Narratives in politics | In Focus |

We need the ability to discern – and it’s a skill sadly lacking these days

We all employ narratives when we tell others about ourselves. These narratives, or stories, shape how people view us. One of the narratives I use about myself tells how I joined a religious cult when I was 16 and left it when I was 23. Another describes being a social studies teacher for 44 years. These narratives form a picture of who I am. The term for this is “framing a narrative.”

The important issue about framing narratives in politics is that sometimes one might try to shape their opponent’s narrative to cause people to vote a certain way — against one politician or party and toward another. Often this type of narrative is inaccurate and deceptive. By becoming aware of the narratives, we can become more discerning.

The Biden administration has framed its narrative by contrasting the struggle between autocracy and democracy. Biden and the Democrats believe in preserving our democracy while Republicans believe and encourage autocracy — one man rule. To vote for the Democrats, they say, means to protect ourselves from creeping dictatorship of the right wing. To be a Democrat means to care for the middle class, minorities and the poor while Republicans only care about serving the 1 percent and big corporations.

The Republicans’ narrative is that Democrats and the left wing stole the 2020 election. They did this by having a lot of undocumented immigrants vote illegally, they allege. Democrats stuffed the ballot boxes to swell their numbers. They got a lot of poor and minorities to vote, people who really didn’t understand the issues or were too lazy or stupid to vote on their own. They were not“quality voters.”

As a result, in states with Republican governors and legislatures, measures have been introduced and laws have been passed to protect the nation against widespread fraud.

The conservative narrative about the Jan. 6 riot is that the liberal media made a big deal about a minor event or that the demonstration was carried out by Antifa and Black Lives Matter, not Trump supporters.

Republicans, as part of their narrative, say they strongly support the police and denigrate Black Lives Matter demonstrators. Yet, paradoxically, 21 Republican House members voted against giving Medals of Congress to Capitol police for their struggle to protect those members from injury and death. In doing so, these Republican Representatives reject Jan. 6 as an insurrection.

The Democratic narrative is that Jan. 6 was an insurrection — an attempt to overthrow the 2020 election results and keep Donald Trump as president. Trump instigated and encouraged his followers for months to come to Washington D.C. to “stop the steal.” His words encouraged the storming of the U.S. Capitol and the death of seven people, two of them Capitol police. Trump committed impeachable offenses for which he should have been removed from office.

Democrats painted the COVID-19 outbreak as a pandemic that caused the death of more than 600,000 Americans, especially minorities. They have advocated the wearing of masks, maintenance of social distancing and vaccinations for all eligible Americans.

Republicans, in their narrative, diminish the danger of COVID by arguing that it was only a little worse than the average yearly flu outbreaks and, by example, encouraged people to demand their freedom not to wear masks and to gather in large numbers despite health warnings to the contrary. One conservative commentator I listened to noted that small business owners, mainly Trump supporters, were the most damaged by draconian Democratic health restrictions. It was an attempt by Democratic governors to destroy and impoverish Trump’s base.

Both Republicans and Democrats will mostly agree with how I framed their narratives. The problem is for the discerning to determine what is true and what is false. How is that “truth” arrived at?

Is your truth based on what science teaches and what we see with our own eyes, or is it based on the claims of Republican leaders such as Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Kevin McCarthy? Your answer to these questions reflects your own narrative framing. The challenge for all of us requires discernment – a skill sadly lacking in our era. Contrasts make us smarter and make us think – if we let them.