George Lakoff George Lakoff

Maybe it's not what President Trump is doing, it's the way that he is saying it that is creating such a backlash. A leading expert on linguistics and how the metaphor can influence us, has made some observations that may throw light on why politics has become so polarised.

George Lakoff co-wrote the book: 'The metaphors we live by.' He suggests that a metaphor is not just a figure of speech, it is literal. He once said: "The essence of the metaphor is understanding and experiencing one kind of thing in terms of another." Take as an example the words we use when discussing an argument, he said we apply the metaphor: war. So we might say: "He attacked every weak point in my argument" or "you disagree, shoot," or "his criticisms were bang on target."

But an argument can be an effective way to explore ideas. If we applied metaphors that emphasised an argument as a way to collaboratively get at the truth, we may develop a quite different mindset. Lakoff asks us to imagine a culture "where arguments are not viewed in terms of war, where no one wins or loses, where there is no sense of attacking or defending." He says instead imagine a culture where we use the metaphor for dancing applied to an argument, and the participants are seen as performers, and the goal is to perform in a balanced and aesthetically pleasing way.

If we did, we may see the world differently.

Maybe you can explain political differences in terms of the metaphor.

Lakoff says that a conservative mindset applies different metaphors than a liberal mindset.

And that takes us to President Trump. When, in his inaugural speech, the President said: "I will never let you down," Mr Lakoff says he was appealing to the conservatives who may put high emphasis on families and see a father as a strong, protecting influence who emphasises discipline and strong morals. A liberal, by contrast, who may put more emphasis on the nurturing role of families, may be somewhat irritated by the comments of President Trump, seeing them as authoritarian.

Mr Lakoff also took a look at President Trump's plans to reduce regulation and suggests that our reaction would be very different if we substituted the word regulation with the word protections, but which has a very similar meaning.

He said:"Imagine our minority President saying out loud that he intends to get rid of 75 per cent of public protections. Imagine the press reporting that. Imagine the NY Times, or even the USA Today headline: Trump to Eliminate 75 per cent of Public Protections. Imagine the media listing, day after day, the protections to be eliminated and the harms to be faced by the public." So, if instead of saying regulations of new drugs are being cut, we said that the public protections from new drugs are being cut, the public reaction would be very different.

Returning to the point about the difference between conservatives and liberals we can see how it is hard for them to reach agreement, they may interpret the subconscious metaphors we apply in quite different ways.