Deception & Misdirection
The Battle for America’s Unconscious Mind: Appealing to the Heart
The psychology behind the Left’s cultural long march
Summary: For all the talk of “unconscious bias” that the Left uses to cow their intellectual opponents, left-wing activists are not afraid to use subtly loaded language to win arguments and silence dissent. A look at the history of cultural Marxism and the evolution of public policy debates shows that conservatives need to apply more finesse to language and consider emotive strategies to bolster already superior arguments.
Getting Trapped in the Courtroom Frame
One of the Left’s most insidious and effective tactics is to attack the character and even the mental health of those who disagree with them, rather than discussing issues. “Homophobia,” “Islamophobia,” “xenophobia,” and “hater” have now been added to the list alongside “racism” and “sexism” as accusations intended to intimidate opponents and silence opinions that differ from those of the Left.
For mainstream Americans striving to be good, decent human beings, such accusations usually trigger what we might call a mistaken identity frame, as when someone has mistaken us for someone else. We assume that the accuser has unintentionally misperceived our actions or statements, so we offer denials and evidence to correct the misperception.
The problem with offering such rebuttals, no matter how true or well-presented, is that they are irrelevant. With hard core leftists, it is the effect of the accusation and not its accuracy that is important.
The moment the accused says, “I am not a crook,” “I’m not a racist,” or makes some other defensive statement, he or she has accepted what we might call the courtroom frame, complete with roles and expectations. The person denying the accusation is in the role of defendant who will offer evidence against the charge. The leftists making the accusation are in the role of the prosecution. And the best the defendant can hope for is a “not guilty” verdict.
But the Left’s political courtroom is a kangaroo court. Notice that, after targeting an individual with an accusation, the Left never concludes that the accusation was wrong and that the accused is not guilty. That is because the Left’s goal is to use the accusation to intimidate and silence their targets, not to find out if the accusation is warranted.
How Can Conservatives Be More Effective?
In his historic 2017 speech in Poland, President Trump stated that the fundamental question facing the West today is whether it has the will to survive. Do we have the confidence in our values to defend them at any cost?
Those questions apply equally well in the United States. The Left’s long march strategy has challenged the worldview and the political values on which our freedom depends, and they have even begun changing the meaning of the essential language of our political discourse.
Here are a few points for conservatives to remember in making the case for their policies:
- Because of the Left’s dominance in our cultural institutions, we can no longer assume that voters understand the moral concerns that drive our policies. We have to make those clear, and we have to point out the harm done by leftist policies.
- Pay attention to how the Left frames an issue, and in particular notice the assumptions their frame makes. By being aware of the assumptions embedded in the language they use, you are in a better position to expose the flaws in those assumptions and to offer a better way of seeing the issue.
- Keep your arguments simple and relevant to the voter. Always answer the question, “Why should the voter care about this issue?”
- Frame your arguments in moral terms. It is correct to say that free enterprise works better than socialism. But it is both accurate and morally powerful to argue that free enterprise provides hope and opportunity and that socialism hurts the very people it claims to help. Conservatives have to show people that limited government and free enterprise are grounded in a desire to protect them from abuse by the powerful and that conservative policies lead to more opportunity and a higher standard of living.
There are two cultural worldviews in conflict in America, and those worldviews lead us to very different futures. In one future, individuals will still have worth and rights as individuals, and people will be free to live their lives as they choose. In the other future, self-appointed experts will decide what is acceptable for us to earn, to keep, to do, and to say. Though winning elections is important, the challenge for conservatives is not to have slicker marketing or to do a better job of picking words simply to win elections. The challenge is to carefully and deliberately make the case that conservative policies are better answers to moral concerns than the policies proposed by the Left so that we will have the public support to carry out those policies.