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Understanding Trump


Understanding Trump

George Lakoff

There is a lot being written spoken about Trump by intelligent and articulate commentators whose insights I respect. But as a longtime researcher in cognitive science and linguistics, I bring a perspective from these sciences to an understanding of the Trump phenomenon. This perspective is hardly unknown. More that half a million people have read my books, and Google Scholar reports that scholars writing in scholarly journals have cited my works well over 100,000 times.


Sorry George... your tired "tell a better story" story is just a different story with appealing lies. Rationality, truth and information is what is required. And what the 99% has a hard time accessing and certainly is not openly exposed to. You'd be better to read Franco Berardi's description of Berlusconi. The tyrannical sociopathy and postmodern "screw the system" frustrations with a hegemonic neoliberal 1% empire that cannot be stopped... is what appeals to Chumpsters as they did to Italians.


The material on the Conservative mindset (and values) stemming from the Strict father-centered family is brilliant. I've used it in this forum and had very little support for doing so. That, along with the forum's Trump supporters, charter school advocates, and vicious defenders of the Rape Culture suggests that those who traffic in these message threads ARE Conservative. They don't like being identified for what they are.

I differ from Mr. Lakoff in his use of Bill Clinton's purported empathy as a plus.

As most who read these articles & threads understand, Mr. Clinton basically gutted the Democratic Party of its ideals. Partly due to self-interest, and partly due to the rising tide of globalism, Mr. Clinton did a great deal to Gut Democracy by merging both political wings into one bird loyal to the interests of Big Capital (and the make-war machine).

Therefore, any empathy that Mr. Clinton galvanized was the political equivalent of an Elvis Presley sexed up con job.

Also, like so many white males, Mr. Lakoff is rather glib in suggesting that "Identity Politics" be dismissed. How does the following distinguish itself from the Trump camp's counter-narrative (to Black Lives Matter) that ALL lives matter:

"Give up identity politics. No more women’s issues, black issues, Latino issues. Their issues are all real, and need public discussion. But they all fall under freedom issues, human issues. And address poor whites! Appalachian and rust belt whites deserve your attention as much as anyone else."

Largely because American politics have only rarely deviated from the Conservative father-knows-best, top-down hierarchical expressions of a paternalistic government telling everyone how they may live, women's rights REQUIRE a loud voice, as do the rights and civil liberties of Blacks, Hispanics, Muslims, Native Americans and any other disenfranchised (because they're not white Christians) groups.

Telling the diversity chorus to go mum is NOT Progressive, Mr. Lakoff. Perhaps unwittingly, such a strategy grants to the white Christian (male) establishment the continued "right" and "authority" to (unjustly and inaccurately) speak for all.

As a matter of fact, I personally LOVED IT when Medea Benjamin called out that Donald Trump does NOT speak for her. That he is not HER VOICE.

Amen, sister!

Almost always, some male stands up, assumes authority by his gender-birthright, and begins to generalize the supposed needs of women into those of males or... that top-down, all-American family model that IS the Conservative movement's cornerstone.

So, Lakoff... how about YOU not thinking like an elephant on THAT one?


I am waiting for a Lakoff article similarly "understanding" and dissecting Queen (it's my turn now!) Hillary. I doubt it will occur. In the world of tenured professorships (UC Berkley no less!) there are different standards for the likes of Robert Reich, John Yoo, and, alas!, George Lakoff.


Wow I went into a brief coma after that first paragraph. Those are dangerously obnoxious levels of self-praise for an opening paragraph, even for Lakoff.


There is no such thing as "straight and true" communications in the sense you mean -- there is always a frame to what you are saying -- why not be conscious of it? Are you insisting on enforced naivety? Or do you want the conservatives to win? Why do you think that considering what you say is evil? Don't you think about what you say and whether it will hurt the listeners' feelings or sound different from how you meant it? Is that evil too? Or are you just really young and inexperienced?
Lakoff intends that when we talk, the content is truthful, but that when we say that truth, we do it in a way that makes it sound true to the listener by activating the correct frame in their minds so that they can see the truth in it.


I believe you are missing the point. I don't think he means not to work on the issues of identity politics, he just means that when you talk about it, frame it in terms of values -- values that the listener can identify with, so that you lead the listener to agreeing with you.


I'm puzzled by the number of detractors of George Lakoff's article. In terms of how people use language, he is a truth-teller, and his coining and use of the term 'framing' has been essential to our growing understanding of social psychology.

I would be interested in seeing George comment further on how Trump has painted himself as "the only one". I think the guy not only has a savior complex; he seems to me to be a megalomaniac. His speaking style at the convention reminded me most of Adolf Hitler ... I understand that one of his ex-wives said he read Hitler's speeches at his bedside. This truly troubles me, especially given reports that in general terms, Trump is not really a reader per se at all.

In 1976, I wrote a 14-stanza poem and song about World War II. This can be found in the 'notes' section of my Facebook page. 40 years later, I would like to offer the 7th stanza with Trump in mind ... it talks about Hitler's theory of the 'Volkgeist', that he embodied the spirit of the German people. Many German people came to believe this, so much so that a new folksong 'Thoughts Are Free' ('Die Gedanken Sind Frei') was written after WW II to counter this mass delusion. Here is my stanza about the 'Volkgeist' idea:

The philosophy of Hitler
said that he knew what was best
because the leader was the spirit manifest
of all the rest
To his godlike aspirations
he insisted all be true
and with dreams of righteous glory
he created World War Two

We ignore the lessons of history at our great peril.

KIndly visit my Facebook page. Thank you.


From what I've scanned of this article, don't think I'm quite as "anti" as Sandy here, Devogenes, or Bliss.

From my scan, it looks as though these sections may have hit paydirt: "Laissez-faire Free Marketeers" and unconscious thought mechanism #5.

Read most of the enthusiastic statements of support on facebook, so I'm sorry to write something different. Lakeoff could start his article here with: what Thomas Frank & Chris Hedges left out if he really wanted me to read this thing. Or he could include Fromm. Fromm thought "real love" so rare that people were drawn to narcissists...because it's apparent Narcissists do "really" love at least one person...themselves (this goes against my personal natural logic, but I respect what Fromm wrote enough to gauge my natural logic as possibly lacking).

As far as Norse mythology goes I have tended to take something else away from it than does the article at this Baffler link, but the article has its lucid moments. http://thebaffler.com/blog/donald-trump-trickster-god

It's fine to expect nuturant fathers/mothers to utilize enlightened guidance...this is expected of all manner of professionals. But why, for instance, not police? I have a feeling a lot of would be nurturant fathers are a long way from understanding just how much patience the system is actually (and unreasonably) demanding from low income earners. IOW expecting patience and resourcefulness from this quarter really to hold up the whole of society.

If anyone wants to try to convince me to go beyond my amateur biases and read Lakoff's piece in its entirety, say on.

Kept seeing this comment of mine disappear on facebook, so don't mean to spam but perhaps here it'll retain its space for a while.


I also believe that you may have missed Lakoff’s point about Bill Clinton.

He didn’t say that Clinton’s empathy was genuine. He was talking about style over substance.

He said that Clinton “oozed empathy” and “the empathy he projected and inspired” made him an effective communicator.

He attributes similar powerful attributes to Barack Obama, such as “calmness and empathy in the face of fury."

Contrast those qualities with what we see from Hillary Clinton.

She’s not selling a vision for the future—and she has few empathetic qualities with which her audience can identify.

There is no style, and there is no substance. Just naked ambition.


I agree with Lakoff's analysis of conservative mindsets, however, he lost me when he started defending Hillary as not corrupt because the government hasn't indicted her.
Clinton will never get my vote because her known policies are going to continue to devastate the nation. She supports the TPP, coups in nations that don't agree with US corporate rule, aggression toward Russia, Obamacare, welfare deform, no impeachment for the war criminals of the last administration/the continuation of war crimes in Obushma's, fracking, fossil fuels, and the rigged primary election of the Democratic Party that insured her coronation.
I would love to see an analysis of why liberals and progressives continue to support a candidate with such an abysmal record of corruption, corporatism, and war-mongering.
We have a choice of supporting highly intelligent evil, highly manipulative, ignorant evil, or highly intelligent, positive progression. I'm choosing the later. I will no longer vote for the lessor of TOO evils.


He sure could dissect the attitudes toward Hillary Clinton her at CD brilliantly. The endlessly repeated intonations of "Red Queen", Killary", "will start WW3" - a tape-loop playing over and over again in one's head all for the purpose to stop ant rational, analytical thought of the situation we are in.


As usual.


You don't mean that as George told us how Trump is telling us that 'he (Trump) is the one'...

...that George first told us that he (George) was the one to tell us about Trump doing that? Lol

George seems never to have heard of Semiotics btw or he figures most others haven't.


I'm sure if you asked him he'd tell you he invented semiotics back in the 70s.


Perhaps... but I have noticed shortfalls in his categories; and while unlike most, Mr. Lakoff properly identifies the pervasiveness of the Patriarchal father-first family and how it, by necessity, places women in subservient roles, I don't think he penetrates the Feminist Ethos (which is a reaction to the Patriarchal Domination of culture particularly via Conservative households) to a sufficient extent.


Did you mean semantics?


Nope. See the comment I was replying to.


I wish people would show more respect to George Lakoff. His work helped us get through the horrible 00s and learn how to defend and analyze our thought processes. This helped me immensely as a political activist, enabling me to explain what was wrong about the Bush worldview. So you may not agree with everything he wrote but his heart and head are in the right place.


"I’ll stop here, though I could go on. Here are ten uses of people’s unconscious normal brain mechanisms that are manipulated by Trump and his followers for his overriding purpose: to be elected president, to be given absolute authority with a Congress and Supreme Court, and so to have his version of Strict Famer Morality govern America into the indefinite future."
If you look up the original article on George Lakoff's website, it's Strict FATHER Morality.