any of our policies seriously. What good is having great policy goals if you don’t have the gumption to fight to enact them anyways? So we’ve got to step up and fight because if we don’t, we’re abandoning ourselves, our country and our neighbors to an abusive, dishonest, manipulative and cruel movement ruled by a racist, unhinged con-artist. If that’s not worth fighting over, I don’t know what is.
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