The Language of Persuasion

With election season upon us, Lee Hartley Carter, president of Maslansky + Partners, a language strategy firm, and the author of Persuasion: Convincing Others When Facts Don’t Seem to Matter (TarcherPerigee, 2019), offers insight into the way language persuades the unconvinced.

 

Americans of Muslim Faith

Richard Rohr: The Face of the Others

Jesus taught us what God is like through his words, his actions, his very being, making it clear that “God is love” (1 John 4:8,16). If God is Trinity and Jesus is the face of God, then it is indeed a benevolent universe—at its very core.

The brilliant Jewish philosopher, Emmanuel Lévinas (1906-1995), said the only thing that really converts people, the ultimate moral imperative, is “the face of the other.”

.. When we receive and empathize with the face of the other (especially the suffering face), it leads to transformation of our whole being. It creates a moral demand on our heart that is far more compelling than the Ten Commandments. Just giving people commandments on tablets of stone doesn’t change the heart. It may steel the will, but it doesn’t soften the heart like a personal encounter can.

.. So many Christian mystics talk about seeing the divine face or falling in love with the face of Jesus. I think that’s why Clare of Assisi (1194-1253) often used the image of “mirroring” in her writings. We are mirrored not by concepts, but by faces delighting in us, giving us the face we can’t give to ourselves. And, of course, the ultimate and perfect mirror is the face of God.

The early mirroring we receive from our parents is particularly important. Neuroscience now shows that the gaze between a newborn and his or her loving caretaker creates “mirror neurons” that help a person become compassionate and have empathy for others. Moreover, although none of us can demand or expect absolutely unconditional divine love from another human being, we can experience very real aspects of it. This helps us be able to imagine what God’s love is like and keeps us open to God’s love.

James Finley offers a fitting poetic image for this idea:

When God eases us out of God’s heart into the earthly plane, God searches for the place that is most like paradise, and it’s the mother’s gaze. In the mother’s gaze, she transparently sacramentalizes God’s infinite gaze of love, looking into the eyes of the infant. And when the infant looks into her eyes it is looking into God’s eyes, incarnate as her loving eyes.

When caregivers and infants gaze at each other, their brain activity increases; parts of their brains literally light up. Similarly, Finley says:

.. When God gazes at us and we gaze at God, both of us light up. God lights up in the sense of the joy of being recognized by the one that God created in his own image and likeness for the very sake of this recognition. For us it’s a moment of visceral, intimate communion or oneness that feels like homecoming. [2]

‘Riling Up the Crazies’

As long as I’ve covered politics, Republicans have been trying to scare me.

Sometimes, it has been about gays and transgender people and uppity women looming, but usually it has been about people with darker skin looming.

They’re coming, always coming, to take things and change things and hurt people.

A Democratic president coined the expression, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” But it was Republicans who flipped the sentiment and turned it into a powerful and remorseless campaign ethos: Make voters fear fear itself.

The president has, after all, put a tremendous effort into the sulfurous stew of lies, racially charged rhetoric and scaremongering that he has been serving up as an election closer. He has been inspired to new depths of delusion, tweeting that “Republicans will totally protect people with Pre-Existing Conditions, Democrats will not! Vote Republican.

He has been twinning the words “caravan” and “Kavanaugh” in a mellifluous poem to white male hegemony. Whites should be afraid of the migrant caravan traveling from Central America, especially since “unknown Middle Easterners” were hidden in its midst, an alternative fact that he cheerfully acknowledged was based on nothing.

The word “Kavanaugh” is meant to evoke the fear that aggrieved women will hurtle out of the past to tear down men from their rightful perches of privilege.

Naomi Wolf told Bill Clinton, and later Al Gore, they should present themselves as the Good Father, strong enough to protect the home (America) from invaders.

By Separating Families at the Border, the Trump Administration Enforces the “Rule by Nobody”

  • Donald Trump said that the Democrats made him do it.
  • Jeff Sessions, the Attorney General, said it was the Bible.
  • Kirstjen Nielsen, the Secretary of Homeland Security, said it was the law.

They all said it wasn’t them. In their unified defense of the policy of separating children from their families at the border, Administration officials have adopted a technique of deflection that renders victims and critics powerless: they have depersonalized the violence.

.. This is how violence works in the world’s most cruel and terrifying societies. The victims of genocide, ethnic cleansing, mass deportations, mass incarceration, man-made famines, and other disasters that humans intentionally visit on the “other” are always anonymous. The perpetrators portray their victims as a mass—the “animals” of Trump’s imagination, or the enemies and criminals that Sessions and Nielsen conjure up when they talk about asylum seekers

.. it’s not only the victims who are anonymous—it is also the perpetrators.

.. when Nielsen claims, in effect, to be just following orders, the nation’s top officials are not merely lying; they are de-personifying the perpetrators. They are not merely refusing to be held accountable but are saying that no one will account for the violence.

.. Vladimir Putin, has perfected it over the years. He has denied knowledge of arrests, trials, or even people of whom he was doubtless aware. He has shrugged his shoulders and spread his arms in a gesture of helplessness while claiming that the Russian judiciary is independent from the executive branch

.. Writing about the relationship between violence and bureaucracy, Hannah Arendt said, “In a fully developed bureaucracy there is nobody left with whom one could argue, to whom one could present grievances, on whom the pressures of power could be exerted.” She called bureaucracy the “rule by Nobody.”

.. What may be new, however, is a Presidency that explicitly cedes authority to that bureaucracy. Faced with widespread criticism of the family separations, the Administration is not exactly doubling down in defense of it. It is not trying to bring voters, journalists, or politicians around to supporting its policies.

.. one can observe “if not shame, then at least chagrin.” But I don’t think it’s chagrin that’s causing officials to shift the responsibility onto anonymous others.

.. The kind of state that Trump would like to run—and apparently the kind of state of which Sessions would like to be Attorney General and Kirstjen Nielsen would like to be Secretary of Homeland Security—is one that can subject its enemies to what Arendt called “administrative massacres.”

.. The logic of such a state demands an all-powerful bureaucratic machine; it demands the terrifying spectre of the rule by Nobody. So they are retrofitting the United States with such a bureaucracy—cruel, senseless, and accountable to no one.

 

How the G.O.P. Built Donald Trump’s Cages

Republicans who spoke up this time should be asking themselves why a president of their party felt he was enforcing its principles by breaking apart families and caging children.

.. But many, many other party leaders have been venturing ever deeper into the dank jungles of nativist populism for quite some time, exploiting the politics of fear and resentment. Mr. Trump did not invent Republican demonization of “the other” — it came about in two ways: gradually, and then all at once.

.. From the early 1990s to 2000, the conservative firebrand Pat Buchanan kept the Republican Party on its toes, running for president three times with an explicitly isolationist message.

.. But it was during the George W. Bush years that anti-immigrant sentiment started to become more central to the party’s identity.

.. Mr. Bush made comprehensive immigration reform a priority of his second term.

.. Conservative talk radio took up the cause, smacking Mr. Bush as squishy on immigration. The very concept of comprehensive reform became anathema to many on the right.

.. The Great Recession that Mr. Obama inherited did nothing to quell nativist resentment among working-class whites, and the rise of the Tea Party pulled the Republican Party further to the right

.. Just ask Senator Marco Rubio, the Florida Republican, who saw his fledgling political career almost snuffed out by his flirtation with comprehensive reform

.. in the wake of Mitt Romney’s presidential loss in 2012, after which the Republican Party briefly decided that one of its principal goals was to improve its image with Hispanic voters.

.. The resulting plan would have done everything from beefing up border security to overhauling visa categories to promoting a merit-based immigration system.

It also provided for the legalization of undocumented immigrants, which meant conservatives hated it.

..  the bill cleared the Senate by an impressive 68-to-32 vote. But John Boehner, then the House speaker, refused to bring it up for a vote in the Republican-controlled lower chamber.

.. Mr. Rubio became a pariah to the Tea Party voters who had propelled him to office three years earlier. Soon, he was denying that he had ever really supported the bill.

.. Party leaders fanned those flames, accusing Mr. Obama of being imperious and “lawless.” In one bit of twisted logic, Mr. Boehner argued that the House couldn’t possibly take up reform legislation because it couldn’t trust Mr. Obama to carry out said legislation.

.. Along the way, Republican candidates continued to play to their base’s darker impulses. On the whole, the rhetoric was subtler than that of the current president

.. Steve King, Republican of Iowa, painting Dreamers as drug mules with “calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.”

.. Mo Brooks, Republican of Alabama: “I’ll do anything short of shooting them”

.. Nor was Mr. Trump the first Republican to promote the idea that within every immigrant lurks a murderer or terrorist.

.. Louie Gohmert, Republican of Texas, ran around warning of what came to be mocked as the great “terror baby” plot. As Mr. Gohmert told it, radical Islamists were plotting to impregnate droves of young women, who would infiltrate the United States to give birth here. The babies would be shipped back home for terrorist training, then return as adults to wreak havoc on an unsuspecting America.

.. Time and again, given the choice between soothing and stoking nativist animus, Republican lawmakers chose the low road.

.. And he has even less interest in addressing the root causes of migrant families flocking to the border.

.. In 2016, the Department of Homeland Security reported, “More individuals sought affirmative asylum from the Northern Triangle Countries (El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras) in the last three years than in the prior 15 years combined.”

.. Helping these nations stabilize themselves is key to reducing the flow of asylum seekers. But Mr.

Trump does not like complexity or long-term strategizing.

He prefers casting blame and making threats. 

.. In the administration’s budget proposals, it has sought deep cuts in aid to these countries — something Congress has wisely ignored. Removing a financial lifeline from nations already in chaos is hardly a recipe for progress.

.. Mr. Trump’s move to kick out as many people who are from these countries as possible threatens to overwhelm nations ill equipped for such an influx. And without the money that many of the immigrants living here regularly send back to their families, the economies of these countries would further crumble.

.. In 2016, 17 percent of El Salvador’s gross domestic product came from remittances from abroad.

.. America’s immigration mess is not going to be cleaned up anytime soon.

.. conservatives are terrified that the base will punish them if they concede even an inch. Speaker Paul Ryan, with one foot out the door, has no juice. And pretty much everyone assumes that nothing will move through the Senate anyway.

.. Trump is planning fresh crackdowns in the run-up to the midterms, to reassure his base that he has not lost his resolve. If anything, given the fragility of his ego, last week’s flip-flop will make him all the more desperate to prove his strength.

.. Mr. Trump is more a breaker than a fixer.

.. The question now is whether the conference will learn anything useful from this episode.

.. There is also his

  • politicization of law enforcement, his
  • attempts to undermine public faith in the democratic process, his
  • attacks on the press, his
  • family’s suspect business dealings and his
  • habitual lying

.. this is unlikely to be the last time the president puts members of his party in an uncomfortable, and perhaps untenable, position.

.. The weight of this moment should be recognized. Mr. Trump’s capitulation was not a given. With a little less media scrutiny, fewer heartbreaking photos and fewer calls from angry voters, tent cities could have kept on filling with traumatized children.

.. Having done so much to pave the way for Mr. Trump and his immigration policies, they now owe it to the American people to help keep him in check.

Trump the European Nationalist Puts America Last

President Trump, in concert with several European leaders, including those of Hungary, Poland, Austria and Italy, is intent on dehumanizing immigrants and refugees. The aim is to equate them with terrorists and criminals ready to “infest” — Trump’s word — American and European civilization, defined as a threatened white Judeo-Christian preserve.

It’s a consistent policy buttressed by insinuation and lies about the supposed threat, and designed to manipulate fear and nationalism as election-winning emotions in a time of rapid technological change, large migrant flows and uncertainty. Vermin infest, not humans.

Every utterance of Trump on immigration is meant to conflate immigration with danger. This is a direct repudiation of America’s distinguishing essence — its constant reinvention through immigrant churn.

The immigrant brings violence. The immigrant brings terror. The immigrant’s humanity is lesser or nonexistent. These are tropes about “the other” whose capacity to galvanize mobs, and wreak havoc, was proved in the first half of the 20th century. Trump does not hesitate to use them.

.. Viktor Orban, the right-wing Hungarian leader, who has said that “every single migrant poses a public security and terror risk.”

.. The Hungarian parliament has just passed legislation that would throw people in jail for providing assistance to asylum seekers and migrants.

.. Matteo Salvini, the rightist Italian interior minister

.. Before taking office, he said Italy was packed with “drug dealers, rapists, burglars,” whom he wants to send home.

.. the destabilizing impact of globalization on Western democracies; stagnant middle-income wages; growing inequality; fear of an automated future

..  the ease of mob mobilization through fear-mongering and scapegoating on social media.

.. Trump is strong because of a global nationalist lurch; that his feral instincts make him dangerous; and that he may well win a second term, just as Orban has now won four terms.

To ridicule Trump will achieve little absent a compelling social and economic alternative that addresses anxiety. The Democratic Party, for now, is nowhere near that.

.. Trump likes to go for the jugular. He sees opportunity in a Europe that is split down the middle between nations like Hungary and Poland that make no attempt to sugarcoat their anti-immigrant nativism and states like Germany that have not forgotten that the pursuit of racially and religiously homogeneous societies lay at the core of the most heinous crimes of the last century.

.. Orban is the most formidable politician in Europe today. It’s no coincidence that Trump called him last weekend. Their aims overlap.

..  Trump tweeted this week that “Crime in Germany is way up” and that allowing immigrants in “all over Europe” has “strongly and violently changed their culture.”

..  Trump (whose stats on German crime were wrong) backs Orban against Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany in the continuing bid to make racism and xenophobia the new normal of Western societies.

.. the greatest danger is within. A two-term Trump presidency would likely corrode American institutions and values to the point at which they could scarcely be resurrected.

Richard Rohr Meditation: Completing the Divine Circuit

Let me describe God’s universal love as best I can: love is recognizing oneself in the other by realizing they are not other! We are all in this together. We normally have to start with little others—beloved, friend, child, parents—to be ready for the great leap into the Great Other. This is a continuous mirroring process from both sides, and God does it first of all in us, so we can learn to pass it on. Paul says it well: “At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then we shall see face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12).