George Lakoff on How to Frame Disturbing Political News

George Lakoff Advice for Political Stress

Guidelines from a cognitive scientist about how to deal with what's happening in our country.

Originally, this was a post I shared on Facebook describing what a friend learned when she saw the well-known UC Prof of Linguistics and Cognitive Science  George Lakoff  (UC Prof of Linguistics and Cognitive Science) speak on Sunday, Jan 29 as part of the Praxis Peace Institute speaker series.

George Lakoff Top Ten

When I first wrote this simple top ten list, it immediately soared to the top of my "most clicked" posts. It has gotten more traffic than anything else I've ever posted. I think it's a testament to how much we are all looking for clear, simple coping advice for our current American political turmoil. 

1. Don't use his name.

2. Remember this is a regime and he's not acting alone.

3. Do not argue with those who support him. It doesn't work.

4. Focus on his policies, not his orange-ness and mental state.

5. Keep your message positive; they want the country to be angry and fearful because this is the soil from which their darkest policies will grow.

6. No more helpless/hopeless talk.

7. Support artists and the arts.

8. Be careful not to spread fake news. Check it.

9. Take care of yourselves; and

10. Resist!

To dig into Lakoff, start with Don't Think of an Elephant.

Since this top ten list went viral and suddenly got a lot of attention, I added this followup to set the record straight.

Update after Viral Explosion - Feb 8, 2017

This list and post has gone viral on Facebook (including a 4K share attributing his points to Coretta Scott King) and as a result Professor Lakoff has made this statement:

"The 10-point list going around, attributed to me, is not quite accurate. I'll be back soon with something better."

As soon as Professor Lakoff fine tunes these points, I'll be adjusting and amending accordingly here. Stay tuned.

And then - Feb 9, 2017

In response to me about the list: "It’s quite alright! We want good, hopeful ideas to go viral. You could not have anticipated the response would be so massive. It’s a good sign that goods ideas can travel. The key is to produce more of them. Thank you for your effort. And enjoy this Washington Post story, which attributes the list to Bernice King…"

Final Update — February 10, 2017


Professor Lakoff has now released his official list! He calls it “Ten Points for Democracy Activists.” Here’s it is:

Ten points for Democracy Activists by George Lakoff

  1. To understand the basic issues, read:
    A Minority President: Why the Polls Failed, And What the Majority Can Do
  2. Know the difference between framing and propaganda: Frames are mental structures used in thought; every thought uses frames. Every word in every language is defined relative to a mental structure — a frame. Frames, in themselves, are unavoidable and neutral. Honest framing is the use of frames you believe and that are used to express truths. Propaganda expresses lies that propagandists know are lies for the sake of political or social advantage
  3. Hold Republicans accountable. Trump is dominating the media, partly to establish his authority, but mainly to divert attention and provide cover to Republican leaders. Keep focused on Republican actions. Minimize publicizing Trump — his image, his name, his tweets.
  4.  Focus attention on substance, not sideshows. Trump’s attacks on freedom, democracy, and the innocent matter more than his tweets. Positively and strongly reframe his pre-emptive framing.
  5. Focus on democracy and freedom. In a government by, for, and of the people, there is, or should be, no distinction between the public and the government. The consequences are:
    1. Empathy: government should care about, and for, the public
    2. Transparency: government should inform the public truthfully;
    3. Freed om and Opportunity: the private depends on public resources, both for private enterprise and private life. For example, if you’re not educated, you’re not free. If you have no health care, you’re not free. If you’re impoverished, you lack opportunity.
    4. Republicans are destroying all of these by: Removing “regulations,” which are public protections; Imposing gag rules and budget cuts on government agencies removes transparency; Privatizing education, protection, communication, infrastructure, nature; etc. are attacks on freedom) 
  6. Be careful not to spread fake news. Check it out, on the “big four” non-partisan political fact-checkers —, the Washington Post’s Fact Checker, and Subscribe to real news.
  7. Understand the brain’s politics: All ideas are physical, embodied in neural circuitry. The more the circuitry is activated, the stronger the circuitry gets and the more deeply the ideas are held. Worldviews are complex neural circuits fixed in the brain. People can only understand what fits the neural circuitry in their brains. Real facts can be filtered out by worldviews. “Alternative facts” are lies — falsehoods that follow from ideologies that are fixed, that define one’s identity and so are taken as ‘higher truths.”
  8.  Remember: We’re the POWERFUL American Majority. No more helpless/hopeless talk. Anger, fear and cynicism benefit Trump’s GOP. Remember: Don’t think of an elephant! Don’t use Republican language, or repeat their positions, even to negate them. Frame using ideas you believe and real facts that are contextualized and morally framed. Avoid isolated facts and numbers. The best resistance is positive persistence.
  9. Be positive: frame all issues from a progressive moral viewpoint. Take the viewpoint of the public good, not corporate profiteering. Take the viewpoint of the impoverished and weak, not the rich and powerful. Take the viewpoint of preservation, not the destruction of nature.
  10. Join the Citizens’ Communication Network: until it is officially functioning, you can unofficially join by following me on Facebook ( and Twitter (@GeorgeLakoff) for regular thoughts and updates.

Highly recommended background reading: The ALL NEW Don’t Think of an Elephant! and Moral Politics, 3rd edition.

Originally published Feb 3, 2017. Updated Aug 18, 2017.