Tag Archives: conservatives

Metaphors of Truthiness, Part 2

Today I continue Part 2 of my analysis of metaphors in a brilliant new article about facts and opinions in the latest issue of The Atlantic magazine by Kurt Andersen. (Mr. Andersen, by the way, will be a guest on the Bill Maher show this coming Friday.) This time I will analyze the conceptual metaphors of vision, objects, clothing, balance and gravity, science, buildings, movement and literary references.

Vision

Since we experience the world through our five senses, it is not surprising that we find metaphors of vision in many articles on politics. Andersen claims that being sane or insane is not a binary choice; rather we are on a spectrum somewhere between the two extremes, as if we are on a light spectrum representing all colors. Seeing reality clearly is very important. Metaphorically, not seeing clearly is referred to as blurring the lines, as if our vision is failing. In an unusual metaphor, Andersen also refers to these unclear lines as if they are obscured by smog on a city skyline.

spectrum

Example: “Each of us is on a spectrum somewhere between the poles of rational and irrational.”

blur the lines

Example: “Today, each of us is freer than ever to custom-make reality, to believe whatever and pretend to be whoever we wish. Which makes all the lines between actual and fictional blur and disappear more easily. Truth in general becomes flexible, personal, subjective.”

smog

Example: “The intellectuals’ new outlook was as much a product as a cause of the smog of subjectivity that now hung thick over the whole American mindscape. After the ’60s, truth was relative, criticizing was equal to victimizing, individual liberty became absolute, and everyone was permitted to believe or disbelieve whatever they wished.”

 

Objects

One of the most confusing types of metaphors to explain is the type in which an abstract concept is treated as if it is a physical object. In yet another way to describe people with crazy behavior is to say that they are untethered from reality. The word tether originally meant a rope to secure an animal on a farm. Later it was also used to describe a line used to secure a blimp to its mooring. In any case, someone who is untethered from reality is clearly disconnected from a position of safety or control. We also describe unusual or illegal behavior as if it is an object that can be hidden from view. Thus we have the metaphorical phrase of a cover up. Social events or services can also be described as having an upside or a downside as if we are looking at an object from a certain point of view. In an unusual metaphor, Andersen describes the contours of reality as if it is a round object with a particular shape to be studied. Finally, another strange but common way to describe crazy behavior is to say that people are loopy, as if their body is in the form of metal loops that never quite line up to a complete circle.

untethered

Example: “When did America become untethered from reality?”

cover up

Example: “The infiltration by the FBI and intelligence agencies of left-wing groups was then being revealed, and the Watergate break-in and its cover-up were an actual criminal conspiracy.”

downside, upside

Example: “Particularly for a people with our history and propensities, the downside of the Internet seems at least as profound as the upside.”

contours of reality

Example: “Today I disagree about political issues with friends and relatives to my right, but we agree on the essential contours of reality.”

loopy

Example: “Another way the GOP got loopy was by overdoing libertarianism.”

 

Clothing

It is always interesting to see metaphors of clothing in popular English writing. One common way of describing people whose behavior is well outside social norms is to say they are on the fringe of society. There is even a common phrase of the lunatic fringe to describe these people. The term fringe originally meant the decorative hem or border of a piece of clothing. Spatially, normal people are in the middle of the article of clothing, while people with unusual behavior are on the fringe. Similarly, intact clothing is considered normal while clothing with fraying or unraveling threads is considered abnormal. Thus, people can be described as unraveling as if they are threads on an old shirt.

General Armstrong Custer’s buckskin jacket with fringe

fringe

Example: “The old fringes have been folded into the new center. The irrational has become respectable and often unstoppable.”

unravel

Example: “I wonder whether it’s only America’s destiny, exceptional as ever, to unravel in this way.”

 

 

 

Balance and Gravity

As humans, we are well aware of our sense of balance. Otherwise we would not be able to walk or even stand up straight. Thus, it is not surprising that we have conceptual metaphors based on the idea of balance. In Andersen’s article we find the concept applied to both mental and political stability in the United States. He speaks of the balance, seesawing, tipping and the center of gravity.

balance

Example: “For most of our history, the impulses existed in a rough balance, a dynamic equilibrium between fantasy and reality, mania and moderation, credulity and skepticism.”

seesaw

Example: “We still seemed to be in the midst of the normal cyclical seesawing of American politics. In the ’90s, the right achieved two of its wildest dreams: The Soviet Union and international communism collapsed; and, as violent crime radically declined, law and order was restored.”

center of gravity

Example: “The party’s ideological center of gravity swerved way to the right of Rove and all the Bushes, finally knocking them and their clubmates aside. What had been the party’s fantastical fringe became its middle.”

tip

Example: “I really can imagine, for the first time in my life, that America has permanently tipped into irreversible decline, heading deeper into Fantasyland.”

 

Science

Although less common than other metaphors seen here, our experience with science lessons in high school or college allows us to use metaphors of scientific tools or phenomenon.   For example, a crucible is a small porcelain pot used for melting materials in a lab. Metaphorically, a crucible is a social situation in which great changes are happening. In biology, cell walls are not totally closed; rather they are permeable, meaning fluids can pass through the cell membranes. Metaphorically, borders between opposing ideas can also be permeable instead of fixed. In science, substances that are poisonous to plants, animals or humans are considered toxic. We use this same term to describe any event or situation that is harmful to the people involved. Scientists are sometimes engineers who create new inventions or design new projects. Metaphorically, we can speak of people engineering political situations to their advantage. Finally, Andersen includes a wonderful scientific metaphor (grammatically a simile) that compares the Christian dominance of right-wing politicians as the chemical change of phase from liquid to gas!

crucible

Example: “Treating real life as fantasy and vice versa, and taking preposterous ideas seriously, is not unique to Americans. But we are the global crucible and epicenter.”

permeable

Example: “The borders between fiction and nonfiction are permeable, maybe nonexistent. The delusions of the insane, superstitions, and magical thinking? Any of those may be as legitimate as the supposed truths contrived by Western reason and science.”

toxic

Example: “Those earnest beliefs planted more seeds for the extravagant American conspiracy thinking that by the turn of the century would be rampant and seriously toxic.”

engineer

Example: “I doubt the GOP elite deliberately engineered the synergies between the economic and religious sides of their contemporary coalition. But as the incomes of middle- and working-class people flatlined, Republicans pooh-poohed rising economic inequality and insecurity.”

a phase from liquid to gas

Example: “The Christian takeover happened gradually, but then quickly in the end, like a phase change from liquid to gas. In 2008, three-quarters of the major GOP presidential candidates said they believed in evolution, but in 2012 it was down to a third, and then in 2016, just one did.”

 

Buildings

As I have demonstrated many times in this blog, the concept of buildings is used to create very common metaphors in politics. In a very specific metaphor concerning door hinges, a door cannot swing open or closed properly unless it is correctly hinged to the doorframe. Metaphorically, someone who is unhinged is considered crazy as if they are not properly attached to reality. More commonly, the idea of old buildings that are crumbling or need to be torn down is used metaphorically to describe the changing of social ideas or political institutions.

unhinged

Example: “Left-wingers weren’t the only ones who became unhinged. Officials at the FBI, the CIA, and military intelligence agencies, as well as in urban police departments, convinced themselves that peaceful antiwar protesters and campus lefties in general were dangerous militants.”

crumbling

Example: “The distinction between opinion and fact was crumbling on many fronts.”

torn down

Example: “The problem is that Republicans have purposefully torn down the validating institutions,” the political journalist Josh Barro, a Republican until 2016, wrote last year. “They have convinced voters that the media cannot be trusted; they have gotten them used to ignoring inconvenient facts about policy; and they have abolished standards of discourse.”

 

Movement

We also have experience traveling in or driving vehicles such as cars or boats. A boat without power or a rudder will be out of control and drift with the current of a river or ocean. Metaphorically, any gradual movement that does not seem to be controlled may be described as a drift. A car or truck out of control may go off course or careen off the road. Metaphorically, any process that seems to be out of control may be described as careening instead of going in a straight line. A vehicle with a lot of power and zoom along at a high speed, while one that runs out of gas may sputter out and stop moving. Processes observed over a long time may also be described as zooming or sputtering out. Other vehicles with a great deal of mass, such as freight trains, may have trouble stopping after traveling at a high rate of speed because of its momentum.   Metaphorically, a process that seems to have a great deal of success may be described as having unstoppable momentum.

drift

Example: “But our drift toward credulity, toward doing our own thing, toward denying facts and having an altogether uncertain grip on reality, has overwhelmed our other exceptional national traits and turned us into a less developed country.”

careen

Example: “As the Vietnam War escalated and careened, antirationalism flowered.”

zoom, sputter out

Example: “As the pioneer vehicle, the John Birch Society zoomed along and then sputtered out, but its fantastical paradigm and belligerent temperament has endured in other forms and under other brand names.”

unstoppable momentum

Example: “The idea that progress has some kind of unstoppable momentum, as if powered by a Newtonian law, was always a very American belief.”

 

Literary references

In rare cases, we can find metaphors based on famous books or movies. Once in a while, we find people comparing strange behavior to the antics of the characters in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. In that story, Alice transforms herself by looking in a mirror and gets lost by chasing a rabbit down a hole. Metaphorically, passing through the looking glass or going down the rabbit hole are indicative of going into a fantasy instead of staying in reality. In a second example from the book and movie, The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy puts her faith in a magical wizard behind a curtain. However, she accidentally finds out that the wizard is simply an ordinary man. Metaphorically, a person who is not who people think he or she is may be described as the Wizard of Oz coming out from behind the curtain.

through the looking glass, down the rabbit hole

Example: “We have passed through the looking glass and down the rabbit hole. America has mutated into Fantasyland.”

Wizard of Oz

Example: “Karl Rove was stone-cold cynical, the Wizard of Oz’s evil twin coming out from behind the curtain for a candid chat shortly before he won a second term for George W. Bush, about how ‘judicious study of discernible reality [is] … not the way the world really works anymore.’”

*******

As one can see, there is a great variety of metaphors we can use to describe the changing belief systems in people, and how those belief systems influence voting decisions. Kurt Andersen’s excellent article reveals the complexity of our English language usage of both common and unique metaphors. Thanks for reading!

Metaphors of Truthiness, Part 1

Back in 2005, the comedian Stephen Colbert coined a new word, truthiness, meaning the truth of something that people feel in their gut instead of their mind. At the time, he was in the character of his alter ego, a conservative politician, who was parodying some of the comments of the Bush administration. However, the word has caught on, and now it has been used in a wide variety of situations in which people seem to have their own versions of the truth, much to the consternation of politicians and journalists. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the late senator from New York, famously said, “You are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts.”

In a brilliant article in the latest issue of The Atlantic magazine entitled “How American Lost its Mind” (September, 2017, pp. 76-91), Kurt Andersen details the growth of what he calls Fantasyland, the phenomenon of people all across America believing in statements and events that have very little basis in reality. Not surprisingly, he points to many half-truths spoken by Donald Trump (he cites one study which claims that Trump’s statements were found to be lies 50% of the time), or the “alternative facts” of his spokesperson Kellyanne Conway. However, it is not only those on the right who are guilty of living in Fantasyland. He notes people on the far left also believe in 9/11 conspiracy theories, that extraterrestrials have visited the earth, and that vaccines cause autism, despite a lack of evidence that any of these claims are true. In fact, Andersen provides a lengthy history of this phenomenon that includes Americans from all walks of life, tracing it all the way back to the Esalen Institute and counterculture movements of the 1960s, the Watergate conspiracy theories of the 1970s, the Reagan era, Clinton foibles, and the latest Trump political machinations.

As a linguist, I am fascinated by this phenomenon for two reasons. For one, linguists are normally concerned with the rhetoric or metaphors of political speeches designed to persuade an audience to agree with or vote for that speaker. However, in the case of Andersen’s Fantasyland, it is interesting to think of what the listeners are understanding rather than what the speaker is saying. Normally, we do not have the privilege of knowing what is truly going on in the minds of voters. The details that Andersen provides in his article shed light on the mind-sets of many Americans. Secondly, I am also fascinated by the metaphors used to describe this phenomenon. It is well known that we use a wide variety of metaphors to describe people who are allegedly crazy such as being batty, loopy, a few cards short of a deck, etc. However, I was amazed to see how many different metaphors Andersen used to describe other aspects of this truthiness phenomenon including conceptual metaphors from animals, nature, humans, family, farming, cooking, science, balance, vision, clothing, objects, movement, buildings, and literary references.

Today I include several examples from each type of metaphor. However, since I found such an incredible variety of metaphors, I will have to split this blog post into two parts. I will provide the second part of the post in about a week. As usual, the quotations are taken directly from the article. Some quotes are repeated in different categories if they have two or more types of metaphors. Italics are mine.

Animals and Arachnids

It is very common to create metaphors based on our common experience with animals, insects and arachnids. Andersen uses some colorful metaphors to describe various aspects of the phenomenon of people holding unusual beliefs. In one case, he describes some of these people as being batty, a metaphor perhaps based on the erratic flying motion of bats or the correlated metaphor of having bats in your belfry. He also describes certain groups working together as being a spider web of people or other groups of people as rabble, a Middle English word meaning a pack of wild animals. Anderson quotes Donald Trump reviving an old myth that Bill and Hillary Clinton had something to do with the apparent suicide of their colleague Vince Foster, calling it fishy. Finally, he describes the situation of Americans experiencing this Fantasyland phenomenon as being canaries in a coal mine since canaries were used in coalmines to detect poisonous gases. If they suddenly died, it was a warning to the mineworkers to get out of the mine as fast as possible.

batty

Example: “The Reagan presidency was famously a triumph of truthiness and entertainment, and in the 1990s, as problematically batty beliefs kept going mainstream, presidential politics continued merging with the fantasy-industrial complex.”

web

Example: “Within a few decades, the belief that a web of villainous elites was covertly seeking to impose a malevolent global regime made its way from the lunatic right to the mainstream.”

rabble rouser

Example: “But over the past few decades, a lot of the rabble they roused came to believe all the untruths.”

fishy

Example: “He revived the 1993 fantasy about the Clintons’ friend Vince Foster—his death, Trump said, was ‘very fishy,’…”

canary in a coal mine

Example: “I wonder whether it’s only America’s destiny, exceptional as ever, to unravel in this way. Or maybe we’re just early adopters, the canaries in the global mine, and Canada and Denmark and Japan and China and all the rest will eventually follow us down our tunnel.”

 

Nature

Other aspects of nature are also commonly used to create conceptual metaphors. Andersen’s article contains quite a few of these as well. A common metaphor from nature is to call a new social trend as a grassroots movement, as if the people are growing like grass in one’s yard. Roots of trees are also used metaphorically to indicate the origins of certain phenomena. In this case, Andersen talks about the taproots of certain kinds of prejudice in America. Another common nature metaphor is to talk about a trend as if it is a person sliding down a hill or a slippery slope. There are also quite a few examples of river metaphors: popular media is referred to as mainstream, as if it is flowing in the middle of a river; social trends may flow out from a source; there might be tidal surges of new social constructs knocking down the flood walls, while there may be efforts to slow the flood or repair the levees to stop the damage, and there may be a cascade of false beliefs creating a pool in which people surf and swim. Finally, there is a nice contrastive pair of metaphors, comparing the darkness of winter to the light of spring and hope for a better future.

grassroots movement

Example: “We must call out the dangerously untrue and unreal. A grassroots movement against one kind of cultural squishiness has taken off and lately reshaped our national politics—the opposition to political correctness. I envision a comparable struggle that insists on distinguishing between the factually true and the blatantly false.”

taproot

Example: “Trump launched his political career by embracing a brand-new conspiracy theory twisted around two American taproots—fear and loathing of foreigners and of nonwhites.”

slippery slopes

Example: “There are many slippery slopes, leading in various directions to other exciting nonsense. During the past several decades, those naturally slippery slopes have been turned into a colossal and permanent complex of interconnected, crisscrossing bobsled tracks, which Donald Trump slid down right into the White House.”

mainstream

Example: “The word mainstream has recently become a pejorative, shorthand for bias, lies, oppression by the elites.”

flow out

Example: “Conservatives are correct that the anything-goes relativism of college campuses wasn’t sequestered there, but when it flowed out across America it helped enable extreme Christianities and lunacies on the right—gun-rights hysteria, black-helicopter conspiracism, climate-change denial, and more.”

tidal surge, flood walls

In this case, Andersen is describing the work of Charles Reich, a 1970 book on counterculture called The Greening of America.

Example: “His wishful error was believing that once the tidal surge of new sensibility brought down the flood walls, the waters would flow in only one direction, carving out a peaceful, cooperative, groovy new continental utopia, hearts and minds changed like his, all of America Berkeleyized and Vermontified.”

slow the flood, repair the levees

Example: “But I think we can slow the flood, repair the levees, and maybe stop things from getting any worse.”

cascade, surf, swim

Example: “False beliefs were rendered both more real-seeming and more contagious, creating a kind of fantasy cascade in which millions of bedoozled Americans surfed and swam.”

winter, light

Example: “Even as we’ve entered this long winter of foolishness and darkness, when too many Americans are losing their grip on reason and reality, it has been an epoch of astonishing hope and light as well.”

 

Farming

I found it fascinating that Andersen often describes the growth of different belief systems as if they were crops growing on a farm. He claims that the beliefs were like seeds that flowered or sprouted into new social movements. He describes a case for the Esalen Institute, a pioneering New Age center in California in the 1960s, as a hotbed of ideas, as if they were plants growing in a greenhouse. In a common fruit metaphor, he describes some conservatives as cherry-picking libertarian policies to suit their needs, as if these policies were ripe cherries. Finally, Andersen claims that some of Donald Trump’s ideas are hogwash, named for the leftover food scraps given to hogs on the farm.

seeds

Example: “Those earnest beliefs planted more seeds for the extravagant American conspiracy thinking that by the turn of the century would be rampant and seriously toxic.”

flower

Example: “As the Vietnam War escalated and careened, antirationalism flowered.”

sprout

Example: “Conspiracy theories were more of a modern right-wing habit before people on the left signed on. However, the belief that the federal government had secret plans to open detention camps for dissidents sprouted in the ’70s on the paranoid left before it became a fixture on the right.”

hotbed

Example: “Esalen’s founders were big Laing fans, and the institute became a hotbed for the idea that insanity was just an alternative way of perceiving reality.”

cherry-pick

Example: “Republicans are very selective, cherry-picking libertarians: Let business do whatever it wants and don’t spoil poor people with government handouts; let individuals have gun arsenals but not abortions or recreational drugs or marriage with whomever they wish; and don’t mention Ayn Rand’s atheism.”

hogwash

Example: “During the campaign, Trump repeated the falsehood that vaccines cause autism. And instead of undergoing a normal medical exam from a normal doctor and making the results public, like nominees had before, Trump went on The Dr. Oz Show and handed the host test results from his wacky doctor. Did his voters know that his hogwash was hogwash?”

 

Cooking

Perhaps correlating with the farm metaphors are a few examples of cooking metaphors. In a common way to describe an unreasonable idea or person, Andersen describes them as being half-baked, as if it is a loaf of bread not quite ready to come out of the oven.   He also provides a wonderful metaphor based on a cup of tea – steeping the tea bag in water, letting the smells and vapors permeate the room.

half-baked

Example: “That is, they inspired half-baked and perverse followers in the academy, whose arguments filtered out into the world at large: All approximations of truth, science as much as any fable or religion, are mere stories devised to serve people’s needs or interests.”

steep, vapors

Example: “The right has had three generations to steep in this, its taboo vapors wafting more and more into the main chambers of conservatism, becoming familiar, seeming less outlandish.”

 

Human Body

Not surprisingly, we commonly create metaphors based on our own human experiences. In one unusual metaphor, we talk of a crazy person as a crackpot, referring back to an old slang term for the head as a pot. Another common way to describe crazy behavior as someone who is losing grip on reality as if it is an object that can be grasped with the hands. Andersen also compares Trump’s need for attention to a person who is ravenous and insatiable for food. I also noticed two metaphors of illness and cancer. Andersen quotes Rick Perry claiming that Donald Trump was a “cancer on conservatism” while he also notes that the American acceptance of Fantasyland has metastasized as if it is a cancer that will spread to other countries.

crackpot

Example: “Belief in gigantic conspiracies has moved from the crackpot periphery to the mainstream.”

grip on reality

Example: “Even as we’ve entered this long winter of foolishness and darkness, when too many Americans are losing their grip on reason and reality, it has been an epoch of astonishing hope and light as well.”

ravenous and insatiable

Example: “But Trump’s need for any and all public attention always seemed to me more ravenous and insatiable than any other public figure’s, akin to an addict’s for drugs.”

cancer on conservatism

Example: “Before Trump won their nomination and the presidency, when he was still ‘a cancer on conservatism’ that must be “discarded” (former Governor Rick Perry) and an ‘utterly amoral’ ‘narcissist at a level I don’t think this country’s ever seen’ (Senator Ted Cruz), Republicans hated Trump’s ideological incoherence—they didn’t yet understand that his campaign logic was a new kind, blending exciting tales with a showmanship that transcends ideology.”

metastasized

Example: “The American experiment has metastasized out of control. Being American now means we can believe anything we want.”

 

Family

I also found examples of metaphors based on family relations. Andersen describes Esalen as a mother church in the United States as if it had given birth to a new type of religion. He also provides another brilliant contrastive pair of metaphors, describes incredulity and skepticism as fraternal twins.

mother church

Example: “Esalen is a mother church of a new American religion for people who think they don’t like churches or religions but who still want to believe in the supernatural.”

fraternal twin

Example: “Trump’s genius was to exploit the skeptical disillusion with politics—there’s too much equivocating; democracy’s a charade—but also to pander to Americans’ magical thinking about national greatness. Extreme credulity is a fraternal twin of extreme skepticism.”

*******

That’s all for Part 1.  Thanks for reading. Stay tuned for Part 2 coming soon!

Draining the Swamp?

One of the most common metaphors one hears in the news today is the idea of draining the swamp. During the presidential campaign, Donald Trump pledged that, if he were elected, he would drain the swamp, meaning that he would fire all of the politicians in Washington D.C. who were negative influences on the government. No one was exactly sure what he meant, but many us assumed that he was referring to career politicians, lobbyists, and those too closely connected to Wall Street and large corporations.

blog-nature-swamp-1This phrase is not new in politics. Originally it was derived from the physical draining of the water in a swamp where mosquitos were breeding and causing malaria or other diseases. In 1983, Ronald Reagan called for draining the swamp of bureaucrats in Washington D.C. while in 2006, Nancy Pelosi wanted to drain the swamp of Republican politicians in the U.S. government. Many other colorful examples can be found in a wonderful summary here.

Despite Donald Trump’s promise to rid the government of career politicians and lobbyists, he has so far named five millionaires and billionaires to his cabinet, including Steven Mnuchin, a Goldman Sachs executive as Secretary of the Treasury, billionaire businessman Wilbur Ross as Secretary of Commerce, billionaire Republican supporter Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s wife Elaine Chao as Secretary of Transportation.

While many Republicans are applauding these recent choices due to their business experience, other conservatives are not so supportive. In a recent interview, conservative radio host Mark Levin complained, “This is not Trump draining the swamp. This is the swamp draining Trump.”

blog-nature-swamp-alligatorDemocratic Senator from Massachusetts Elizabeth Warren was even more blunt in an address two weeks ago. “Trump is not draining the swamp, nope. He’s inviting the biggest, ugliest swamp monsters in the front door, and he’s turning them loose on our government and our economy.”

Many of the cabinet choices require Senate confirmation so these candidates are not officially hired quite yet. In the meantime, we will see if President-elect Trump continues to appoint Washington and Wall Street insiders to this cabinet.

We have several other metaphors based on swamps, marshes and bogs. Here are a few examples for your reading pleasure.

blog-nature-swamp-2
swamped

Many areas of the earth are covered in a mixture of water and soil in areas known as swamps, bogs, marshes or wetlands. Some of these terms are used metaphorically to indicate the difficulty in getting out of complicated situations. In one case, we say we are swamped with work if we cannot keep up with all the tasks that we are required to do at a certain time.

Example: In July 2011, President Obama asked Americans to call their members of Congress if they wanted to make a suggestion on how to reduce the national deficit. As a result, the phones of many Senators and Congresspersons were swamped with calls for several days.

blog-nature-mud-and-bootsbogged down

A bog is a type of marsh, a large area covered in water that is difficult to cross. In a similar sense, a person who cannot make good progress in a situation may be described as being bogged down.

Example: Much to the dismay of American voters, progress in Congress is often bogged down by disagreements between Democrats and Republicans.

 

 

mired

A mire is another word for bog or swamp. Metaphorically, a person who is mired in something cannot make progress in a certain situation.

Example: American politics is commonly mired in ideological differences between liberals and conservatives.

quagmire

A quagmire is another old world meaning a bog or marsh. In common terms, a quagmire is any difficult situation that is almost impossible to get out of.

Example: After the difficulties during the War in Vietnam, many Americans felt in 2003 that the War in Iraq would be another quagmire that would cost millions of dollars and many lives.

blog-nature-quicksand-warningquicksand

Quicksand is an especially dangerous mixture of water and sand that traps a person. The more one moves to get out, the more trapped one becomes. People die every year from being trapped in quicksand. Metaphorically, quicksand refers to any situation that looks safe but is actually a trap or a dangerous situation that one cannot escape from easily.

Example: During the revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa that sprang up in 2011, most Americans were against any military involvement in those areas claiming it would be quicksand for our troops.

*******

To me it seems pretty sad that our government is described both as a swamp of evil creatures and as a place where we cannot easily escape with our lives. One can only hope that the new Trump administration somehow makes improvements in the effectiveness of our government working for the American people.

George Lakoff: “Why Trump?”

blog - George_LakoffToday I would like to share the link to an important blog post by George Lakoff on Donald Trump, simply entitled, “Why Trump?”  As my faithful readers may remember, George Lakoff and Mark Johnson wrote the groundbreaking book, Metaphors We Live By, in 1980 which inspired my research into metaphors. After decades of brilliant research in linguistics and cognition, Lakoff turned his attention to the language of politics. He wrote another landmark book called Don’t Think of an Elephant in 2004 (rev. in 2014) in which he described the differences in the thinking of liberal and conservative politicians. In his recent blog post, he builds on his previous work to explain the rise of Donald Trump. The key tenet of his Elephant book is that most people think about government in conceptual metaphors. To quote a section of his recent blog post this week,

“…we tend to understand the nation metaphorically in family terms: We have founding fathers. We send our sons and daughters to war. We have homeland security. The conservative and progressive worldviews dividing our country can most readily be understood in terms of moral worldviews that are encapsulated in two very different common forms of family life: The Nurturant Parent family (progressive) and the Strict Father family (conservative).”

Lakoff extends his theory to explain the views of the conservatives.

“The strict father logic extends further. The basic idea is that authority is justified by morality (the strict father version), and that, in a well-ordered world, there should be (and traditionally has been) a moral hierarchy in which those who have traditionally dominated should dominate. The hierarchy is: God above Man, Man above Nature, The Disciplined (Strong) above the Undisciplined (Weak), The Rich above the Poor, Employers above Employees, Adults above Children, Western culture above other cultures, Our Country above other countries. The hierarchy extends to: Men above women, Whites above Nonwhites, Christians above nonChristians, Straights above Gays.”

blog - Donald_Trump_August_2015

I can’t summarize the rest of the blog post to do it justice. You will have to read the rest of the article to see Lakoff’s brilliant analysis of Donald Trump. It is a bit long but well worth the effort. It is the most insightful analysis of conservative politics you will ever read. You can access the blog post here.

If you are interested, I have a list of books by Lakoff and Johnson, together and separately, in my Bibliography page on this blog. Lakoff, of course, has links to his other books and blog posts on his website. Please check them out if you have time.  Comments are welcome!

 

Next time: More on Trump

Independence Day Quiz

Hello! Happy 4th of July! Today I will depart from my usual description of metaphors to first talk a little bit about the history of our Independence Day. I am not an expert on American history by any means, but I teach quite a bit of history to my students as they prepare to pass their high school equivalency exams. Here are five questions I ask my students. How well do you know American history?

blog - 4th of July - Artillery_gun_crew-illustration

  1. July 4, 1776 is the day our founding fathers wrote the Declaration of Independence. When was it written in relation to the Revolutionary War? It was:
  • a) before the war
  • b) during the war
  • c) after the war

2.  When was the U.S. Constitution written?

  • a) 1776
  • b) 1781
  • c) 1787
  • d) 1789
  1. The famous phrase, “all men are created equal” is in:
  • a) the Declaration of Independence
  • b) the U.S. Constitution
  • c) the Bill of Rights
  • d) all of the above
  1. When did George Washington, our first president, begin his first term?
  • a) 1776
  • b) 1781
  • c) 1787
  • d) 1789
  1. The Bill of Rights was written:
  • a) to fix the mistakes of the Constitution
  • b) to codify additional rights for U.S. citizens
  • c) to expand the legacy of the founding fathers
  • d) all of the above

Bonus Question

  1. America is the greatest country ever! True or False?

 

  1. B. I remember thinking when I was younger that we must have declared independence after we had won the Revolutionary War against the British. On the contrary, we declared our independence only about a year after the battles of Lexington and Concord in 1775. It was a pretty brave thing to do given the fact that the signers of the Declaration most certainly would have been hanged by the British if the colonists had lost the war. The fighting lasted until the Battle of Yorktown in 1781 but the war was not officially over until the Treaty of Paris was signed in 1783.

blog - 4th of July - Constitution doc

  1. C. The Constitution was not written until 1787. Prior to that, the country was governed through a loose assemblage of laws in each of the colonies directed by the Continental Congress.
  1. A. The phrase “all men are created equal” is part of the Declaration of Independence, not the Constitution although it is in the latter document that most laws and rights are spelled out.

 

 

  1. D. George Washington did not start his presidency until 1789. It took two more years after the Constitution was written before elections were held for the first president.
  1. B. The Constitution was amended within two years of its creation with the writing of the Bill of Rights in 1789, and has been amended a total of 27 times since then. It gave additional rights to U.S. citizens not specified in the Constitution.
  1. To be discussed later…

Why do I bother mentioning these obscure facts? Studying how language is used in politics, it is not hard to notice the contradictions among words and actions in our history and current events. For one thing, I believe we take the notion of independence for granted. Isn’t it sad that we have to talk about independence at all? A country fighting for independence means that another country has taken over its governments, its laws and its people. Why is this taken as commonplace?

blog - 4th of July - Victim_of_Congo_atrocitiesWhile the Colonial Americans were frustrated with the British government for its tax laws and other unfair governmental treatment, they really had it easy. In many regions of Africa, workers were basically enslaved for most of their lives to do the work exploiting their country’s natural resources for the benefit of the colonial governments back in Europe. Workers in the Belgian Congo had their hands chopped off if they did not pick enough cotton to the liking of King Leopold back in Belgium. People in India starved to death as the British forced them to grow crops that were sent back to England. Under apartheid, South African workers worked and died in horrendous conditions of diamond mines, the profits of which went to a few rich white government officials.

As I have mentioned before, I served in the U.S. Peace Corps in Benin, West Africa back in the 1980s. At that time, most African countries had achieved independence only two decades before, and they were struggling under cruel dictatorships that had replaced the cruel colonial governments. They are still recovering from the legacy of greed and exploitation from the colonial era.

blog - 4th of July - slavery whippingThe irony is, of course, that while the colonial Americans were fighting for their independence, the writers of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights were slave owners. The most brilliant political minds of the 18th century created our government, and yet no one noticed that the slaves were “created equal” but not treated equally? It seems incomprehensible to us today. About 100 years later, the Southern states started a civil war to preserve their rights to own slaves. It took a civil war for an open-minded President Lincoln to write the Emancipation Proclamation. But that was not the end of the discrimination against African-Americans. It took a massive civil rights movement in the 1960s to right many of those wrongs in this country. And it was only a few weeks ago that the Confederate battle flag was taken down at public buildings, and that happened only after a horrific tragedy at a church in Charleston, South Carolina.

Geronimo, the Apache chief, 1887
Geronimo, the Apache chief, 1887

Other “less equal” Americans did not fare much better.   Native Americans were treated with respect by the first few presidents, especially Thomas Jefferson. Only a few decades later, discrimination against native peoples began in earnest. In the 1830s, President Andrew Jackson forced the Native Americans of the Southeast states to march the “Trail of Tears” hundreds of miles to reservations in Oklahoma while he and his friends stole their land, their houses, and the gold found in the area. When I was a kid in the 1960s I loved watching the popular Western movies and TV shows in which those “Indian savages” were killed off with abandon in every battle scene, and I rooted for the cowboys. Most Americans thought nothing of it. Native Americans have only recently been treated with any manner of respect by the American government.  It seems that the independence we celebrate today was not for all Americans equally.

The other point is that the American government was not created overnight. Despite the contradictions described above, the model of government created in the Constitution is considered one of the best in the world. The Bill of Rights and the other 17 amendments, furthermore, provide civil rights in a manner many countries fall far short of.   America is still a young country, a mere 239 years old today, while England, for example, just had its 800th birthday judging by the date of the Magna Carta of June 12, 1215 while China can date its history back about 4000 years. Maybe it will take us a while to get things right. In the meantime, however, the foundations of our celebrated democracy are slipping away. More and more of the government seems to be controlled by corporations, given the number of lobbyists in Congress and the Citizens United Supreme Court decision which allows unlimited donations to people running for office, to the point that our government looks more like an oligarchy than a democracy.

And yet, I was reminded of the greatness of the United States just the other night. I awoke about 2 a.m. and realized that our power was off. The house was dark, all the clocks were off, the air conditioning was quiet, and the ceiling fan had stopped spinning. I was not surprised the power had gone off. We have had two straight weeks of temperatures over 100 degrees. Everyone in town has been running their air conditioning non-stop. My wife and I opened the windows to let some cool air in. A wonderful night breeze swept through the house as moonlight flooded the room. I also noticed an odd spotlight across the street. Even at that early hour, the local power company had teams on the street fixing the power. A rumbling diesel truck was parked nearby as a worker was looking over the power lines on our street. Within a half hour, the power was back on.

blog - 4th of July - Faucet2I never take our utilities for granted. While in the Peace Corps, I lived for two years without electricity or running water. During my first dry season, the local well went dry and I barely had enough water to use for bathing, washing dishes or even to drink. Turning on a tap and have potable water pour out is a luxury millions of people around the world do not enjoy. Having electricity available 24/7 is another luxury. In some countries, brownouts or blackouts are common. Power outages may last hours, days or weeks. And spotlights and rumbling trucks on our streets in the middle of the night simply mean that someone is fixing our utilities. In other countries, it may mean a death squad is coming to get your family.

Despite our failures in the past, the United States has excellent technological resources, infrastructure (although definitely aging), and communications, among other 21st century benefits. We also have great freedoms – we can live and work wherever we like, worship as we choose, speak and write whatever we like, etc., all freedoms citizens in many other countries do not enjoy.

So is the United States the greatest country ever? If you listen to conservative talk radio and television news shows, you might be persuaded that it is. Certainly, we have our good points. In addition to our mistreatment of minorities described above, we also have the greatest income inequality, the highest poverty rates, the highest incarceration rates, the highest healthcare costs, and some of the lowest rates for reading, math and science scores compared to the rest of the industrialized world, just to name a few shortcomings. Clearly we still have some work to do before we can be considered the greatest country ever.

The Vietnam War Memorial in Washington D.C.
The Vietnam War Memorial in Washington D.C.

So as we celebrate our independence today, keep in mind our checkered past and the hope that all Americans can truly be independent some day. And let’s not forget our service men and women over the last 239 years who have fought and died to preserve our way of life here in these United States.

Back to the reasons for writing this blog, what do metaphors have to do with the 4th of July? Here are a few examples of metaphors based on revolutions and preparing for war.

revolt

Wars can be started for many different reasons. One way is when people revolt against their government. In common terms, people can revolt against any group of people or organization. In politics, a party can revolt against its own members or another party in office.

Example: In 2008, some conservatives revolted against the Republican Party and started their own Tea Party.

The Surrender of Lord Cornwallis (Yorktown, 1781), by John Trumbull, 1820
The Surrender of Lord Cornwallis (Yorktown, 1781), by John Trumbull, 1820

insurgent

As with a revolt, people may fight against their own government. These people may be called insurgents. In politics, people who want to have different policies or programs than their own parties or government may also be called insurgents.

 

Example: In 2010, some insurgent Democrats voted with Republicans on key bills in Congress.

uneasy truce

To prevent a war from beginning, countries sometimes create an alliance or truce so that they do not fight each other. If tensions arise between the two countries, there may be an uneasy truce. In politics, two parties may also have an uneasy alliance while working on a difficult national issue.

Example: After the 2008 economic crisis, Barack Obama made an uneasy truce with the Wall Street bankers who caused the crisis but needed help to keep the economy from getting any worse.

Camp Union in Pennsylvania during the Civil War
Camp Union in Pennsylvania during the Civil War

camp

Military forces often set up an encampment or camp to prepare for battle. In politics, a group of campaign workers or strategists may be called a camp.

 

 

Example: In the 2012 Republican primary campaigns, the Mitt Romney camp traded criticisms with the Newt Gingrich camp.

pay tribute

Historically, when an army took control of a city or town, the local people often had to pay a tax or tribute to the new government. Later the phrase came to mean a paying a compliment to a person or group for what they have achieved.

Example: When Barack Obama was elected the first African-American president of the United States, he paid tribute to civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr. for opening doors for him.

bulwark

A bulwark is a wall made of thick wood as part of a fortification of a city. In modern times, the word bulwark is used metaphorically to mean something that provides defense against a verbal or ideological attack.

Example: Some conservative politicians use their Christian faith as a bulwark against laws that condone abortions.

war chest

Historically, the money needed to finance a war on the battlefield was kept in a large chest that traveled with the commanding officers. Metaphorically, the phrase war chest now indicates the amount of money that a candidate has to finance his or her election campaign.

Example: Although John McCain had a large war chest when he ran for president in 2008, he did not win the election.

arsenal

An arsenal is the total quantity of weapons a military possesses. In politics, candidates can have an arsenal of complaints or attacks against their opponents.

Example: In the 2012 Republican primary, critics of New Gingrich launched an arsenal of attacks against his past record as former Speaker of the House.

blog - 4th of July - Kentucky's long riflearmed with ideas

When a soldier carries a weapon, we can say that he or she is armed. Metaphorically, a person can also be armed with ideas to be used in an argument.

Example: In a presidential debate, candidates must be armed with many ideas they can use to explain their policies and answer the moderators’ questions.

ammunition

Ammunition is the quantity of bullets used in a gun. Ammunition can also metaphorically indicate ideas or facts to fight against someone in an argument.

Example: A candidate in an election must not make a factual mistake in a speech. This mistake can be used as ammunition against him or her by opponents in future debates.

Next time: More Political Speeches

 

More Metaphors on Immigration

Hello!  Sorry for my delayed posts the past couple weeks.  This is the end of the quarter at my college.  I have been swamped with lesson plans and committee meetings, mired in tests and grading and behind on my paperwork.  I have also been trying to keep up with my family obligations and stay on top of paying bills and other household chores. — Isn’t it amazing how many metaphors we use in every day speech?

Back to the blog, I would like to offer a belated analysis of President Obama’s speech on immigration a few weeks ago.  At first glance, it may seem that there were not many political metaphors in the speech.  However, there were quite a few metaphors that reveal how politicians – and most Americans – think about immigration issues and government policies in general.  All of the quotations today are from the speech itself.  Italics are mine.  You can read the entire speech here at:

http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2014/11/20/remarks-president-address-nation-immigration

Containers/Light and Dark

President Obama took pains to describe how immigrants felt if they did not yet have green cards or their citizenship.  Whether or not they came here illegally or had been born to illegal immigrant parents, these immigrants were described as being locked in containers or trapped in cages.  Here are a few examples:

blog - immigration - Lobster_traptrap

In a common hunting metaphor, one way to capture and kill a wild animal is to set a trap for it.  A person can leave a trap baited with food, and when the animal enters the cage to eat the food, the animal is trapped.  In common terms, when someone is caught in a trap, he or she is not able to exit from a situation. In terms of the immigration debate, President Obama refers to immigrants not being trapped by their past, but who can create a new future for themselves. The implication is that illegal immigrants in the U.S. today are indeed trapped by their circumstances.

Example:  “For more than 200 years, our tradition of welcoming immigrants from around the world has given us a tremendous advantage over other nations. It’s kept us youthful, dynamic, and entrepreneurial. It has shaped our character as a people with limitless possibilities – people not trapped by our past, but able to remake ourselves as we choose.”

come out

            When a container is filled with solid or liquid materials, it is a common experience to see these materials coming out of the container when it is used. To say something or someone is coming out, it indicates that it or they are being released from a confining situation.

Example: “…students who bravely come out as undocumented in hopes they could make a difference in a country they love.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAcome out of the shadows

A shadow is caused by something or someone blocking sunlight. In English the word shadow can have two meanings.  For one, someone in another person’s shadow is trying to be as good as that person who came before him or her.  Secondly, someone working in the shadows is thought to be doing something bad or illegal.  To say that someone is coming out of the shadows implies the person has been doing something immoral or illegal.  President Obama used this expression in several different ways.

Example: In describing the immigration activist Astrid Silva,  “…she mostly lived in the shadows – until her grandmother, who visited every year from Mexico, passed away, and she couldn’t travel to the funeral without risk of being found out and deported.”

Example: “And undocumented immigrants who desperately want to embrace those responsibilities see little option but to remain in the shadows…”

Example:  After describing the benefits of his new executive order:  “…you’ll be able to apply to stay in this country temporarily, without fear of deportation.  You can come out of the shadows and get right with the law.”

Clothing

            Social situations are sometimes described metaphorically as fabric as if they are part of a piece of cloth.  While fabric can be used as clothing which can be a strong, protective covering, it can also be something that is weak and can be torn or ripped apart.  Metaphorically we see all of these conditions described in political situations.

fabric

Clothing is made out of material or fabric.  The concept of fabric can also be used to describe something very broad that is held together by many threads running in different directions.

Example:  “I know that some worry immigration will change the very fabric of who we are, or take our jobs, or stick it to middle-class families at a time when they already feel like they’ve gotten the raw end of the deal for over a decade.”

blog - immigration - ripped jeanstear apart

Example:  “And undocumented immigrants who desperately want to embrace those responsibilities see little option but to remain in the shadows, or risk their families being torn apart.”

 

ripping children from their parents

Example:  “Are we a nation that accepts the cruelty of ripping children from their parents’ arms?  Or are we a nation that values families, and works to keep them together?”

Houses and Machines

build

We commonly describe the creation of something abstract as if it is something physical we are building.  This usage can apply literally to buildings, machines or any physical object, while metaphorically the verb to build can apply to any abstract process or social relationship.

Example:  “First, we’ll build on our progress at the border with additional resources for our law enforcement personnel so that they can stem the flow of illegal crossings, and speed the return of those who do cross over.”  [Note the use of the river metaphor here stem the flow, discussed in an earlier post.]

blog - immigration - broken pistonbroken

Fragile objects and machines can be described as broken if they are no longer intact or do not function properly.  Once a machine is broken, someone must make the effort to fix it.  President Obama described our immigration program as being broken and needing to be fixed.

Example:  “But today, our immigration system is broken, and everybody knows it.”

 

fix 

Example:  “When I took office, I committed to fixing this broken immigration system.”

Example:  “I worked with Congress on a comprehensive fix, and last year, 68 Democrats, Republicans, and Independents came together to pass a bipartisan bill in the Senate.” 

Games and Rules

blog - immigration - play by the rulesplay by the rules

Whenever a game is played, the participants must agree to set of rules to avoid arguments and controversies during the game.  Anyone who cheats or does not follow the rules is not respected and usually not asked to play the game after that point.  In politics, candidates, government officials and businesses must play by the rules of their particular state or government with respect for the other people involved.  In discussions of immigration, people from other countries must play by the rules in order to obtain citizenship.

Example:  “Families who enter our country the right way and play by the rules watch others flout the rules.”

blog - immigration - straight lineright/straight

            Just as in the concept of playing by the rules in a game, we can also describe being right or straight in one’s behavior.  This common metaphor is derived from our experiences with shapes and lines.  When a line is drawn directly from one point to another, we say that the line is straight.  Describing something that is straight implies that it is true, clear and direct.  The word right also has its origins in describing a straight line.  President Obama often referred to proper behavior by illegal immigrants is by being straight or right with the law while referring to honest behavior as simply being straight as well.

Example:  “And let’s be honest – tracking down, rounding up, and deporting millions of people isn’t realistic. Anyone who suggests otherwise isn’t being straight with you.”

Example:  “You can come out of the shadows and get right with the law.”

Example:  “Are we a nation that tolerates the hypocrisy of a system where workers who pick our fruit and make our beds never have a chance to get right with the law?”

Journeys

pathway to citizenship

A path is a small, narrow road.  Metaphorically, we speak of a path as being a process or a way to achieve a goal.  There is also a similar term pathway that is yet another word indicating a manner of doing something.  The process of becoming an American citizen is often described as being a pathway to citizenship.

Example:   “I worked with Congress on a comprehensive fix, and last year, 68 Democrats, Republicans, and Independents came together to pass a bipartisan bill in the Senate. It wasn’t perfect. It was a compromise, but it reflected common sense. It would have doubled the number of border patrol agents, while giving undocumented immigrants a pathway to citizenship if they paid a fine, started paying their taxes, and went to the back of the line.”

blog - immigration - Pathway_at_Udayagiri_Park

In summary, even though there were not many metaphors in President Obama’s speech on immigration, there were a few examples that reveal how we think about these important issues. Most of us know that illegal immigrants are living in the shadows while liberals and conservatives seem to disagree on whether or not they should come out of the shadows and become citizens or if they should be deported. We also compare our immigration system to a broken machine that needs to be fixed as if it is an old car engine.  But to fix this machine the immigrants must play by the rules as if it is a football game, and be right with the law as if they are walking on a straight line.  If the immigrants succeed they can be on a pathway or journey to becoming American citizens.

Most of us believe that immigrants, whether legal or illegal, add a valuable amount of diversity and hard work to the fabric of our economy and our society.  My own ancestors come from Ireland, France and Sweden.  I think most of us – unless we are Native Americans – can trace our heritage back to other countries.  Let us celebrate our diversity!

Next time:  Metaphors of Physical Forces in Economics