It has been simultaneously bewildering and disappointing to see how effectively school-yard taunts have been employed as political arguments. Trump employed this tactic throughout his campaign, with obvious success. If someone suggested he wasn’t qualified, he said they weren’t qualified. If someone questioned his temperament, he said their temperament was bad. If someone suggested he was corrupt, he said they were corrupt. If someone suggested he was a puppet (of Putin’s), he said they were a puppet (with no elaboration). In essence, his argument to any accusation was, “I know you are but what am I?” (Alternatively, “I’m rubber, you’re glue…)
This technique was laughably childish, completely asinine, and spectacularly effective.
In my head, the correct response would have been to say, “School-yard taunts don’t address the issue.” Then reengage with the original claim or accusation, with evidence. Those who employed this strategy were simply met with more obstinacy and baseless insults from Trump. Or, they reacted defensively, and attempted to disprove Trump’s deflection instead of hammering their point. In either case, I would expect that the focus by both his competitors and observers would be to focus on his lack of clarity and failure to address the original issue.
Instead we heard about how no one could make anything stick, and heard false equivalence from a media trying so hard to appear unbiased that they biased their reporting in Trump’s favor. I honestly could not believe what was happening, and the degree to which this technique seemed to resonate with people. It was, and is, disheartening to know how relatable elementary school arguments were and are to so many adults in this country. And it didn’t stop after the election. If anything, it has been amplified.
Post-election, there was some examination of the role that fake news played in generating support for Donald Trump. Fake news was the term used for the myriad sources putting out stories that were complete fabrications, usually promulgated through social media. We’ve written a bit about the role of confirmation bias previously, and the venues for fake news are numerous and ever expanding. As discussions became more prevalent and public about the role of fake news and in politics and ways to mitigate its impact, Trump and company responded by asserting that major news outlets were fake news. Trump and many on his team have been quick to offer easily refuted non-facts as “the truth,” but when they are called out the repeat the ludicrous assertion that all of the journalists and media sources outing them for fabricating are “fake news.”
Unfortunately, reasoned refutation of non-facts has proven ineffective at convincing people that long-standing institutions that provide accurate, well-sourced reporting, and which issue retractions upon discovery that previously released information was incorrect, are legitimate news sources. In the post-fact world of the Trump Presidency, any news that contradicts the President or that is not faltering to him is fake.
Another interesting phenomenon is that of the Trump supporters’ response to those who are concerned about the very real threats posed by the Trump administration to free speech, the free press, religious liberty, civil rights in general, the environment, economic stability, and global standing. Anyone who voices a concern is, apparently, a “snowflake.” This implies that one is too delicate and fragile to deal with the realities of the world, or something. The term is applied to those who attempt to explain their positions, including attempts to identify and explain the differences between real and fake news. I have recently had the term snowflake levied at me, and in response to my attempt to explain that the term is insipid and somewhat silly – to put it gently – I was told that my explanation proves that I am a snowflake.
I don’t personally get offended at being called snowflake. I find it puzzling that it is meant as an insult at all, and that it is applied so broadly to include anyone who tries to articulate an argument or explanation. The users apply the term so liberally that it can’t have any real sting. It is a minor irritant, at best. But since you can’t combat the use of snowflake by explaining its silliness, how does one respond?
Well, playground rules have been effective so far…
As it turns out, Trump himself as well as his surrogates and supporters actually have very thin skin. They get extremely upset when their opinions, no matter how ridiculous, are challenged. Those that lack the ability to argue rationally turn to name-calling – like snowflake. To them, it is a horrible insult. So who gets really upset when you call them a snowflake? The name-callers. Since they can’t or won’t engage rationally, throwing their insult back at them really damages their fragile, tender feelings. They are the classic can-dish-it-out-but-can’t-take-it archetypes.
It probably isn’t very evolved of me, but I can’t help but giggle at seeing these folks lose their minds at having their insult turned around.
A word of caution: people with diminished capacity for rational articulation are also prone to violence. If you push enough, you may find one of these snowflakes taking a swing at you. Also, throwing insults back isn’t the most intellectual behavior, and there is no chance of bringing someone over to your point of view this way. It is always preferable to attempt to engage someone in a more congenial way.
When that doesn’t work, let it snow.