Don’t start with facts, engage emotions

Posted on June 30, 2021

The conservative movement has abandoned virtually all public policy direction and is, instead, spending its energy feeding grievance and outrage. The question is, how do we respond? Unfortunately, our usual refutation of facts won’t get us anywhere.

Here’s what conservatives have been talking about over the past few months: Mr. Potato Head, Critical Race Theory, trans students in sports, trans students in the bathroom, election “fraud,” election “audits,” Antifa or the FBI (rather than Trumpers) leading the January 6 Capitol insurrection, mask mandates, vaccine mandates, attacks on Dr. Fauci, attacks on immigrants at the border, and gross exaggerations about crime.

What does all this conservative nonsense have in common?

First, their attacks are designed to generate resentment and hate against immigrants, people of color and “the libs.” Second, they’re all based on preposterous, outrageous lies. Third, if legislation actually addressed these matters, none of it would benefit GOP voters – it’s all negative.

Conservatives have no proactive agenda anymore. Remember, they didn’t even adopt a platform at the 2020 GOP National Convention, something they’ve done every four years since 1856. Conservatives will say anything to take and hold power, and today that’s pure negative emotion, nothing more.

How does a progressive respond to that?

Well first, let’s consider who we are trying to persuade. If you’re just talking to other progressives, say anything you want because you’re not attempting to persuade. If you’re aiming at hardcore conservatives, say anything you want because they’re not listening to any of your attempts to persuade.

However, as we’ve explained in recent IdeaLog columns, there is a large and important group who are persuadable in the 2022 general elections: Republican-leaning voters who do not agree with Trump’s “Big Lie,” his lie about January 6, or his lies about COVID-19. These tend to be college-educated and, to some extent, non-college-educated women.

Since these are discussions about boogeymen, not real issues, you’re not going to persuade by appealing to “facts.” So what do you do?

First, say that this particular topic (whatever it may be) is not about public policy. The right wing is simply trying to rile people up, wind them up, push their buttons, get their goat (whatever works for you). Change the debate from that particular boogeyman (e.g., trans people, Critical Race Theory, Antifa, whatever) to the tactic the right wing is using.

Second, point out that the person you’re persuading doesn’t benefit by this boogeyman issue. We should, instead, be talking about real issues – wages and employment benefits, healthcare and safety, schools and the costs of education, transportation and infrastructure, and a clean environment – what matters is how can we make things better for you and your family.

Third, conservative leaders aren’t even talking about real issues because they are stuck in the past, re-arguing the 2020 election, the Capitol riot, the origins of COVID-19, and a wide range of conspiracy theories. Let’s be clear, the candidates, officials and spokespeople who can’t admit that Joe Biden won the 2020 election are living in a fantasy world, and without a grip on reality, none of them can help you and your family in any meaningful way.

Put into your own words, that’s the discussion you want to have.