American progressives should at long last let go of the strategic linguistic ideas of George Lakoff and other faux liberal theory and fully embrace the concepts of equality and socialism as a way to challenge and subvert the capitalistic monopoly on the political discourse.
Lakoff, a retired University of California, Berkeley professor, is famous among liberals for his 2004 book Don’t Think of an Elephant!, the blurbs and content of which purport to create the linguistic devices progressives can use to frame and thus win the nation’s political debate. I believe the crux of what most people remember from the book—and Lakoff’s argument has been proven false by the emergence of the immoral Trump and his equally immoral surrogates and enablers in the GOP—is that Republicans embrace a moralistic “strict father” concept of leadership as opposed to the less-strict “nurturant parent” model favored by liberals. Somehow, after years of work by liberals to understand this overall frame and its myriad offshoots, they will triumph gloriously in the public square by strategically using the necessary metaphorical or symbolic language to win elections, or so Lakoff implicitly argues.
I have no major gripe personally with Lakoff or his earlier intentions, and this post isn’t about refuting all his arguments or diminishing his distinguished academic career. He only serves as one example of the many people trying to make logic work within the illogical and immoral system of capitalism. We all know what the strategic ideas of establishment Democrats and progressive thinkers such as Lakoff, well intentioned or not, have produced and not produced for the country over the last three decades or so, even given Barack Obama’s groundbreaking presidency. For one thing, and this isn’t hyperbole, they have helped facilitate the destruction of our country’s democracy through unnecessary appeasement by deploying flavor-of-the-week political strategy, gladly accepting quid pro quo money from the oligarchy and, well, in Lakoff’s case, promoting highly suspect theoretical linguistic claims. Why hit the streets when you can wallow in theory? Read all about it on Mother Jones or Salon and then post about it on Facebook. Meanwhile, big-name Democratic Party leaders sell out working-class people for millions of dollars in corporate campaign contributions. The failure of the strategic ideas then gave us President Donald Trump as Republicans gerrymandered away democracy without resistance from the left. We simply do not live within a one-person, one-vote political system. It’s the existential crisis the corporate media avoids talking about as much as possible. It exposes them as much as it exposes Trump’s illegitimate presidency.
Let me be clear on my initial point: The viability of democracy in this country shouldn’t depend on overwrought and intellectual ideas about the strategic use of language or on their rote championing by leftist websites running clickbait or begging for donations to stay financially viable. The issue, then, for the left at the present moment is to stand up for something. It’s not about the rhetoric of the message or trying to understand how a Trump supporter’s dark mind does or doesn’t work. Evil always transcends a certain level of understanding. It’s about liberals standing up for real ideas that diametrically oppose the exploitation of capitalism—ideas like universal health care, vastly improved income equality, affordable housing and equal access to education, for example—that would help the vast majority of people considerably improve their basic material lives. These ideas can’t be argued without the words equality and socialism despite how those words remain an anathema to most right-wing folks, who it should be clear by now could care less about the influence of strict fathers or, really, basic humanity in general. We live in a country in which the capitalistic system condones mass shootings at our schools. I wish that generalization weren’t true, but then I wish Trump wasn’t president as well. When we sugar-coat it, or qualify it, we lose the battle.
I’m thinking about this for one reason because of the recent budget proposal released by the corrupt Trump regime, which, if passed, would result in severe cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. It would make it more difficult to get a student loan or pay it off. It would make huge cuts to the arts and sciences. As the mass shootings continue unabated in this country, it would cut funding for gun background ownership checks. In short, it’s a terribly obscene proposal, a proposal that indicts capitalism by rewarding the greedy oligarchs with the pain and suffering of their minions who must grovel in order to survive under perpetual desperate conditions.
The only appropriate and useful response in these dark times is to embrace equality and socialism.
Equality. I find it’s still difficult for some professed liberals to openly agitate for the idea of real equality, a type of equality that should be granted to everyone regardless of skin color, gender, nationality and sexual orientation, of course, but also just importantly the idea of real equality in wages, housing, health care and educational opportunity. One does not exist without the other. There is no equality when people can’t afford to eat or go to the doctor. Embracing equality means embracing humanity. It’s a purpose and the reason to exist. Religions, through their corrupt legalistic hierarchies, will always distort this purpose.
Socialism But it’s even more difficult for most leftists to publicly bring up the word socialism and its ideas in a sympathetic manner because of how that word has been demonized, trivialized and misunderstood, especially since World War II. The fight against the pure ideas of socialism—equality on all levels for everyone, people own the means of their production, real democracy in which votes matter—has been waged by U.S. oligarchs and their enablers for decades in order to ensure wealth is concentrated among a relatively few powerful people. What the oligarchs know but won’t emphasize is that the former communistic regimes in the old Soviet Union and the omnipresent, suffocating government in China represent not only peculiar distortions of socialism but also a difference in those countries’ individual historical tradition against the U.S. tradition. It’s really only logical as we witness the failure of capitalism and examine its local death toll under the control of the oligarchs to conclude that it will take socialism to save the democratic tradition in the U.S. Neoliberalism and free-market worship are the antithesis of democracy.
The absolute only antidote to the immorality of unchecked capitalism faced here and throughout the world at the present moment is for a clear majority of people to embrace equality and the constructs of socialism. On their current trajectory, the oligarchs, from the Koch brothers to Mark Zuckerberg to Robert and Rebekah Mercer to Bill Gates to Jeff Bezos, to name just a few, will never acquiesce to a moral framework of humanity. They must be forced to accept or endure a moral framework, and that means people have to rise up and challenge a capitalistic system that allows oligarchs to have billions of dollars in fortunes while workers can’t even afford basic health care or food.
Here are the mythologies or the lies the left needs to stop believing in right now:
Capitalism can be moderated and made to work for everyone.
The oligarchs will give up political power voluntarily or accept heavy taxation.
The oligarchs care about people other than themselves or their families.
The Republicans will turn against an immoral leader.
The political lies will stop.
We will return to some type of normalcy after the Trump presidency.
The Democratic Party establishment will turn to the left.
There’s a resonating slogan or some unique language that could make a difference.
Embracing a broader definition of equality and the ideas of socialism doesn’t mean voting for non-viable candidates for office, of course, but it does mean it at least intellectually forces the embracer to publicly argue for positions opposed to capitalism on a regular basis. Any argument against capitalism is an argument against Trump, who embodies the system. As the late Eugene V. Debs, one of the country’s leading socialists, once argued before a judge:
I am opposing a social order in which it is possible for one man who does absolutely nothing that is useful to amass a fortune of hundreds of millions of dollars, while millions of men and women who work all the days of their lives secure barely enough for a wretched existence.
Isn’t Trump the epitome of the capitalistic “man who does absolutely nothing that is useful . . .?” I think so.
Here’s a somewhat useless but true observation of political language: Conservatives say “entitlements” while liberals say “safety net.” Both are hollow terms now framed in that binary by the corporate media and thus in the minds of most people and that only benefits the status quo of capitalism and the oligarchy. The reality is, no matter how you want to put it, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are grossly unfunded social programs in this country that attempt and often fail on an individual basis to mitigate the immoral capitalistic exploitation of ordinary Americans. The capitalists even want to end those paltry programs because they need and crave the masses of people to be more poor, more unhealthy and more frightened. We never did need and we don’t now need Lakoff or anyone else to frame it for us.