NB: This post was first published in another blog and imported into this one. Please forgive any formatting issues.
The press takes him literally, but not seriously; his supporters take him seriously, but not literally.
This was a great line from an article in The Atlantic and Trump’s billionaire backer Peter Thiel said much the same thing
I think one thing that should be distinguished here is that the media is always taking Trump literally. It never takes him seriously, but it always takes him literally. … I think a lot of voters who vote for Trump take Trump seriously but not literally, so when they hear things like the Muslim comment or the wall comment, their question is not, ‘Are you going to build a wall like the Great Wall of China?’ or, you know, ‘How exactly are you going to enforce these tests?’ What they hear is we’re going to have a saner, more sensible immigration policy.
For the purposes of this post, ideology refers to a broad set of principles and policy refers to the specific rules and activities that achieve these. Tougher immigration is an ideology and building a border wall is a policy.
Ideology vs. Policy
When cynicism about politicians is at record highs, a strong ideology has more weight than policy nuance. Expressing ideologically strong positions can convince voters that you will act on issues out of conviction; particularly to those who have seen successive generations of politicians promise to enact specific policies to fix their issues, only to let them down.
In a practical sense, campaigners will find it to their benefit to use strong metaphors – that they may have previously shied away from – when referring to issues. If there is a feeling that law and order are at a crisis point, saying that “places like Afghanistan are safer than some of our inner cities” confers ideological credibility even if no-one actually believes that.
As cognitive linguist Professor George Lakoff has pointed out, metaphors are a powerful idea framing tool, and crucial to the way voters think about issues.
our brains are structured by hundreds of conceptual metaphors and frames early in life, that we can only understand what our brains allow, and that conservatives and progressives have acquired different brain circuitry with the consequence that their normal modes of reason are different.
What progressives call “rational arguments” are not normal modes of real reason. What counts as a “rational argument” is not the same for progressives and conservatives. And even the meaning of concepts and words may be different.
“Drain the Swap” is another great example of this kind of metaphor.
Sri Lanka & Yahapalanaya
Bringing a Sri Lankan element into this, it is worth reflecting on the elections Sri Lanka had last year. The coalition of parties and political figures that won both the Presidential and general elections in 2015, campaigned under the idea of Yahapalanaya (good governance). In hindsight, and given the challenges the new government has faced since (with a subsequent public backlash), one wonders how prepared both the public and the election winners were for translating an ideological ideal to policy.