What once seemed impossible (but now dismally plausible) happened in New Hampshire: Donald J. Trump won the state's primary. Immediately following the announcement, a story was published in this publication. The headline read: "A Racist, Sexist Demagogue Just Won The New Hampshire Primary."
The Huffington Post wasn't alone. "Dawn of the Brain Dead," trumpeted New York Daily News.
Yet this kind of language is falling on deaf ears.
Let's be clear: it's not wrong. By definition, Trump is, in fact, a racist, sexist demagogue and the media shouldn't mince words when it comes to calling out his hateful rhetoric. But if our goal as citizens is to keep Trump from the Oval Office, this might not be the best approach.
Let's be clear about something else: his supporters might not care that he is a racist, sexist demagogue. In interview after interview, Trump's supporters cite his unfiltered approach as an asset, and headlines like these perfectly encapsulate what they see as the "political correctness that's ruining America."
But perhaps with a bit of "reframing," the arguments against Trump might appear more compelling.
In a series of studies (summed up in Vox's "How to argue better, according to science"), researchers from Stanford University and the University of Toronto found that impassioned political debates often remain stagnant because we assume that our opponents share our values.
"Much of contemporary American political rhetoric is characterized by liberals and conservatives advancing arguments for the morality of their respective political positions," wrote the authors. "However, research suggests such moral rhetoric is largely ineffective for persuading those who do not already hold one's position."
The researchers found that by "reframing" arguments to better reflect the values of one's opponent, the arguments became more successful. While liberals may value fairness and equality, conservatives tend to value patriotism, moral purity and respect for authority.
In other words, when debating a conservative, don't argue like a liberal.
It's not rocket science; it's empathy. To put this theory to the test, let's try a little reframing around common liberal arguments against Donald J. Trump.
"Donald Trump is sexist."
From calling Rosie O'Donnell a fat pig to blaming Megyn Kelly's debate performance on "blood coming out of her wherever" to telling a Celebrity Apprentice contestant that imaging her dropping to her knees was "a pretty picture," opportunities to point to Trump's history of sexism are seemingly endless. But for many of his supporters, these outbursts can easily be brushed off as his aversion to political correctness.
Another example, however, might cause family-loving conservatives to take pause. During a 2011 deposition, Trump allegedly called a female attorney "disgusting" when she requested to pump breastmilk. (Both the attorney's co-counsel and Trump's attorney confirmed the claim.) A hard-working conservative might thus say that Trump is bad for working families. A low-blow look at his personal life (three marriages and a well-documented affair) might also suggest that Trump doesn't respect family.
"Donald Trump is a liar."
Trump's whoppers have been documented over and over and over, yet his supporters still believe he "tells it like it is." Instead of calling him a liar, perhaps we should adopt the same weapon used against Hillary Clinton: Trump is untrustworthy.
"Donald Trump is racist."
He's called Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals, he's called for a ban on Muslims entering the country, he's been sued for allegedly refusing to rent to black tenants. This is despicable and has no place in our political system. But if the behavior at his rallies is any indication, a few of his supporters might feel the same way.
Instead, one might draw attention to a glaring contradiction: how can Trump cling so fervently to the Second Amendment, while blatantly disregarding the First? Not only has Trump called for banning Muslim immigrants, he's also called for a database of all Muslim Americans. Let's reflect on that one for a moment: he called for the creation of a national database of US citizens based on their religion. Sounds a lot like Trump is trying to take away our Constitutional right to Freedom of religion.
"Trump is unqualified."
This one is instantly overshadowed by his supporters' favorite quality: "Trump is not a politician." Somewhere along the line "politician"--someone with experience, a proven track record and a referable voting history--became a dirty word in the GOP.
Interestingly, inexperience was considered a strike against Barack Obama back in 2008 and has, at times, proven to be an albatross around the neck of his legacy. In his final State of the Union, Obama admitted regret for the "rancour" and deadlock between the political parties. Experience--political experience, not business experience--is what prevents a stalemate like this. And as Obama has learned, strong arming Congress does not work.
Politics is not business--you can't just take your money elsewhere. To argue that Trump's lack of political experience partnered with his brash and unyielding personality might alleviate political deadlock is laughable. This lethal combination will likely prove that Trump would be an ineffective leader.
Words matter and in this case, they might matter more than ever. Nearly half of New Hampshire Republican voters said they were late deciders, proving there's a lot of room for persuasion. They may vote for a racist, sexist demagogue, but an untrustworthy and ineffective candidate who hurts families and goes after our Constitutional freedom? As a Trump supporter might say, let's ditch that phony and make America great again.