I had an interesting “conversation” a few weeks, in a conservative political group that has coalesced/cohered into a solidly pro-Trump faction. One poster put forth a statement along the lines of “if a NeverTrumper hasn’t figured out that we were right in supporting Trump by now, he can go [redacted] himself.” That’s not verbatim, but it’s the essence of the post. The subtext therein is that people have had long enough to figure it out, and those that, at this point, haven’t, deserve to have a football spiked in their faces.

I responded with a “more flies with honey than with vinegar” suggestion, and couched it solely as a suggestion as to the better way to win hearts and minds. For my efforts, I was dog-piled.

The dog pile didn’t bother me. With no “investment” in the group, I have little reason to be put off by the opinions and hostilities of others. As a libertarian, I’m also used to it. Not only does being a libertarian in non-libertarian discussions often prompt multiple dissents, libertarians themselves love to dog pile on each other even when they agree to 99%.

I argued back at them for a while, and then got on with my day. What made this a little different is that nowhere did I present any argument on substance, nowhere did I say BadTrump or disagree with a policy (for those keeping score, my disagreements include tariffs, trade wars, and immigration, to pick just three of current primacy, but that’s an aside). All I did was argue style. All I did was say that it takes time to win hearts and minds, and you don’t win hearts and minds by calling people names and rubbing your sore-winner victories in their faces every chance you get.

A common response was “they do it to us, so why not do it to them?!” Aside from the whataboutism, and aside from the Biblical exhortation to “turn the other cheek,” there’s the fact that “they” is not a monolith. Certainly, there are also spike-the-football NeverTrumpers out there, but there are also many more quiet and/or more civil NTs and Trump-skeptics. I’m not suggesting an expectation that they’ll go all-in pro-Trump with the right cajoling, nor a belief that they should. As I noted, I find much in the Untethered Orange Id’s ways and policies to criticize. But, if one wants to engage in political discussion with the goal of winning over others, in-your-face belligerence isn’t the way.

If your goal is to make yourself feel better and look like a hero to those who agree with you on both form and style, sure, go ahead, engage in assholery. Remember, though, that assholery is happily grabbed onto by the opposition and leveraged into scaring undecideds and fence-sitters away via guilt-by-association. In other words, your ideological foes will point at you and tell people “look at him. If you agree with him, you’ll be deemed an asshole just like he is.” It’ll also be used to undermine your positions.

I agree, it’s frustrating that people disagree with you, especially on a topic that’s been in the spotlight for long enough to make you think they should know better. I get it. I see it as impossible, for example, that any rational person with eyes open could imagine that socialism is anything other than a murderously bad idea, and yet millions of normal people still buy into the fantasy. And, yes, I’ve had many moments where I’ve figuratively thrown my hands up in discussions with socialism-apologists. It is true that many people will stubbornly hold onto bad ideas and wrong opinions, no matter how you come at them. But, there’s a difference between going confrontational with an actual individual and making a blanket declaration of belligerence against anyone who doesn’t agree with you. Yes, one can certainly declare that a group who believes X is wrong (see: socialism), but the “go [redacted] themselves is the bridge too far.

Tribes coalescing into absolutist positions, and calling every member of the other tribe an asshole, is how wars start, not end. One-upmanship and whataboutism feed into that death spiral, interfere with constructive dialogue, and virtually assure a zero-sum or negative-sum outcome.

What’s my argument here? Simple. Don’t be that guy. Don’t ever give up on trying to induce defections from the other pack. Honey, even if it’s salty honey, is better than a stick to the face.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.

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