Wait... what? Seriously? What?
Why would you try to win an argument with a Trump supporter on Facebook? Nothing good can possibly come of that.
If you're going to get into an argument with someone -- and I mean argument in the sense of a debate in which the parties share and react to a connected series of statements intended to establish a proposition -- or really have any sort of discussion, there has to be some common understanding of the basic rules and goals of the exchange. And here's where you're doomed to failure if you approach the discussion unawares, because the Trump supporter is playing by an entirely different set of rules and with an entirely different goal in mind.
Let's start with the rules. When normal people make arguments, they follow the rules of logic. To condense the entirety of Logic 101 into less than a sentence, this amounts to presenting premises in a valid structure, supported by evidence, that, taken together, give us reason to believe a conclusion is true.
This only works, however, if both parties A) are willing to actually consider the evidence objectively, B) agree on what it means for something to be true and, crucially, C) acknowledge that the truth is important. But the typical Trump supporter, not unlike Trump himself, is determined to dismiss any evidence that conflicts with their preexisting viewpoint. Similarly, most of us outside of Philosophy Departments at major universities hold a view of truth that has something to do with a statement corresponding to what we can observe in reality. But for Trump and his supporters, not so much.
The last issue -- agreement with the principle that the truth is important -- is, however, the most significant consideration. It relates to the other major point of departure the serious arguer has with the Trump supporter: goals. There are lots of potential goals one might have when engaging in a political discussion with someone of a differing viewpoint, on Facebook or otherwise, for example:
- To change the other person's mind (though this is pretty dubious)
- To better understand the other person's position
- To use the process of arguing/discussing as a means to better understand the topic or discover the truth (which may not lie in either party's original position)
- To understand the flaws in one's own (or one's opponent's) reasoning
The thing is, the Trump supporter's actual goal isn't any of those things.
As Matthew Yglesias at Vox persuasively argues, there's something else going on when a Trump supporter repeats one of the president's statements (or one from the right wing media, or constructs an original argument using material from one of those sources):
[The statement] serves... as a signifier of belonging to a mass audience. One chants, “Lock her up,” at a rally not to express a desire or expectation that Hillary Clinton will serve jail time for violating an obscure State Department guideline, but simply because to be a certain kind of member of a certain kind of community these days requires the chant.I've argued elsewhere, as Yglesias does in his piece, that the essence of Trump-the-utterer-of-falsehoods is not that he is a liar, but that he is a bullshit artist. The difference is that the liar is trying to deceive you about the substance of his statement: he knows something to be true but wants to convince you that what's true is something other than that. The bullshit artist, on the other hand, makes statements without caring whether they are true or not in order to serve some other purpose.
The big, beautiful wall that Mexico will allegedly pay for, the war on the “fake news” media, Barack Obama’s forged birth certificate, and now the secret tape recording that will destroy James Comey are not genuine articles of faith meant to be believed in. Their invocation is a formalism or a symbol; a sign of compliance and belonging. The content is bullshit.
I have long been of the opinion that the defining feature of the Trump supporter is tribalism: putting membership in and allegiance to group above all else. When Yglesias says that Trump supporters repeat statements 'to be a certain kind of member of a certain kind of community,' he is identifying one manifestation of this tribalism.
When you or I post the opinion on Facebook that, say, it was improper of Trump to fire James Comey under the circumstances that he did, we do so because we believe that opinion to be correct. We believe it is true. We believe it is right. We hope that by posting it and by providing arguments and evidence that support it, we will convince others of our opinion's righteousness. We could be forgiven for assuming that a Trump supporter, in posting the opposite opinion, is doing so because he believes he is similarly correct and with similar goals in mind.
But the Trump supporter is not, in fact, concerned with the righteousness of his statement. He neither believes nor disbelieves what he is posting, and his posting of it is in no way impacted by any evaluation of whether the statement is true. Truth is not important. In fact, 'winning' the argument in the conventional sense isn't even important (since the Trump supporter knows he is unlikely to convince his counter-party and can simply take a page from Trump's book and unilaterally declare victory with no apparent basis at any time anyway).
What is important is loyalty. The purpose of making the statement is to demonstrate membership in and loyalty to the tribe. To demonstrate it to other members of the tribe. To those who are not members. To the president. To oneself. It is the Facebook equivalent of wearing a MAGA cap.
And that, in a nutshell, is why you can't hope to win an argument with a Trump supporter on Facebook. For you, winning involves being successful in convincing your Trumpian opponent to come around to your side. It requires him to engage in a specific way, which he may or may not do (but -- let's be real -- probably won't). For him, however, winning requires only that you engage with him at all, which you've already done by entering the argument in the first place. Once you've engaged, he has all the opportunity he needs to achieve his actual goal: articulate a pro-Trump position and thereby demonstrate his loyalty. And the more you continue to engage, the more opportunities you provide for him to do exactly that. #winning.
None of this is to say, by the way, that I think one shouldn't get into arguments with Trump supporters on Facebook (or be politically active there in general). I just think one shouldn't do so with the goal of winning the arguments in mind. There are plenty of good reasons to argue other than trying to win, and some of them are more important now than ever.
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