DW: Ms. Wehling, how does language affect election results?
Elisabeth Wehling: Language affects election results because any true democratic togetherness is organized primarily via language. We have television debates, we read newspapers, and politicians tell us what they want to do. Any democratic coorporation is fundamentally built on how we connect via language. And, language isn’t an abstract thing that has no connection to our body or the world, it’s tangible. It is processed in the brain, it’s part of the body, it’s physical. Which is part of why it is such a strong tool.
What has Trump done right in his campaign?
Part of it is social media. On Twitter, he uses simple language with a lot of vivid imagery. He will not talk about patriotism; he will talk about Americans “bleeding the same red blood of patriots”. It’s not a coincidence that he didn’t say “Let’s minimize immigration from Mexico,” he said “Let’s build a wall.” Strong images and a simple language on Twitter became an extremely important tool for him. Moreover, the majority of our every political cognition is based on metaphors. Prices aren’t “falling” or “rising”, they don’t go anywhere. We say they fall and rise because of the metaphor that “more” is “up”. Trump is a master of metaphors. And metaphors can hide and highlight things. They can hide truths. They can imply a lot of implicit cognitive biases. Trump has been doing a good job with framing. He has strong stories about questions like: What makes a good citizen? Why?
Elisabeth Wehling is a political thought and language researcher at the University of California, Berkeley.
Your work focuses on the idea of “framing”. What does it mean?
Think of a picture frame: You highlight what’s inside the frame and you hide whatever is outside. We have similar structures in our mind. Specific aspects of a situation are highlighted, others are hidden. Political parties endorse different frames when they discuss issues like labor or…