Right now there seems to be no common agreement in our country about what kind of future we want. Just keeping up with the news is deeply depressing for us. But the other day I had two insights. The first: the country we were on November 7, 2016 is still very much alive, even though it’s hard to believe sometimes. The second: Trump’s policies and the GOP agenda fail to make basic “common sense.” They may be trying to do the bidding of their corporate masters and those hardcore Trump voters, but the GOP/Trump axis is making a hash of it. Reactions to the House “American Health Care Act” (the “Anti-Health Care” bill), Trump’s DOA budget, and our Paris Accord exit make this crystal clear. Trump and the GOP can push “alternative facts” all they want, but real facts have a way of biting back. That’s why I suggest we start talking now about “building a common sense American future.”
Note that I said “common sense,” not “common future.” This is an important framing distinction right now. We must focus on the way the Trump/ GOP agenda lacks rock bottom “common sense.” Here are a few of the most obvious examples: A. Throwing huge numbers of citizens off any kind of health insurance, even Medicaid, when the health care sector is one of the few, non- automated local job engines left in our country is just plain stupid, as well as cruel. A recent New York Times article explains in detail how destroying this system would also damage health care for the rich.
B. In similar vein, turning INS agents loose on workers without papers who are picking our food in the fields right now is a “cut off your nose to spite your face kind of policy.”(1) Deporting innocent workers without papers and innocent parents without papers, throwing vast numbers of their American-born children into our overwhelmed, abusive foster care system, will cost us and those American children big in every way.
Or how about C.: passing huge tax cuts for the super rich and corporations, with the idea that they will use it to create jobs , when they are already sitting on piles of idle cash overseas to avoid any kind of tax at all, to the tune of literally 11Trillion, according to The Economist (April29, 2017). The idea that tax cuts for the rich create jobs has also long been widely discredited by economists . And the GOP’s love of austerity economics and destroying the welfare state shows they don’t understand how the U.S. economy actually works, since consumer spending is roughly 70% of it. (For a close to the ground look at what austerity economics has done to a state, take a look at Kansas. You can also see what just happened in Kansas to back off austerity here.
Then there’s #D: Trump’s idea to sell off half of the U.S. oil reserve as well as open our national lands to fossil fuel drilling? This is happening at the same time OPEC has decided again to limit the oil supply to keep the price per barrel up. Moreover, we know that despite U.S .threats to climate action, China, India, and many other countries around the world are moving aggressively away from fossil fuel energy. Now that Trump has taken the U.S. out of the Paris Accord, they are really going to “eat our lunch,” as the business slang goes. It’s a recipe for economic disaster for the U.S. to fall so far behind in the new global energy economy. (See note  below for new language suggestions for talking about this.)
Finally there’s #E on my short list of the most obvious clunkers: Jeff Sessions’ attempt to revive the expensive and unsuccessful drug war. This is a step so far out of touch with reality that it is even too much for Republican Senator Rand Paul, who with his Democratic colleague Senator Leahy, has introduced a bipartisan bill to rein in Session’s plan. Said Senator Leahy, “This is not a Republican or Democrat idea, this is a common sense idea.”
So let’s take our cue from Senator Leahy by calling for a “common sense U.S. future” In the face of so much obvious crackpot folly in D.C., the importance of our deeply rooted American value, common sense, has powerful new relevance today. We already have a vigorous and growing nonviolent resistance, in tandem with a flourishing new progressive movement. Both make common sense now and could do even more with effective framing. We know that last year’s winning campaign slogan “Make America great again” was just another big lie from an incompetent candidate. What he is actually doing is “making America a mess again.” “Building a common sense U.S. future “ sounds a lot more like the clean, safe, smart, practical, prosperous, and innovative America most of us want. Let’s put it out there now, and keep hammering away with it, until we’ve got our country back on the right track again.(3)
Susan C. Strong, Ph.D., is the Founder and Executive Director of The Metaphor Project, http://www.metaphorproject.org, and author of our book, Move Our Message: How to Get America’s Ear. The Metaphor Project has been helping progressives mainstream their messages since 1997. Follow Susan on Twitter @SusanCStrong and check out her TEDx talk too.
(1) “Workers without papers”/parents without papers is the frame I suggest we use instead of “undocumented” workers and parents. Why? Because if you start the phrase with “undocumented,” you have already lost the battle to put the focus on the fact they are workers and parents.
(2) Well informed advocates have come up with the following new language for talking about climate protection action right now: “energy investments, resilience, sustainable resilience, national security, countering mass migrations.”
(3) Of course, I haven’t said anything here about exactly what “a common sense future” platform would contain, except for mentioning the criminal justice reforms Senators Paul and Leahy propose to protect. It would definitely be wise for framers of a detailed “common sense platform” to include broadly accepted American policy ideas. No doubt Democrats running in contested districts in ’18 will find plenty of that kind of material to hand locally. Then the overall frame coulding become “building a common sense future for our (city, county, state, or nation).