Countering Republican Debate Tactics

For better or for worse, many of us find ourselves debating Republicans on Facebook and other forums. A brilliant video from John Oliver reveals the tactics used by Trump and his followers to distract and waste our time. I’ve embedded it below, and it will improve both your efficiency and effectiveness online.

If you prefer reading about it, Rolling Stone wrote about the video in an article entitled, Watch John Oliver Break Down Trump’s Three Dangerous Manipulation Tactics, which you can read or skim my thoughts below.

The three tactics are delegitimizing the press (Fake News), Whataboutism, and trolling. Here are some examples of how they’ve been used and some ideas on how to refute them.

Delegitimizing the Press (Fake News)

Republicans criticize every source of news that they disagree with. They don’t feel the need to cite alternative sources that contradict the facts, they just cry Fake News and act like they’ve proven their case.

On Facebook, I’ve had posters question Snopes.com, the Congressional Budget Office, FactCheck.org, the Guardian, Wikipedia, and many other sources. The best policy I’ve found is to cite original sources whenever possible. So don’t cite Wikipedia, cite the source cited by Wikipedia. Same with Snopes, or the Washington Post, or CNN.

When challenged, I ask whether they have any reputable sources that they can cite to disprove the facts I’ve stated. If they don’t cite any sources, I stop responding to their claims. “I’ll be glad to address any facts that you cite with sources, but otherwise, I’ll just stick with the position that I’ve proven.” 

Whataboutism

The next tactic is “whataboutism.” One frequent use by Trump after the election was to repeat the lie about Clinton giving 20% of the US’ uranium to Russia in exchange for contributions to the Clinton Foundation, despite the fact that the claims are patently baseless, as detailed in this PolitiFact article.

The response is to steer the conversation back to the issue at hand. For example, “even assuming what you’re saying is true, which it’s not, you’re saying that it’s OK for Trump to have colluded with the Russians because Clinton did this?” The risk is that the Republican will claim a double standard, or that the media is only focused on the issue because it’s Trump.

The best thing to do here is to simply beg off. “I’m willing to talk about Trump’s many ties to Russia and the treasonous nature of the Trump Tower meetings (as Steve Bannon has pointed out), but I’m not going to respond to extraneous claims.” If you can then make an additional statement in support of your original argument, perhaps you can get the Republican back on track.

I’m not saying it’s easy, particularly when the claim is a whopper, but recognize that it’s a tactic, an attempt to divert your attention and wear you down. Don’t get sucked in.

Trolling

The final tactic is trolling, or making provocative statements just to anger you and get a reaction. Call it another distraction technique. There are dozens of Trump examples, including his tweets about President Obama wiretapping his home in Trump Tower. The answer here is to just not engage. “Even if President Obama did wiretap Trump’s apartment, which I’m sure he didn’t, I don’t see how that’s relevant to discussing how the new tax bill benefits the rich.”

My favorite example from Facebook demonstrates all three tactics. In a discussion about healthcare (healthcare?!), a poster brought up that Hillary Clinton admired Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, who in 1924 spoke to a group of KKK women about birth control and once supported Eugenics. This is a clear example of both whataboutism and trolling. As you can see, I bit and found a Snopes article that refuted her claim, to which she used the first tactic, delegitimizing the press, of course citing no sources.  

The best response would have been, “Even if what you’re saying is true, which I’m sure it’s not, this has nothing to do with health care. Let’s stick to that, shall we?” Next time I’ll say that, and avoid getting pulled down the rabbit hole.

Many of us fighting the good fight have full-time jobs, and all of us have better things to do than waste time debating inefficiently. Watch for these tactics, recognize them when you see them and respond strategically.

I’m not a huge Oliver fan, but this bit is brilliant. Take five and have a look and listen.