There are now far too many Trump proxies to ignore, but ignore them we must, simply because liberals seem too frightened, says Anat Shenker-Osorio. “Because in a battle of fear against fear, the right will always win.”
Majorie Taylor Green is no Daughter of Kobani, and more like a Turkish taffy for QAnon sweet-tooth followers.
“There are ways to condemn these people. We need to condemn them as a category for feeding and spreading lies, for attempting to suppress the will of the people, for attempting to subvert our democracy, and for issuing death threats. If you issue death threats against your co-workers, you get fired at the end.”
On the most recent episode of Amicus, Dahlia Lithwick spoke with renowned communications researcher and campaign adviser Anat Shenker-Osorio about the messaging of impeachment, how Republicans justify acquittal, and why it’s so dangerous to give Marjorie Taylor Greene a microphone. Their conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Dahlia Lithwick: Set the table for us about how you have come to think about language, and messaging, and politics, and all the ways in which progressives just really are generally suck-ish at some of this.
Anat Shenker-Osorio: It’s hard to know where to begin. I guess I will rely upon a trusted canard that I trot out a lot, which is that if the left had written the story of David, it would have been a biography of Goliath. By which I mean, we like to talk a whole lot about our opposition. And frequently, if you look at progressive messaging, one hallmark of it across issues is that we like to begin with some permutation of, “Boy, have I got a problem for you.”
And it turns out, shockingly, that people have got 99 problems and they don’t want ours. They’re generally not shopping for new things to worry about. They have plenty on their plates, especially right now. And so, when we present ourselves as, “Boy, have I got a problem for you.” And when we present ourselves ever and always in the “resistance” in opposition to what the other side is doing, we unwittingly cement their power, cement their ideas, cement this sense that doing anything about it is an exercise in futility. And while that may engender a fight response among our hardcore and dedicated activists, among a broader base—people who agree with us ideologically but are not politically motivated or not active—it invokes a freeze response. Because in a battle of fear against fear, the right will always win. We will never be more terrifying than them. And for most people, fear causes a shutdown response.
Dahlia Lithwick: This impeachment trial, if you strip away all the insanity around it, is about using words to persuade, and also about interrogating Donald Trump’s words over the course of the past six months—I wonder if there’s a way in which if you take away the notion that language is rooted in truth, it’s really, really hard to do law this way. If we’ve disconnected law from language, does everything you think about just fall apart?
Anat Shenker-Osorio: I don’t think that we’ve disconnected law from language. Anybody who has a particular training and an expertise in their domain tends to think that whatever language they’re using is an attempt at accuracy. And it’s built inside of a “rational actor model,” where we think that we will just tell people the facts. We will just tell people the truth. We will just tell people what is going on. And then they will be able to reasonably come to the correct conclusion. But in point of fact, that is not how people reason and come to judgments. That is not how people understand things. And that is true of all people. A better descriptor of the human cognitive processing system would be, I’ll see it when I believe it, not the other way around. This is why people routinely tell us, “I don’t see racism. I don’t see sexism.” Because the instances that occur before their very eyes aren’t categorized as such. And so, they come up with rationalizations to discount them.
So, what happens in this trial is that people have a preformulated idea or judgment. And then whatever facts are presented to them, they find a way to send those facts outside of that frame. And we’re very good at that as humans.
— Sandi Bachom (@sandibachom) February 20, 2021
— Robert Reich (@RBReich) February 20, 2021