Climate Action: People! Please learn what messaging is (& stop parroting BS)

  • Published on November 26th, 2018

What’s the difference between politics and policy? While the two things may seem like they are strongly intertwined, the fact is they can be completely disconnected — and they often are, especially in the Republican Party in the USA. The policy or legislative priorities of politicians, for example, can be completely different from the politics and messaging of those politicians.

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As one example, several Republican politicians have recently blocked proposals to make sure people with pre-existing conditions can get affordable health insurance (see hereherehereherehere, and here), but then some of them campaigned saying that they would protect people with pre-existing conditions. Seriously. Their policy approach was 180° different from their political approach.

A core component of politics is messaging. Messaging is focusing on specific messages that you want to convey and then doing so via careful use of language, repetition, repetition, more repetition, and careful exclusion of other language and messages.

Donald Trump is quite good at this one thing. It may sound absurd listening to him, but he drills his messages into your head very effectively via obsessive repetition, simple language, and almost never bending to an opposing message. There are many clips highlighting the ridiculousness of his obsessive repetition, but at the end of the segment, you certainly have one thing drilled into your head — whatever it is that he was repeating.

Actually, it was his messaging over the course of decades that in large part led to his election. Despite being a millionaire as a young kid thanks to his dad’s shady tax schemes, being bailed out repeatedly by his dad and siblings over the course of decades (and then foreigners later), getting over $400 million from his dad, going through several bankruptcies, and having such a poor business record that US banks wouldn’t lend him money except under very special circumstances, Donald convinced much of the world that he was a successful businessman — and was essentially “self-made.” What a joke. However, it’s not a joke, because decades of messaging — including a fake reality TV show meant to make him look like a smart businessman — led to this widespread opinion of him.

As one other example of his messaging acumen, many have noted that Donald will almost never admit a mistake or say something negative about himself. While many of us strongly value humility and self-reflection and are bothered by this, others aren’t. More importantly, no matter what your take is on such qualities, the message Donald Trump hammers home in statement after statement is that he’s right, he’s good, and he doesn’t make mistakes. It is absurd to many of us who dig deeper, but it is an effective messaging strategy overall. Additionally, the refusal to admit error has allowed Donald to push through many, many — dozens if not hundreds — of significant mistakes and scandals that would have taken down any normal human politician. By refusing to admit error or bad conduct, many have stuck with him. If he admitted mistakes and scandals, others would be forced to admit them as well, which would lower the support he has among his base voters. As long as he denies everything (which is advice he has given other men embroiled in sex scandals), his supporters can conclude that he did nothing wrong.

In other words, lying, refusing to admit error or engage in genuine self-reflection publicly, and a steady focus on positive messaging about himself and his businesses has paid off for him politically. Other successful politicians have engaged in such tactics to a degree, but Donald takes it to an extreme extent, and in the process has shown us how powerful messaging can be.

Before going further, let’s get some facts straight:

Democrats typically vote for policies for the people — affordable health care, cleantech incentives, a strong social safety net, higher minimum wage, stronger protection from pollution, etc.

Democratic leaders have helped to create tens of thousands of cleantech jobs.

Democratic policy to cut pollution has protected human health and created thousands of jobs. Republicans have fought against improved health and cleantech jobs every step of the way.

Republican politicians have hurt the US economy numerous times in numerous ways.

Republicans have lost the US millions of jobs, and tens of thousands of clean energy jobs.

Republican deregulation often slows innovation and hurts the US in the global economy.

Republican policies destroy human health and then make it harder to get health care. They also make health care more expensive.

Aside from simply communicating a few key points, what I did not do right there is start with Republican framing and repeat false Republican claims before refuting them. If I had done that, I would have actually reinforced Republican messaging and probably would have helped their harmful agenda rather than the opposite.

Unfortunately, it is very common for people who see a myth or misleading message to respond by repeating and reinforcing that message. I see this all the time with cleantech, climate, and political topics. Many times a day, people involved in politics or reporters covering it start off a discussion by highlighting the phrase or argument they disagree with. However, to the passerby or even a captive listener/reader, the incorrect point repeated at the start of the response is then more likely to stick in their head and be accepted by the subconscious. Down the road, they may well adopt the mistaken opinion or memory due to the repetition. For a short TV example of this, note what even the center/moderate and progressive media do hour after hour, day after day — they play clip after clip of nonsense coming out of Donald Trump’s mouth or Twitter account. They often want to correct the errors, highlight the hypocrisy, and laugh at the absurdities, but what they do in the process is give Donald Trump the biggest microphone in the world.

So, from a political or messaging point of view, step one is to not repeat the opinion you don’t want people to adopt.

This also means not accepting or repeating basic framing around a topic that you disagree with. Only for the purpose of highlighting some common mistakes in this realm that I’d like people to stop repeating, I will this one time break the rule myself. Here are a handful of common messaging and framing mistakes Democrats and progressives accept and repeat for no good reason:

Republicans are more pro-business.
No, they are not!

The Republican Party is the party of law & order.
No, it is not!

Republicans are more financially conservative.
No, they are not!

Anyway, let’s not go down that list too far, but you get the point — don’t repeat lies or incorrect assumptions, even to debunk them. Don’t say they are “known as the party of …” if you don’t think they should be, and even if your next point is to highlight some hypocrisy. Find a way to say it that doesn’t repeat the common assumption.

Okay, that the end of today’s rant on politics and political messaging. Keep it in mind not only for politics, but also for cleantech, Tesla, climate, energy, and environmental matters.

Also highly recommended: The Debunking Handbook


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(Originally appeared at our sister-site, Cleantechnica.)

About the Author

is the director of CleanTechnica, the most popular cleantech-focused website in the world, and Planetsave, a world-leading green and science news site. He has been covering green news of various sorts since 2008, and he has been especially focused on solar energy, electric vehicles, and wind energy since 2009. Aside from his work on CleanTechnica and Planetsave, he's the founder and director of Solar Love, EV Obsession, and Bikocity. To connect with Zach on some of your favorite social networks, go to ZacharyShahan.com and click on the relevant buttons.