How to weaponize Republicans' words

It's far past time to stop calling the GOP the party of "family values"

By Chauncey DeVega

Senior Writer

Published May 3, 2023 6:05AM (EDT)

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) speaks to supporters of former U.S. President Donald Trump at the Banks County Dragway on March 26, 2022 in Commerce, Georgia. (Megan Varner/Getty Images)
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) speaks to supporters of former U.S. President Donald Trump at the Banks County Dragway on March 26, 2022 in Commerce, Georgia. (Megan Varner/Getty Images)

"Repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth." This is one of the primary rules of a successful propaganda operation. Today's Republican Party and "conservative" movement and their propagandists across the right-wing echo chamber use that principle to great effect. To wit: the Republican Party is not in fact "the party of family values." In reality, today's Republican Party and "conservative" movement are the enemies of the American family and children.

The most recent example is the manufactured debt ceiling "crisis," where House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and the other Republicans in Congress are holding the country hostage by threatening to default on the federal government's financial obligations unless their austerity policies such as draconian cuts to healthcare, education, veteran's benefits, Medicaid, food stamps, housing assistance, and other programs are forced into place. In all, if the Republicans get their way the country's already weak social safety will be further gutted and even more money will be transferred from the American people and up to the moneyed classes and corporations. Ailen Arreaza, the Executive Director of ParentsTogether, explained how the Republican Party's proposed budget cuts will hurt America's families and children and is part of a much larger neofascist and anti-democracy campaign:

It's important that we look at the actions of elected officials, not just their words. Republican politicians keep telling us that "parents matter", but their actions tell a different story – one about a country that prioritizes the few over the many, and where the ultra-wealthy and corporations get all the breaks, while most families struggle to get by. They want us to think it's our fault. But it's not. It's their systemic failure to champion policies that give families the tools they need to succeed – things like access to affordable child care and paid leave. 

Parents have myriad challenges, but if you look at Republicans' actions and priorities, including in Speaker McCarthy's recent budget proposal, they're not trying to solve those challenges. They're trying to create new ones. They're trying to pit parents against each other, and parents against teachers, and restrict our children's freedom to be themselves, and learn openly, and thrive. They're trying to distract us with culture wars and budget arguments, while they strip away public goods and dismantle public education systems that enable children and families to succeed, and that feed a healthy multi-racial democracy.

Republicans talk about parental rights because they want to scare us into thinking our rights are at risk rather than doing anything to actually support our right to raise a family freely and with dignity. But the truth is that most parents support solutions that center the needs of families in this country – the types of policies that allow us to love and care for our children the way they deserve. If and when we advance these solutions, not only will families be better off for it, so will our country.

Today's Republicans and "conservatives" show their contempt and hostility towards the American family – and in particular children and other vulnerable people – in many other ways as well.

As part of a nationwide plan, Republicans in states such as Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas, Wisconsin, Ohio, and elsewhere are trying to get rid of child labor laws. Such outcomes will leave children vulnerable to financial and all manner of exploitation and danger.

Democrats, centrist liberals and progressives consistently amplify the Republican Party's branding and lies.

Republicans and the other neofascists and larger white right are also committing intellectual violence against children and other young people by enacting an Orwellian thought crime regime across the country that involves censorship and banning books, and harassing teachers, librarians, and other educators for not being sufficiently "patriotic" (i.e. "Christian" and "pro-white") because they dare to teach the real history and real facts and real truth(s) about America's complex past and present.

And of course, because today's Republicans and so-called conservatives are authoritarians who are involved in a fascist project that is working to end multiracial pluralistic democracy and society, they deem some families (and children and parents) to be inherently more valuable and worthy of human respect and dignity than others.

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During a recent congressional hearing Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene recently said that adopted parents and other parents through marriage or other non-biological relationships are not real parents -- and by implication families.

Republican Montana state Rep. Kerri Seekins-Crowe said during a debate in March that she would want her transgender child to commit suicide rather than live as her best true self by following through with gender-affirming surgery. Seekins-Crowe went so far as to publicly say that "One of the big issues that we have heard today and we've talked about lately is that without surgery the risk of suicide goes way up. Well, I am one of those parents who lived with a daughter who was suicidal for three years… "Someone once asked me, 'Wouldn't I just do anything to help save her?' And I really had to think and the answer was, 'No.'"

Under the Trump regime, a system of concentration camps was created as part of a larger regime of white supremacist terror where Black and brown migrants and refugees had their children stolen from them by the federal government through a program euphemistically described as "family separation".

In Florida, Texas, and across other parts of red state America, the Republicans and their agents are enacting laws that allow for transgender children to be stolen away from their parents by the state and other "concerned" parties.

Unfortunately, instead of consistently confronting, exposing, and debunking the lie that the Republican Party represents "family values," most Democrats, liberals, and progressives (and the mainstream news media and larger political class, more generally) simply repeat such claims without correction or other intervention.

There are many other examples of this error in strategy such as how the Democrats and centrist liberals and progressives consistently amplify the Republican Party's branding and lies that they are "pro-life" and represent (and have a monopoly on) "patriotism", "national security", "real America", "law and order", "small business", "entrepreneurship", "opportunity" and "freedom." Almost all of this right-wing branding is easily shown to not be true – even more so in the Age of Trump and ascendant neofascism.

On the power of correct language and framing, cognitive linguist and philosopher George Lakoff explained in an excellent 2018 interview with Sean Illing at Vox how:

I wrote a book called Don't Think of an Elephant, which makes the point that if you negate a frame, you activate the frame. When Trump says something and people working in the media deny it, they're helping him. But they don't realize that they're helping him.

There's another possibility. Journalists could engage in what I've called "truth sandwiches," which means that you first tell the truth; then you point out what the lie is and how it diverges from the truth. Then you repeat the truth and tell the consequences of the difference between the truth and the lie.

If the media did this consistently, it would matter. It would be more difficult for Trump to lie….

Well, not just talk about the truth he's trying to suppress. The truth sandwich is more than that. It shows the difference between the truth and what he's saying — putting the truth first, and then putting it afterward, and talking about its consequences.

People say, "Oh, well, here's the real fact." That doesn't really matter because Trump is getting his frame out there first. What he's trying to do in each of the tweets he sends out is to frame something first and then repeat it.

Notice that when you repeat something, you're strengthening it in people's brains. The more a neural circuit is activated, the stronger it gets. Trump is using certain communicative tactics that are very sophisticated and he doesn't realize it….

[T]here's still a question of what the media's job is.

Many journalists still assume that language is neutral, that you can just repeat language and it's completely neutral. In fact, language is never neutral. Language is always framed in a certain way, and it always has consequences.

If in the process of reporting, you simply repeat the language Trump is using, you're missing what's going on.

In a recent post on Twitter, Lakoff offered these insights as well:

When you repeat a lie, even to debunk it, you help to strengthen and spread the lie. When you negate a frame, you evoke the frame. Remember this when someone provokes you with an absurd lie. Are you falling into a trap?

When the Republicans and their spokespeople and other propagandists say that they are "pro-life," Democrats should counter with "No, you are pro-forced birth and pro-forced pregnancy and pro-rape."

When they say that, "They are the party of law and order and national security and patriotism" intervene with "No, you are the party of a traitor president who attempted a coup on Jan. 6 and that the Republicans and their media are still in thrall to him and helping his war on democracy."

When the Republicans and their spokespeople and other propagandists say that they are "defenders of family values" counter with "No, you put in place polices that actually hurt families and parents and children and here are the many examples…."

To uncritically repeat the Republican Party's and its forces and allies' lies and other untruths is a choice. The Democrats, the mainstream news media and other opinion leaders and people with a public platform can easily decide to not do so. Unfortunately, most of them will choose to proceed with bad and lazy habits that only empower the Republican Party and its war on democracy, freedom, and a good and humane society - and reality itself.

Language helps to create reality as much, if not more so, than it just reflects it. In that way, the Republican Party and the larger right wing are very lucky to have their supposed opposition and enemies in the Democratic Party and on "the left" helping them in their decades-long campaign to create what is a new American fascist dream-nightmare.

By Chauncey DeVega

Chauncey DeVega is a senior politics writer for Salon. His essays can also be found at He also hosts a weekly podcast, The Chauncey DeVega Show. Chauncey can be followed on Twitter and Facebook.

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