If the dominant narratives post Trump’s 2016 election win have taught us anything, it is that facts and being right doesn’t mean anything. Increasingly, we have seen the rise of brute force argumentation. We like to cling tightly to the belief that the best position wins the policy arguments through superior rhetoric, argumentation, numbers and statistics to back them up. We must recognize that this no longer accurately describes the political battlefield. The endless repetition of platitudes and conjured narratives have taken their place.
It has wisely been said that if Trump really colluded with Russia during the 2016 election season, it would have leaked by now from the FBI. Everything else seems to leak these days, so the absence of a leak about this can only mean that there is no substance to the accusations. Despite the lack of evidence, the endless repetitions and discussions around the topic have resulted in a large portion of the American electorate believing in the truthfulness of the claims. The same goes for the Trump-is-racist, Trump-supports-Nazis storylines. It is a fait accompli by this point, winning arguments is not only feasible, but it is increasingly common to win through brute force. The amount of airtime given to your side of an argument, or your claims matters more than the quality or truthfulness of your arguments.
This is one of the reasons that libertarians have increasingly become obsolete. Few could stand a chance against them in a formal policy debate on economics. But, if we stop and think about it for a moment, how often does such debates take place? The majority of political persuasion takes place on social media, in face-to-face encounters and on biased mainstream media outlets. Your superior and brilliant arguments aren’t useful for moving the dial when the other side can overwhelm your views through sheer volume. We also see the rise in the importance of political optics. The Alt-Right suffered a very severe wound following Charlottesville. Those saying that the outcome was good for the Alt-Right brand, i.e. persuading “normies”, are delusional. The overwhelming majority of people had their views about the events that took place in Charlottesville formed by the vast, unified mass of coverage labelling all rallygoers as extreme-right, confederacy-supporting, White Supremacist, Alt-Right Neo-Nazis.
Lamenting and poo-pooing the rise of this argumentative tactic isn’t going to change the facts on the ground. Most people aren’t that into politics, they aren’t going to spend the necessary time and effort to compare the narratives coming from different sides of the spectrum. The persuasion battlefield is ripe for this kind of political warfare. I’m deeply sympathetic to those clinging to political purity through esoteric debates in their own corners of the web, I used to be such a person. But real-life influence is conditional on reaching out beyond the online echo chambers. If brute force argumentation is the name of the game, we must play by those rules. “Hate the game, not the player” as the saying goes.
This brings to light the urgency attached to the issue of de-platforming. The purge of dissident voices we have seen post-Charlottesville is the beginning of a very slippery slope down a steep hill. The number of outlets, the amount of impressions on social media and the total reach is increasingly how the battle is won. Our collective opponents, those against free speech and everyone playing by the same rules have fired the first shots. It is time we wake up and enter the arena, before it is too late.