A simple reason why Republicans despise democracy

'The whole point of democracy is caring about what other people feel'

A simple reason why Republicans despise democracy

Why do conservatives increasingly support the overthrow of American democracy? It may boil down to a basic lack of empathy.

“Democracy depends upon empathy,” says Dr. Lakoff in the latest episode of the FrameLab podcast. “The whole point of democracy is caring about what other people feel and what their interests are, and that their interests are represented. In general, Republicans don’t care about that … They have a sense of what’s right and what’s wrong and they want to impose it.”

In episode 20 of FrameLab, taped in December, we discuss the meaning of the January 6 attack on the United States Capitol and the conservative attack on voting rights across the nation. With the fate of democracy at stake, can Democratic leaders and the free press withstand the tactics and strategies of an authoritarian GOP hellbent on stealing the next election if necessary? Listen to hear what we think.

Framing immigration

To this point, we also discuss whether the press has learned any lessons about how nefarious actors work to frame political debates to spread hate and disinformation. Readers familiar with Dr. Lakoff’s work and listeners of the FrameLab podcast know conservatives have long bested progressives at framing political debates.

This is largely because conservative political communicators tend to understand the power of marketing and communication better than progressives, who seem to believe each individual is a rational thinker making a rational choice from a rational set of options presented in a rational format.

Unfortunately, that’s not how things work.

Instead, conservative billionaires have poured tons of money into conservative think tanks that spend lots of money to study language, frame debates, train speakers and flood the media with “experts” whose job is to convince people that right-wing policy positions represent “moderate” or “centrist” Americans. With enough repetition, millions of Americans hear these messages and they start to seem true. When polls begin to reflect these messages, and when even Democratic politicians repeat them, they can indeed become true.

Repetition is crucial. The more you can get a message or idea repeated, the more it can change how people perceive an issue or think about the world. This explains why large corporations spend billions to bombard consumers with advertising.

In this episode, we discuss a recent column by Los Angeles Times columnist Jean Guerrero, who wrote a piece headlined “Stop letting hate groups control the immigration debate.” In it, she detailed how a handful of anti-immigrant groups linked to a white nationalist named John Tanton have succeeded in infiltrating mainstream media outlets.

“Top-tier news outlets also keep giving prominence to organizations that peddle anti-immigrant views, including those classified as hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center, such as the Federation for American Immigration Reform and the Center for Immigration Studies,” wrote Guerrero. “Media Matters for America said it found that since January 2019, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the Wall Street Journal, Reuters and Associated Press published 203 articles that cited those groups or the ideologically aligned NumbersUSA, often without ‘sufficient context’ about their backgrounds.”

Guerrero rightly put the blame on major media outlets for buying into these efforts to create “anti-immigrant hysteria.” She highlighted the pressure major news outlets put on Vice President Kamala Harris to visit the United States-Mexico border last year. The press played right into the hands of anti-immigrant conservatives and “hounded” Harris until she visited the border. Of course, this failed to appease anti-immigrant conservative operators who accused her of going to the wrong part of the border.

And it’s not clear what Harris was supposed to accomplish with a border visit anyway. She can’t fix the complex problems driving immigration with a wave of her hand. There’s nothing she could see with her own eyes that she couldn’t see through drone footage or data collected by U.S. Customs and Border Control.

No, the “border visit” was simply a Republican frame: The vice president had to visit the border -- or else she was running away from the border issue. Because conservatives said so.

The press swallowed it hook, line and sinker. In the end, the VP had no choice but to comply. She went to the border, where nothing was accomplished and where her choice of sites (El Paso) only inspired a new stream of criticism from anti-immigrant conservatives.

Remember: There is usually no way to win when you accept the opposition’s frame.

Would legitimate news outlets repeatedly quote anti-immigrant organizations founded by a white nationalist if they had to include the relevant context? It seems unlikely. Yet a study by Media Matters for America found that only 15% of stories quoted such sources “provided sufficient context of their extremist ties or of their connections to the Trump administration or restrictionist immigration officials.”

So, here’s one simple but important reform for the press: Stop quoting hate groups and organizations connected to white nationalists without – at the very least – telling readers the truth about the source. When a group is motivated by racism and hate, does it deserve a chance to frame the debate?

‘Defund’ as framing fail

In the latest episode of the FrameLab podcast, we also discuss why “defund the police” failed as a political framing. It played directly into conservative hands and has helped put Dems on the run from charges of being weak on public safety. The only people who seem to use the slogan now are conservatives, who use it to falsely smear Democratic policies toward public safety. We’ll write more on this topic soon, and would love to hear your thoughts.

You can listen to the full episode here or wherever you get your podcasts.

George and Gil

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