By Scott Wittkopf
Thanks to a friend and colleague who called my attention to a recent article in The Atlanticonline. “On Safari in Trump’s America” was written by a reporter who travelled around Western Wisconsin with “researchers” from a Third Wave Democrat think tank, conducting post-election listening sessions. Their mission was to listen to people in areas that, for reasons incomprehensible to many Democrats, went from being reliably blue to surprisingly red. The Third Wave team in the article focused on the Wisconsin Third Congressional District. For more than two decades, the 3rd CD voted for a Democratic President – until 2016, when it swung for Donald Trump by more than 15 points.
In a previous blog, I pointed out how Third Wave Democrats are contributing to the death of progressive ideas because of their core message – which strongly reinforces conservative metaphors and ideas. The Atlantic piece is informative for a different reason. It shows that smart, passionate people who really care about listening and connecting with others to make this country a better place are misinterpreting the data, because it doesn’t fit their frame, or worldview. As I discussed in the previous blog, that’s how our brain evolved – to fit reality to our existing perceptions.
Our political reality is out of whack, and so are our perceptions of that reality. What the Third Wave Democrats in the article don’t perceive is a very real cognitive reality – there is no political “middle” – and there never has been. Just as in politics, the vast majority of people have the capacity to perceive and act on both empathy (caring/responsibility for others as oneself) AND in their own self-interest through an authoritarian hierarchy. Think about it – depending on the context, at any given time most of us can feel/act on empathy OR as an authority figure in our own self-interest.
We all act on a very powerful sense of values and beliefs that are largely unconscious – and one is dominant. When we listen, we can REALLY listen for ideas, phrases, and metaphors that evoke the values people act on.
Here’s what’s important. You CANNOT be both at the same time. Because of mutual inhibition, only one is active at a time. In addition, when one is active, it gets stronger, and the other gets weakened. But we evolved to live, act, and think within a balance of both those ideas, or frames. This is normal human thinking and behavior. So what happened with our politics? As I said, it’s way out of whack. Why?
Because in the 1930’s, conservatives (through the US Chamber of Commerce) began a large-scale strategy to equate capitalism with conservative Christian values. In essence, this strategy continues today, and has proven wildly successful in making conservative values and ideas so dominant, that progressive values and ideas are virtually gone from public discourse in politics.
Where there should be, and needs to be balance, there is none. Our brains evolved for survival, to respond and thrive in our reality, with BOTH cognitive frames accessible and active depending on the situation. Instead, one is barely accessible, hardly ever active, while one is overtly dominant. This explains why our politics is so divided, and why Third Wave Democrats can’t see the problem – or the solution.
The cognitive effect and result of what I have just described can’t be underestimated. It has led to, and exacerbates our deep political divide. Here’s how.
If you are a conservative, you believe in a set of values which are dominant in public discourse. Every issue position you have derives from these values. Most importantly, since your sense of empathy is so weakened, it is virtually non-existent (except in extreme situations). Therefore, you have no understanding of how people don’t accept the values you take for granted are THE human values system. In other words, you view people who disagree with you as less human.
If you are progressive, you consider yourself such because of the issues you identify as important. Most importantly, since the progressive values underpinning your values (empathy) are recessive and virtually non-existent in public discourse, chances are you don’t communicate them consciously. But you believe them to be THE human values because the issues make sense to you. You sense no empathy from conservatives, make no attempt to connect with them through empathy (because you don’t think of it consciously), so you think of them as less human – because of their issue positions. See how this downward spiral perpetuates?
Since there is no middle, the two ideas remain polarized and divided because they feel no sense of shared values. In fact, they both see each other as less human than the other. This is the result of decades of conservative dominance, and the failure of progressives to keep empathetic values at the forefront of public dicsourse AND political action.
The answer to our political division and extremism is not found in any issue or poll. It’s found in understanding that all people, whether conservative or progressive are human. We all act on a very powerful sense of values and beliefs that are largely unconscious – and one is dominant. When we listen, we can REALLY listen for ideas, phrases, and metaphors that evoke the values people act on. We can also then communicate and act on progressive values based on empathy to start bringing a sense of balance back to public discourse and our politics.
That concept is something I’ve been focused on for years, and will continue to focus on moving forward. These concepts to restore cognitive balance are now more important than ever.
(This is an excerpt from Frame for the Future’s “Daily Dose”, emailed daily to subscribers. To learn more about how to effectively communicate progressive values, and for subscription options, go to http://www.frame4future.com.)
They Can’t Handle The Truth: Ron Kind’s ‘Third Way’ Comes To Wisconsin, Heard What It Wanted To Hear And Continues With It’s Clinton Corporate Delusions
Dazed, Confused & Bamboozeled!
By Molly Ball
The Atlantic (10/23/17)
It was the hippies who drove Nancy Hale over the edge. She had spent three days listening respectfully to the real people of Middle America, and finally she couldn’t take it any longer.
She turned off the tape recorder and took several deep breaths, leaning back in the passenger seat of the rented GMC Yukon. The sun had just come out from behind a mass of clouds, casting a gleam on the rain-soaked parking lot in rural Wisconsin.
The researchers had somehow found their premise perfectly illustrated. Their journey to Trump’s America had done nothing to unsettle their preconceptions.
Hale, who is 65 and lives in San Francisco, is a career activist who got her start protesting nuclear plants and nuclear testing in the 1970s. In 2005, she was one of the founders of Third Way, a center-left think tank [The Third Way is center-right corporate mainstream. – Ed.], and it was in that capacity that she and four colleagues had journeyed from both coasts to the town of Viroqua, Wisconsin, as part of a post-election listening tour. They had come on a well-meaning mission: to better understand their fellow Americans, whose political behavior in the last election had left them confused and distressed.
The trip was predicated on the optimistic notion that if Americans would only listen to each other, they would find more that united than divided them. This notion—the idea that, beyond our polarized politics, lies a middle, or third, path on which most can come together in agreement—is Third Way’s raison d’etre. It is premised on the idea that partisanship is bad, consensus is good, and that most Americans would like to meet in the middle. …
(Commoner Call cartoon by Mark L. Taylor, 2017. Open source and free to use with link to www,thecommonercall.org )
Clueless Coastals Head To Wisconsin To Figure Out The 2016 Election & Listen Only To Themselves
By Jake Formerly of the LP
Wanted to tell you about a brilliant article that came out this week in The Atlantic by Molly Ball. It’s titled “On Safari in Trump’s America”,where Ball travels to Western Wisconsin to look in on what locals had to say in the aftermath of the November 2016 elections.
Ball goes along with Nancy Hale and a few other members of Third Way, a DC-based think tank that wants “solutions that are not defined by ideological orthodoxy or narrow interests.” Hale was one of the founders Third Way 12 years ago, and their solutions generally involve the calculated, corporate-friendly centrism that defined Bill and Hillary Clinton’s career with a side order of social liberalism and tolerance.
If the DNC and the DPW are wasting time thinking that the key to electoral victory is to follow what well-connected Coastals in their Bubble want to believe, then they won’t break the Bubble of destructive right-wing BS that distracts and fools a lot of Midwestern voters that are dealing with real problems.
Hillary’s defeat in 2016 to the divisive, race-baiting and policy-thin Donald Trump was a massive jolt to the Third Way crowd. Few places had more of a shift than Western Wisconsin, which went from giving Barack Obama a sizable advantage in 2012 to giving a majority of their votes to Trump in 2016
Ball said that Third Way’s visit to Wisconsin is part of a $20 million effort to figure out why voters in swing areas of the country backed Trump, and what messages they need to hear in order to keep it from happening again.
“Open-mindedness was the sworn commitment of the Third Way team. The researchers were determined to approach rural Wisconsin with humility and respect. After the election, Hale told me, “You heard people saying, ‘These people aren’t smart enough to vote, they’re so stupid, if that’s what they want, they deserve what they get.’ That hit us, on every level, as wrong.” They wanted to open their hearts and their minds and simply listen. They were certain that, in doing so, they would find what they believed was true: a bunch of reasonable, thoughtful, patriotic Americans. A nation of people who really wanted to get along.”
If you’ve lived in “divide and conquer” Fitzwalkerstan in the 2010s, I think you know that Hale is in for quite the surprise.
They first come across a number of farmers and other “hard workers” in Pierce County. They complain about “leeches” in bureaucracy, a lack of desire among young people to work certain jobs, lament the effect of women working outside of the home, and general dismay at the dead-end life that exists in towns like Ellsworth.
Hale finds this a bit disturbing, but it’s only her first focus group, She then heads off down I-94 to another focus group of workers.
“At the Labor Temple Lounge in Eau Claire, nine gruff, tough-looking union men sat around a table. One had the acronym of his guild, the Laborers International Union of North America, tattooed on a bulging bicep. The men pinned the blame for most of their problems squarely on Republicans, from Trump to Governor Scott Walker. School funding, the minimum wage, college debt, income inequality, gerrymandering, health care, union rights: It was all, in their view, the GOP’s fault. A member of the bricklayers’ union lamented Walker’s cuts to public services: “If we can’t help each other,” he said, “what are we, a pack of wolves—we eat the weakest one? It’s shameful.”
“But their negativity toward Republicans didn’t translate to rosy feelings for the Democrats, who, they said, too frequently ignored working-class people. And some of the blame, they said, fell on their fellow workers, many of whom supported Republicans against their own interests. “The membership”—the union rank-and-file—“voted for these Republicans because of them damn guns,” a Laborers Union official said. “You cannot push it out of their head. A lot of ‘em loved it when Walker kicked our ass.”
This type of bluntness and bleak outlook concerns Hale and her associated Third Wayers, who want to believe all Americans are rational, decent human beings that are all striving for the same outcomes, and assumes that America’s problems can be solved by reaching some kind of mushy middle-of-the-road consensus that is “good enough” for all parties involved.
Fantasy vs Reality
The Third Way mentality might make sense if you were financially comfortable and lived in a high-educated, diverse area on the coasts with the prospect of a better tomorrow. In that circumstance, you have enough of a cushion in your life to worry about deeper issues, and can afford to walk away with half a loaf.
But that is not close to the reality for many in the left-behind parts of the Midwest. What finally sends the well-connected Boomer from Cali over the edge is when a café owner in a Viroqua focus group calls into question the entire political game and the limited outcomes that are being considered these days. …
The Corporate, Third-Way Democrats Should Know That Screwing Public Schools Won’t Get Dems Elected
By Paul Bryant
“Here we go again,” was what many left-leaning folks likely felt after seeing a recent announcement about a new effort by wealthy donors to rescue the Democratic Party from its electoral doldrums. Backed by $20 million, the “New Blue” campaign, coming from politically centrist think tank Third Way, promises to lead the party out of the “wilderness” of its minority status to a pathway to “achieving progressive majorities up and down the ballot.”
Democratic Party elites are peddling the same losing agenda on economics and education.
But Third Way’s offer sounds more like a continuation of the old losing ways. This is especially true on the issue of education where Third Way continues to bang the drum for a failed agenda that voters mostly reject.
Third Way was founded in 2005, mostly with the support of the financial industry and business executives, to cement the “New Democrat” centrism of the 1990s and make Bill Clinton’s presidential administration the permanent leadership of the party. The organization “championed disastrous trade accords, balanced budgets, and cutting the safety net,” writes Robert Borosage, but now swears to mend its elitist ways and “discover how to talk to working people without alienating Wall Street.”
New Blue Blinders
Any lesson Third Way is trying to learn from its outreach to the working class is likely being lost in translation according to Molly Ball of The Atlantic. Ball accompanied Third Way researchers on a foray into middle America to find out why communities in Wisconsin, Indiana, and other parts of the Midwest flipped from voting Democratic to Republican in 2016. …