Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Why you can't argue with a Republican

Arguing across partisan divides is never easy, but you may have noticed that it now seems impossible. Shared facts - the basis of any rational discussion - no longer exist; basic existential claims like "Trump said one thing on Tuesday and a different thing on Wednesday" are as ineffective as complex arguments about moral theory. Literally nothing you can say seems to penetrate; no words seem to make any impact on your opponent's position or fervor.

The reason is because Republicans are now post-language. Words have become merely a sequence of sounds that one uses to establish dominance; they no longer have semantic content. When a gorilla bangs its chest and roars, the only intended meaning is a display of power and a demand for submission. If you were to ask the gorilla what ideas his roar was trying to convey, he would be mystified at your cluelessness.

If this surprises you, it shouldn't. This is the natural and inevitable destination of fascism, as made clear by history and the novel 1984. The raw exercise of power does not depend on ideas; indeed, it can only be challenged by ideas.

There are only two ways to achieve a goal: force and reason. And reason is merely the special application of force by an entity upon itself. To reason with a man is to convince him to use the power at his disposal to constrain himself, rather than to compel another.

Republicans, unable to convince a majority of other people that their goals are desirable, have given up on reason. They now operate solely in the realm  of force. Trump has made this clear many times; perhaps his most obvious tell was at a recent rally when smugly pointed out that he, and no one else, occupied the White House. Power, presented as its own justification.

This is why you cannot argue with a Republican. All you can do is deploy word-sounds that would make you dominant over them, to be countered by their word-sounds that reclaim dominance over you. To do anything else - to consider the concepts you advance - would be to deal in reason, and they have already conceded that is a losing battle.

This is why no Trump supporter cares about Trump's contradictions, or policy failures, or treasonous acts. Whenever you mention those, they are merely plays at dominance, to be refuted by displays of their side's power. Trump's position as head of the government is the only message they can hear.

The good news is, without power, the Republican project collapses. There will be no armed revolution on the part of the Right if their currently ongoing violent coup fails. They are bullies, and like all bullies, cowards once deprived of power. Without power, they have no organizing principle, and no language to communicate with each other.

The bad news is that the desire, no, the psychological need for racial and gender superiority, is so strong in so many of our citizens that it seems altogether unlikely that democracy can survive. A house  divided cannot stand, and 40% of our citizens want the illusion of white male supremacy more than they want reality.

The defeat of Trump in November is necessary to the survival of the republic; but not at all sufficient.


  1. I agree with a lot of this. But...
    "Without power, they have no organizing principle, and no language to communicate with each other."

    Conspiracy theories and persecution fantasies are another language the right uses even when out of power (there are conspiracy theorist leftists, too, but not nearly as many or as well organized - I think our side tends toward academic analysis instead).

    1. Good point. They'll still have those. But I do think losing political power will take a lot of the wind out of their sails, in a way they won't expect.

  2. I'm not sure I agree with this. I mean, 6 months ago, sure I'd have been fully on board. Now, I'm just sitting here like... Israel, UAE, Bahrain, and potentially others are actually hashing out a peace agreement led by Trump. If Trump is really that bad, how is he succeeding at peace in the Middle East when every single other president before him failed spectacularly?

    1. There are some spectacular logic fails in your comment.

      1. A single success in a single area does not erase multiple failures in other areas. Trump lied about the size of his inauguration crowd. This remains a moral failure and a political danger, as does every democracy-destroying act he has done since then.

      If you commit murder, and then rescue a puppy, you're still a murderer. We can thank you for the puppy while locking you up for homicide.

      2. Your comment doesn't engage with the subject at hand. One can imagine even a pure fascist government brokering peace between two allies for its own ends. For all we know Trump threatened them into this agreement, rather than reasoning, which would prove my point.

      3. A potential peace agreement in the Mideast is worth less than the paper it is printed on. Scores of others have declared peace, only to see it crash and burn within months or days. And Trump in particular has a record of declaring agreements that turn out to not exist: have you already forgotten North Korea's nuclear program?

      4. No. Just no.

    2. Carter succeeded too (Camp David accords), but was still a one-term president. Carter's accomplishment is on it's face greater in that Egypt and Israel are direct neighbors and were in a state of declared war at the time.

      Likewise Clinton was president (and witnessed) when the Israel-Jordan peace treaty was signed, though other than promising to cancel Jordanian debt I don't know how much praise Clinton deserves for this as Israel and Jordan were talking since the Reagan administration.

  3. One thing: You seem to be using the terms "Republican" and "Trump supporter" as if they are perfectly synonymous, all the time. I have been known to call myself a "Republican." However, I never even seriously considered voting for Trump in 2016, and I have no intention of voting for him in 2020. I am quite comfortable with acknowledging that he says some incredibly stupid things. I never regarded him as a "role model." When I hear someone else criticize Trump, I feel a profound lack of interest in "defending his good name." I expect him to lose in November, and if it turns out that I'm wrong, I won't be celebrating the idea that he will serve another four-year term in the White House.

  4. As a person who once voted for John McCain, I understand your point.

    However, the simple reality is that the Republican party is the Trump party. There is no other Republican party anymore, as David Frum, Max Boot, and many other former Republicans will tell you.

    And if Trump wins in November, it will be the end of democracy in the USA. Again, this isn't just my opinion; you can ask people like David Frum, Max Boot, and many others. You might find this article interesting: