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I’m not running for president. I thought I should say that since most Democrats will be by summer. I am, however, pretending to run for president. It’s an entirely “faux” campaign; there was no filing, I’m not collecting money and I don’t have a committee. It’s just me posting issues. Like usual.

There is a point to it, though. I want to see where debates can go without the influence of money, when there is no press to cover what I said, why, or where I said it. It is an experiment to see if we can reframe the debates in which we are so at odds.

What has happened is that we are drawing straight lines from our positions to absolutes. Our opposition isn’t just opposed to our position, they are opposed to humanity, life, justice and all things decent. They are, in fact, criminals.

George Lakoff’s book “Don’t Think of an Elephant” (2004) identifies how issues themselves take a back seat to how they are framed. Words have more impact than ideas, and context controls the debate. This was, initially, the strategic domain of Republicans who embraced Frank Luntz and his talent for vocabulary to produce a desired effect.

Luntz changed the debate on “estate tax” by calling it a “death tax” and on “global warming” by coining “climate change.” Today, Democrats, tired of losing from playing nice, are doing their best to copy that framing strategy: If someone wears a red, MAGA hat, they are branded as a member of the Klan.

The effect continues to every complex issue. If someone merely suggests Palestinians have been persecuted, they are “anti-Semitic.”

If someone advocates gun control, they hate America.

If someone wants a southern border wall they hate Mexicans, and if they don’t they love terrorists.

This is where we are. And our online echo chambers share stories, news and prayers to support our hyperbole.

I’m guilty of failing to always fact check. Are you?

If we can’t talk about these issues without extreme labels then we will never reach agreements, and we will chastise and condemn each other to the point of danger. The truth is we’ve already crossed that line because fear and anger has brought out the fringe who open fire and send bombs in the mail.

It’s that bad, and if we don’t stop it will get worse.

I ran for office for real once (we know, we know) and I faced the walls of political expediency. “Avoid gun control because the gun lobby will destroy you.” “Don’t go deep into the woman’s right to choose/right to life debate.” “Sidestep the Middle East.” Yada, yada, yada.

But we have to talk about these issues. We can if we reframe the debate. First by challenging ourselves to move beyond political tribalism and by accepting that it’s possible we all may be pursuing life, liberty and happiness.

It will be hard, but try to resist sharing the next political meme that categorizes people. Instead, share that picture of your granddaughter with a bowl of spaghetti on her head.

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Gary Kroeger is a local business owner and advertising executive in Cedar Falls.

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