"We've had enough of thoughts and prayers. We've had enough of 'We're in your consideration.' 'We're going to think about it.' 'We're going to tell you how we feel because we support you so much.' Because we know that that is not true. If you supported us, you would have made a change long ago and you would be making a change now. So this is to every lawmaker out there. No longer can you take money from the NRA. No longer can you fly under the radar doing whatever it is that you want to do. Because we are coming after you. We are coming after every single one of you and demanding that you take action.”
– Parkland student Delaney Tarr, 17
Indivisible Sonoma County began the week on Monday by hosting an evening with George Lakoff, Berkeley Professor Emeritus in Cognitive Linguistics. Lakoff is celebrated thought-leader on how language and communication can work to reinforce or change existing belief structures. Open, engaging and thoughtful, Lakoff spoke about the different conceptual frames that conservatives and progressives bring to viewing the same information and how it affects their perception of what they’re seeing or hearing. He urged us to move beyond the time-honored but outdated belief that change can be effected by logical argument, and to shift instead to using cognitive frames that connect issues to the underlying values that our audience holds.
Keeping Our Children Safe
Here’s an example. I would argue that the reason the Parkland teenagers have been successful in igniting a movement is that, in addition to their being sympathetic as children and as victims, they have reframed the issue beyond “gun control”. Instead of leading with the ins and outs of types of legislation, what background checks to have, what types of guns, etc, they make a higher level argument first:
We, as children, deserve to be safe. You, the adults, have failed us and we are in danger. So we’ll take it upon ourselves to ensure our safety by holding you responsible until you act.
Critically, when they say “the adults” they’re talking about their elected representatives. In other words, it’s the role of government to keep children safe. Although the students are deliberately non-partisan, this is the fundamental dividing line between Republican and Democratic views. Republicans see no role for government in keeping children safe from firearms. For them, a vigilante/wild west world where everyone is armed to the teeth is the right solution – a particularly radical view of personal freedom. Democrats, like the teens, believe that it’s the role of government to keep children safe.
This new frame opens up the issue and connects it to listeners’ values of safety and protection, particularly for children.
The other thing that the Parkland teenagers are doing is demonstrating fierce determination. Gun control has been an intractable issue in American politics for decades. It’s widely considered a “third rail” of politics, ie untouchable. The NRA has scored victory after victory, removing laws right and left to the point where the wild west metaphor is tragically apt. This has only gotten worse since the 2016 election. Yet the students don’t care. Their lives – and the lives of children all over America – are at stake. They will not stop until the children are protected. To do otherwise would be to join the adults who have failed them and to give up. They won’t.
The students have both reframed the issue in a way that connects to our desire to protect our children and demonstrated clear and unrelenting leadership. This is why they’ve sparked a vibrant movement. This is why they’ve reignited hope and, along with it, determination.
Representatives and Leaders
For me, this also highlights the difference between two distinct roles, those of “representative” and of “leader”. A representative – like our elected officials – is someone who is charged with legislating on our behalf. We can debate about whether they do this faithfully or well, whether they’re under the influence of donors, etc, but their essential job is to work for their constituents and to make laws – to run the legislative branch of our government.
Leaders, like the students, have a different role. Their job is to show the way, not just to carry out what their constituents have asked for. They must still connect to their followers’ values and needs, but they also have to blaze the way forward and mobilize people to get there. And, crucially, they are public-facing, communicators.
In practice, the roles can overlap. But, as the Parkland teenagers have shown us, they can also diverge or have the overlap weaken. It can be all too tempting in dark times like these to just do what one can as a representative and to be cognizant of the limits one faces. For our Democratic members of Congress at the moment, those limits are extreme. This realism is entirely appropriate. But – the need for leadership exists, even more urgently, at the same time. Our nation is in grave danger, led by an autocrat who dreams of lifetime power and a party that has surrendered to him.
We need our leaders – it may not be all of our representatives, but it must be enough of them – to show the same fierce determination that we see in the students. No, we can’t defend all we need to defend right now. No, we can’t pass the legislation we know we need. We don’t care. Our nation is at stake and we will not stop until it is safe again. If this means taking back the House, we will do it. If it means taking back the Senate, we will do that, too. We will stop at nothing until our country is safe. That’s what the Parkland teens would say. That’s what our leaders need to be saying, loudly and clearly, as well.
This Week In the News: Our Children’s Safety
The Parkland teens continued to build movement, with plans for a #MarchForOurLives in Washington, DC. There will be marches all over the country on that day as well. Their efforts continued to drive divestments as companies backed away from the NRA and gun manufacturers. At the same time there was pushback, as the Georgia legislature stripped tax incentives from Delta Airlines in punishment for their ending NRA discounts. (You’re welcome to boycott Georgia; I will.)
In the White House, Trump held an open, TV-covered session with Congressional leaders and, as he had a couple of months ago with DACA, appeared to go rogue and back Democratic positions on gun control. While this had Democrats literally rubbing their hands, Trump began to re-pledge his allegiance to the NRA the next day. He’ll say anything that he thinks people might like to hear when he’s in front of the cameras, a trick that’s made easier for him by the fact that he rarely understands the issues he’s discussing.
In Florida, the legislature rejected a ban on assault weapons, then brazenly held a moment of silence for the Parkland victims. This only strengthened the Parkland students’ resolve. In concert with them, we must never stop until our children are safe.
Mutual Benefit Attacked
The extended peace that we’ve enjoyed – despite the Cold War and numerous smaller conflicts – since the Second World War has been built in part on the principle of mutual benefit through trade.
The formation of the European Union is a prime example. Europe had been at the heart of two disastrous world wars and by the 1950s was desperate to never repeat that mistake. Part of their solution was to use trade to provide mutual benefits to nations so that their interdependence would bind them together. While the system hasn’t been perfect – none are – it has been broadly successful. It is now under attack.
This week’s attack came, as so many do, from Trump, who suddenly announced substantial tariffs on steel and aluminum. Trump has operated for years on the belief that everything is a zero-sum game: if you are winning, others must lose and vice versa. He sees trade through this lens, conflating it even, as he so often does, with his masculinity. This is as dangerous as it is pathetic.
In fact, trade across borders is mutually beneficial, enriching the nations involved and binding them together. (This doesn’t mean that there are never losers in trade. Both within and between nations trade can also be disruptive to individuals as industries grow or die. But closing borders is no solution). Trump doesn’t understand the history, the rationale or the economics of trade and it is widely agreed that his move is dangerous: likely to set off trade wars and degrade relationships with Allies that allow us to achieve other objectives and that keep us safe.
In the face of this idiocy, we need to continue to make the case for the mutual benefit and interdependence that trade provides.
National Security and Kleptocracy
Jared Kushner continued his downward spiral. He should never have been given a White House position in the first place – it was pure nepotism. In addition to being uniquely unqualified, however, he was also uniquely vulnerable to pressure from foreign operatives, given the financial distress of his real estate company. Sure enough, this week it came to light that other nations had discussed how to manipulate him by preying on his debts and naïveté and also that he had met with leaders of two companies shortly before the same companies provided hundreds of millions in loans to his business. This was in the aftermath of having his security clearance reduced, cutting off his access to intelligence that he had had access to for over a year. We have no idea if he has leaked any of that information, but we can say with certainty that anyone with his liabilities would have been considered a grave security risk under any other administration and would have never been given the access he had.
Up Against the Wall
This was, according to multiple reports, one of the most turbulent and disturbed weeks the White House has experienced in the Trump regime. Hope Hicks, one of the people closest to Trump and most able to talk him down from the ledges he likes to inhabit, announced she was leaving. It was reported that the mixture of her departure, gestures of defiance from Attorney General Jeff Sessions (in response to further Trump attacks), the scandals swirling around Kushner and HUD Secretary Ben Carson, and the tightening noose of the Mueller investigation all contributed to Trump’s impulsive and unanticipated tariff announcement.
Nearly everyone else of status in the White House – Kelly, Cohn, McGahn, McMaster – was reported to be on the verge of leaving, though it’s doubtful they all will. in the words of one reporter, “the checks and balances that have provided a modicum of restraint appear to be crumbling, leaving Trump isolated, angry and ready to lash out.” As a friend observed upon reading this, “That sounds like the description you hear after the fact about a school shooter.” We’ve all been warned.
We need to keep our country safe. This means removing Trump and his enablers, which will mean retaking the House and Senate this fall. We mustn’t stop until we’re they’re out.
In Further News:
- One of the ways that the Republicans are trying to disenfranchise voters is to refuse to hold special elections. Scott Walker is doing this in Wisconsin, where he has state legislature vacancies open since last winter for which he refuses to hold special elections. This means voters in those districts will have no representation until November. It also means Walker is afraid that Democrats would take those seats. Eric Holder’s group, the National Redistricting Foundation, is suing to force him to hold the elections.
- The way a scam works is that you distract the mark (the person you’re conning) so that you can fleece them while they’re not paying attention. That’s exactly how the Republican tax scam is working, with small tax breaks now going to voters while large companies are using their tax savings not to grow their businesses and create jobs (which the Republicans promised), but instead to buy back shares of their stock. This isn’t even a good deal for their investors, who don’t benefit if they’re buying the stock when it’s highly valued. But it’s a very sweet deal for CEOs and other C-suite folks who are rewarded when their stock price rises. It’s not at all a good deal for working Americans, who will soon be told that our now-unsustainable debt will require them to lose benefits.
- Just in case there had been any lingering doubt about Trump’s desire to be dictator, here’s his response to Chinese president Xi Jinping’s becoming ruler-for-life: “And look, he was able to do that. I think it’s great. Maybe we’ll give that a shot some day.”
- Conor Lamb, the 33 year-old Democratic ex-Marine running in the special election in western Pennsylvania on the 13th, has Republicans scared. Trump won handily there, but Lamb is proving a formidable candidate. In fact, concern that Lamb might win may have been a factor in Trump’s decision to impose steel tariffs, since western PA is steel country. Lamb needs our support – his winning will be huge!
The Trump White House may get crazier as Trump’s security blanket of confidants frays with their departures. The Republicans, Vichy government that they are, will never stand up for what’s right. But, like the Parkland students, we must do this anyway. And we won’t stop until our country is safe.
By Tom Benthin
A reminder: a key resource for tracking all the abnormal events from the past week of the Trump presidency is Amy Siskind’s Weekly List: theweeklylist.org.
Before the disaster of the 2016 election we could follow the events that affected our lives by checking the news or seeing occasional posts on Facebook. Since then, with Trump’s erratic, aggressive and autocratic behavior and the Republicans’ unceasing attacks on our government and their efforts to transfer ever more money from working Americans to the rich, it has become much more difficult – and more important – to find our way through the weekly onslaught of news. To get ourselves grounded in the facts and to prepare for the week of action ahead, here’s a summary of critical events to help us cut through the distractions and stay focused and informed as we fight to preserve our democracy.