This Is What Will Change Your Political Opponent’s Mind

By Krissy Eliot

The latest trendy theory among progressives is that emotions, not facts, are most effective in convincing conservative Americans to change their minds for the good of the country.

In a Slate piece called “It’s Time to Give Up on Facts,” journalist Jess Zimmerman says emotional appeal is the only real way to persuade members of the right to seriously consider progressive’s ways of seeing things—that the left should keep facts safe in their arsenal, but they’re not weapons that will win the war. In the Atlantic, Olga Khazan explains how conservatives are more likely to support ideas that are “morally reframed” to fit their perspective, rather than change their own values based on factually-based arguments—and progressives should keep this in mind so as not to “make the conflict worse.” And in his seminal book Moral Politics, UC Berkeley cognitive linguist George Lakoff says that progressives don’t often explicitly declare their moral values in the same manner as conservatives, thinking the facts will speak for themselves. But history shows that how you frame the debate is what reels them in.

Okay, yeah: Progressives could afford to improve their skills as political party pick-up artists. But word-sorcery isn’t going to be what ultimately bewitches Trump supporters, says Dr. Lawrence Rosenthal, executive director of the UC Berkeley Center for Right-Wing Studies.

They’ll be persuaded not by rational argument, he says, but by the harsh light of reality.

“I think the transformation of emotion, anger, and perhaps voting, on the right, will be affected not by liberals talking sense or liberals appealing to human kindness, but by reality not coming through as [Trump supporters] expected it to,” Rosenthal says. “If they’re going to turn, it will be on account of events,” most likely not getting what they believe they were promised.  

“What’s going to happen when the jobs don’t come back that Trump has argued for? What happens if he does re-do trade deals?” Rosenthal says. “What happens when people on Obamacare get thrown off?”

Rosenthal says that die-hard Trump supporters have largely gravitated towards him because they want what they believe they’re owed, and the feeling of being let down is pervasive.

The Tea Party elected 65 people into the House of Representatives in 2010, Rosenthal explains, and continued to elect representatives during the Obama years with the idea that they could simply do away with Obamacare. When that didn’t happen, says Rosenthal, they felt betrayed and revolted against the Republican Party establishment—and they’re still clinging to this anger, throwing down some serious shade.

So ultimately, there’s not much liberals can do to change the minds of many Trump supporters right now, says Rosenthal, but facts and logic are still important for seducing centrists and progressives—and for setting up a cordon sanitaire so the lies don’t seep out from where truth should be flowing.

“I do think it’s very important to expose stuff so that lies that beget other lies are contained,” Rosenthal says. “So they don’t spread from…the alt-right-world into middle-of-the-road people.”

Also, even if facts are holstered temporarily and the proposed moral and emotional debate tactics are perfectly deployed by liberals, it doesn’t matter much if the other party never shows up to listen. 

“The liberal press, to its credit, has an ideal of objectivity; it may not succeed in it, but it exists,” Rosenthal says. “The right, and this includes Fox News, so firmly believe from watching the mainstream media, that it has a liberal bias, that the ideas or the ideals of objectivity have completely gone out the window on that side.”

“The right cares about its team,” says Rosenthal. And because Trump supporters may believe there’s little to no room for them at the progressive table, they’re mostly hanging with guys like Glenn Beck and Milo Yiannopoulos.

This past election cycle, Fox was the main news source for 40 percent of Trump voters, according to Pew Research, whereas Clinton voters had a much broader media diet, with no single news source being as dominant.

The liberal call to rely more on framing than facts to convince conservatives isn’t new, but the prevalence of the argument is at a level we’ve never seen before, Rosenthal says.

And the upsurge “has to do with how, from the liberal point of view, wildly distorted the right has become in how they see things,” Rosenthal says. “It has a special character in 2017.” 

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Krissy, my wife and I were born before Pearl Harbor, she in Nanking and I in California. We were classmates at Berkeley where we created our own cultural values that have allowed us to lead lives together where we have not had to envy anyone because of the opportunities passed on to us by the legacy of the Greatest Generation. We have lived during the tyrannies of Hitler, Tojo, and Stalin and we thought we had made everlasting social progress in America with Johnson’s Civil Rights Act and the Free Speech Movement. But the legacy of the Greatest Generation, and all social progress since are now threated by Trump, Jong Un and Putin. Professor Rosenthal asks some very important questions that require our continuous focus: “What’s going to happen when the jobs don’t come back that Trump has argued for?” “What happens if he does re-do trade deals?” “What happens when people on Obamacare get thrown off?” Current events demand that we must, most vigorously support the perpetuation of journalism and demand Freedom of the Press more than ever before. Indeed, the future of American Democracy is threatened as much today as it was by the Revolutionary War, Civil War and WWII, because a most important history lesson is that oligarchs have overthrown democracies far too often. One solution I would like all of you to most seriously consider is to encourage Berkeley professors and scholars to join together to produce an international campus dedicated to producing and implementing solutions to all the political, social, economic and environmental threats we are experiencing today with the greatest urgency. Time is running out.
To be fair, Glenn Beck is a Trump critic.

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