The American right wing faces a serious public relations problem, which is that their ideas, honestly presented, would largely fail to capture enough people’s enthusiasm to win elections. It’s a built-in downside when your philosophy elevates the interests of an elite few over the many; the many will not like it. So the only hope for continued movement in the conservative movement is to argue dishonestly, through fear and distraction, to incite panicked decisions instead of slow, thoughtful ones. Unfortunately for the right wing, our system is a deliberative democracy, and thus tends to bend towards the left with time.
In an effort to undermine a system that’s (rightfully) stacked against their interest, the pundits of the right have increasingly turned towards violent metaphors and language in an effort to short circuit people’s rational responses and entice them to vote against their own interests. Jeffrey Feldman analyzes some of the strategies in his new book Outright Barbarous: How the Violent Language of the Right Poisons American Democracy. In it, he details how everything from the right wing obsession with guns to the made-up “War on Christmas” are part of a larger right wing strategy to inject violence and fear into the national discourse, discouraging people from thoughtful discourse and inciting vote-by-panic.
Some of Feldman’s proposed solutions in the book are sure to ruffle the feathers of civil libertarians like myself, he freely admits that they are just suggested solutions. The book is mainly to start the discussion of the problem, a discussion that can, over time, lead to creative thinking about solutions that restore reason to our national discourse without bringing up the specter of censorship. And as a book that describes the problem, this is a remarkable and insightful one. I’ve read plenty on right wing framing, and I can safely say I’ve never seen the case laid out against the violent rhetoric of the right so concisely. It made me rethink my use of right wing frames like the “culture war”, and I suspect it will make most readers guiltily wonder if they’ve slipped into a habit of using violent metaphors to describe the peaceful if oft-times contentious process of political discourse.
Feldman writes the blog Frameshop and hosts daily discussions about language and framing in politics, with the ideas of George Lakoff as a stepping stone. With that in mind, I’d like to introduce Jeffrey in the comments, who will be answering questions about framing, his book, and the problem with violent metaphors.