Resources for Trumpian conversations?
March 11, 2017 6:39 AM   Subscribe

Is there a list somewhere, starting from 9/11-hoax up to women's-march-leaders-are-evil, which provides counterpoints and factual resources to eventually point a convinced Trump supporter (whom you need to deal with for a brief period) to? Are there good current-event dialogue-coaching tips, useful to avoid any conversation disintegrating into immediate adversity?

(I'm thinking this makes more sense here on AskMe than just thrown in amidst the latest politics thread.)

Fresh from my first face-to-face with a full-fledged Trump supporter, with whom I'll be working in close quarters over the next week, I am looking for a good collection of links to help manage facing this very specific mindset, with its readily wielded armory/tool-kit of tightly-held, distinctly-shaded talking points.

So far he has proven entirely personable, smart, good-humoured, and both professionally and socially competent. He's here in Italy for a joint job that will be completed in a week, so while one specific issue is just navigating this week, the intensity and specificity of his strongly held beliefs gave me pause to try to gather my own wits about them.

He's an American in his fourties, living in Hungary with his (Hungarian) wife and young son and daughter. I first got an inkling of his leanings in small talk about the current state of things in Hungary, a country which he was quick to point out was currently flourishing, and in better shape than ever, and that, you know, these days you have to be careful about where you get your information from. At a lunch together yesterday, the moment seemed right to him to further flesh out his set of beliefs, and he launched in to an increasingly colorful tirade, starting with the admission that he'd been an open-minded, left-leaning New Jersey-born Californian, until someone casually provided him with 9/11-doubter material, and that when he understood what his government had been capable of doing to its country's own citizens, that was when he woke up to what was really going on.

Given the circumstances, my position in the dialogue has been to have him speak his mind, in part because of mere curiosity at such an encounter - not a typical thing, here in Europe - but partly to actually get a direct handle on this kind of thinking (while managing to avoid compromising what I hold to be true and fair). It's quite a singular thing to witness in person, rather than mediated by some social network, akin to the exoticism of meeting the member of a very foreign culture, or someone who has come down with some kind of fever-like condition.

The main things that struck me:
- the adoption of specific conversational mannerisms, some directly from Trump's style of speaking ("Let me tell you - ", "I'm the least X person that - ", a dismissive "this, that, and the other") that, given their repetition, seemed almost structural to sustaining the narrative he was expounding
- his particular collection of narratives/talking points, which, since I've seen some of them referenced in MeFi election/politics threads, felt as though they constitute some kind of canon of Trumpian discourse, including:
> Obama and Hilary both voted for a wall on the border to Mexico (he went to look up congressional voting records, I think it was 2006)
> under Obama, the US was at war with 8 countries, more than ever
> women’s pay gap is a myth, the actual research (which he has read), explains that actually 51% of management jobs are now held by women, and the pay difference is due to the different careers that male college graduates choose (more high-earning)
> the Women’s March was run by one woman convicted of terrorism in the eighties (I think) and one Muslim woman calling for more sharia law in the US
> Trump's reason for the wall is "coyotes" and "rape-trees" (look it up, he said, it's disgusting)
> BLM is all lies and hate-mongering, and Obama’s justice dep supplied all the biased accounts, covering up police victims
> Trump is simply, and has always been, a very hardworking business man, as is his whole family
> Hilary, on the other hand, is an "evil, evil, evil bitch"
> During the large migrant influx to Hungary last year, the majority were angry young men, looking for hand-outs and freebies, hardly any women&children
> Bathroom laws are justified by what he has seen in bathrooms in America, and the fact that he has a young daughter
> the US is facing the death of freedom of speech, given what happened with Milo Y at Berkeley
> Hungarian billionaire Soros paid millions of US protesters
> Liberals in America have no credibility with regards to science, since they claim on the one hand that climate change is undisputably due to carbon emissions, but on the other hand that any person can decide his/her own gender.

This was all over the space of a 40-minute lunch, so really quite a torrent of alt-facts.

He mentioned that it was really refreshing to be able to speak freely (as he was in a neutral setting, since I wasn't positioning myself to challenge him), which was interesting, and similar to his having taken a kind of refuge in Hungary from an America he described as having become too hostile (under Obama). As he was all about "doing the research" and looking up primary resources, at the end of our week, I'd like to leave him with a few thoughts and links. I have no idea whether someone so down the rabbit hole will really have any time for considerations that don't gel with his mindset, but scripta manent, and it seems like the least I can/should do, to signal that This Is Not Normal.

Thanks muchly for all/any pointers.
posted by progosk to Human Relations (14 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
 
This might be useful? From Reddit, but still: Final Response Megathread.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 6:54 AM on March 11 [6 favorites]


This seems like some kind of interesting experiment for you to satisfy your curiosity. But it's a waste of time. You can't reason someone out of unreasonable positions. If he was amenable to research, he wouldn't have been relying on fake news all this time.

I can assure you that for people living in the US it isn't an interesting social experiment to talk to these people. Time is of the essence. Are you a US citizen? Then make some phone calls, write some letters, organize among ex-pats, etc. If you're not a US citizen then you can still donate money (political organizations & campaigns may have rules for foreign donors).
posted by AFABulous at 7:26 AM on March 11 [15 favorites]


If you really want to engage him, then you need to consider the items on that list more carefully. Some are indeed false or exaggerated nonsense (in my humble opinion). Some are 100% raw subjective emotion and are not objectively falsifiable (Hillary is an evil bitch, Trump is a hard working business man). But other items on that list are true. Senators Obama and Clinton did indeed vote in favor of the Secure Fence Act of 2006. President Bush signed it into law in October of 2006. Do you not believe that? And Obama did bomb lots of countries. Was it the most ever? I don't know. We could do some research and discuss that. In today's political climate many of us have some extreme biases that blind us. Even you, based on your own apparent skepticism of some objective fact. If you really wanted to get into it, I guess you could choose an issue and try to engage, but choose wisely. If you want a fact based discussion, then ignore the subjective claims. And don't engage unless you are susceptible to having your own opinion changed by facts that might not comport with your ideology. If you show that kind of open mindedness, he *might* be open to some wiggle room in his own thinking as well. But most of us are really dug in right now, so I think the odds of this going well are small.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 7:50 AM on March 11 [5 favorites]


If he is a 9/11 conspiracy theorist and believes in paid protestors, I wouldn't waste my time with counterpoints. These kinds don't let facts get in the way of an argument. He seems like he is a fan of InfoWars and Alex Jones. Ask him his favorite newspapers and media outlets.

the Women’s March was run by one woman convicted of terrorism in the eighties (I think) and one Muslim woman calling for more sharia law in the US

Not the Women's March but the A Day Without a Women was Rasmea Yousef Odeh. See here: http://www.snopes.com/2017/02/28/rasmea-odeh-conviction/.
http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/03/day-woman-strike-aims-raise-awareness-170307173935540.html

The eight countries: See here https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2016/03/obama-doctrine-wars-numbers/474531/ It seems that there are/were eight, two are continuations from previous administrations. "At war" might be a stretch. Some countries are drone strikes targeting terrorists.

Liberals in America have no credibility with regards to science, since they claim on the one hand that climate change is undisputably due to carbon emissions, but on the other hand that any person can decide his/her own gender.

Another crackpot argument that has nothing to do with the other. Is this guy a climate scientist? A geneticist? He seems to make broad sweeping generalizations that have nothing to do with facts, real information, or expert viewpoints. I try to not state things as fact when I have no earthly idea what I'm talking about. This guy has no earthly idea.

the US is facing the death of freedom of speech, given what happened with Milo Y at Berkeley

Hyperbole. The US in not facing the death of freedom of speech. Our constitution is stronger than any one president who wants to prohibit media or claim that media is fake. It will outlive four years of Trump.

He sounds like a regurgitator of conspiracy websites. If you send him links and give him facts, he'll find another "fact" to fit his worldview. If you want to talk politics with this guy, when he makes a claim, ask lots of questions. How could Soros logistically pay millions of protesters, who are regular people around the country?
posted by loveandhappiness at 7:51 AM on March 11 [4 favorites]


I agree there is no point trying to argue rationally with someone who is responding with pure emotion and are not experiencing the same objective reality as most of us. As Seymor noted, there are some truths in his narrative, but it is his emotional response that is highlighting the lack of critical thinking (however he probably believes he is using more critical thinking than a sheeple like you). So it's emphasising on the critical thinking part and staying away from the emotional reactions of fear and anger (but remaining aware that is colouring their perceptions). There are two things I have asked that have gone in interesting directions: "what would it take to change your mind (on specific, individual topic)?" and "how do you evaluate whether information is credible?" I echo that you are unlikely to make a difference and that endulging the delusional thinking is actually making him more rigid (and your blood pressure higher)!
posted by saucysault at 8:00 AM on March 11 [3 favorites]


Thanks muchly for all/any pointers.

I think you are drastically underestimating the degree to which someone like this has come to these beliefs through a vague and messy mélange of resentments, bigotry, ressentiments, emotions, and possibly psychological issues. The saying is "You can't reason someone out of a position they didn't reason themselves into", and despite what he claims and presents he did not reach any of his conclusions from "reasoning." He is to a large degree genuinely and for real not accepting objective reality.

As he was all about "doing the research" and looking up primary resources,

He would like to think he's all about that, but all he's doing is accepting the "research" that supports his positions and ignoring/dismissing/discounting anything that contradicts his worldview.

Is there a list somewhere, starting from 9/11-hoax up to women's-march-leaders-are-evil, which provides counterpoints and factual resources to eventually point a convinced Trump supporter (whom you need to deal with for a brief period) to?

Google. Seriously. I mean, however much we lefty-ish people here on MetaFilter might gripe about the "Mainstream Media", pretty much every single position he holds (or his interpretation of situations where his "facts" may be correct but his conclusions are whacked) is easily debunked with a Google search and reading the MSM articles that show up. But he knows all these sources and has decided to ignore them. Again, you're giving the guy too much credit for being "rational", when in fact he is not.

He's here in Italy for a joint job that will be completed in a week, so while one specific issue is just navigating this week, the intensity and specificity of his strongly held beliefs gave me pause to try to gather my own wits about them.

So, you kinda set yourself up as a willing sounding board for his political obsessions, but from now on you should just change the subject back to work-related topics, as that's the reason he's there. Avoiding further political discussion is how you get through the week.

I have no idea whether someone so down the rabbit hole will really have any time for considerations that don't gel with his mindset, but scripta manent, and it seems like the least I can/should do, to signal that This Is Not Normal.

He will not. Your best, no, ONLY shot at possibly lodging very tiny seeds of doubt in his mind is to use saucysault's questions to get him to try to explain his positions more thoroughly. In time (long after he's gone back to Hungary), if he continues to think about how he answered your questions, he might come to realize the contradictions and inconsistencies and lies that form the basis of his political beliefs.
posted by soundguy99 at 8:35 AM on March 11 [7 favorites]


nthing others who are saying you are not going to reason or argue this sort of thing.

My experience is that people who are like what you're describing—and I know legions—are coming from an entirely different set of basic premises and core assumptions. Their decisions of who to vote for, etc.—all the current-events type stuff that you might end up arguing about—are, to them, direct and not even particularly unreasonable conclusions from their premises.

The premises, however, are often unspoken and impolite, and so they are rarely discussed. You can, if you want to, play the game where you try to drill down to those, and figure out what the core disagreements are between you and this guy. (E.g. you fundamentally believe all people are basically good, and he might believe that some significant percentage of people are intrinsically evil or at least prone to dishonesty, and these two premises lead to very different conclusions in terms of social policy.) Almost always, the premises are not easily arguable—they amount to theological disagreements by other names. In some cases they really are theological arguments, e.g. true Christian Dominionism. In other cases they're close enough to factual claims (stuff like "black people are genetically less intelligent than whites") that, if you want to and they respect you enough to listen/care, you sometimes can chip away at them with evidence, but be prepared for them to just quibble over the evidence indefinitely because it's easier than changing.

Beware of disputes that seem on their surface to be easily reducible to facts but actually aren't. E.g. many anthropogenic global warming deniers don't care about arguments having to do with anthropogenic global warming, because the real dispute is further down: they might think it's a moot point because any reduction in emissions by the US and Europe will be offset by the Chinese, and/or they think that the damage to the economy and hegemony of the West due to emissions controls is more important than the damage to the environment, not because they don't care about the environment but because they see everything through the lens of epochal zero-sum struggle between civilizations, where it is basically collateral damage and losing is unacceptable. Arguing about methane clathrates or hockey sticks will get you nowhere there, although they might be happy to engage you for hours on either.

I don't know what your real goal is here. If it's just personal amusement, then by all means go nuts. It smacks to me of the old George Bernard Shaw quote about why one should never wrestle a pig, but if you're looking to wrestle, and fine with getting muddy, most conservatives love to talk about their views (as do most people, I think, given an interested audience).


OTOH, If your goal is to actually change this person's behavior, or make them somewhat less of an asshole to be around, that is a very different problem. Again personally, I would never bother to expend that much effort except on family members who I either honestly care about, or who I have some vested interest in moderating the behavior of.

In my experience, the way to deal with extremely bigoted people in terms of achieving actual behavior changes is not to discuss big-picture or abstract theory, or even current events / politics at any level. Instead, you need to find personal counterexamples that you can gently and noncombatively point to, which are relevant and emotionally triggering to them. If you don't know someone that well, it's basically not possible. But basically you're looking to put a face on the depersonalized group that they're disparaging—it's easy to talk about "the gays" or "those lazy [whatevers]" in the abstract, but harder if you refrain from the abstract argument and just say something like "well, Mr and Mrs Abbasi don't seem like that at all..." You need to do this with the understanding that you're going to get a lot of "good Jew" responses (e.g. "well, yeah, the Abbasi's down the street are fine, but they're, you know, good ones...") but, repeated consistently and with variety, can be enough to undermine biases with the weight of actual experience. At least enough to keep them from being a total embarrassment among polite, varied company. Don't expect to change who they'll vote for, though.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:18 AM on March 11 [6 favorites]


You are conflating issues. At least some of the things you mention are real or do happen, just not exactly in the way alt-right people are told - this is part of what makes that movement so insidious.


Your question is about how to refute sort of "toxic" political beliefs, I think the first step for you is to understand that when you hear one of these arguments, they are invariably based in truth. You can be effective at this game if you validate your opponent's underlying instincts that things are not what they seem. They have the right instinct, they were given manipulative answers and solutions.

A big part of it is how politics and information work, and how these powers are wielded in this technological age.

Your first step is to educate yourself and keep an open mind. I can tell from the way you phrased your question you lack a practical understanding of the way politics and government has worked over the last 40 to 50 years. If you now anyone 70 or older, ask them questions, start there! There's no substitute for context and practical or institutional knowledge. For example, The Making of a Counter Culture by Theodore Roszak written in 1969. This was the first time the term "counterculture" was used, and it's astounding how "modern" this book reads. Roszak was writing at the end of the 1960's about the hippies and the anti-Vietnam War movements, but the book reads like he's describing the 2000's. It's a short book, I think you can breeze through it a few hours. Hopefully you might spend longer on follow-up reading and thinking about the bigger picture in terms of history and how we got where we are today.

As an example of some of those "Trumpian" conspiracy theories that are true and might blow your mind a bit... You know talk radio and how "regular" people call in on topics that get the host ranting? Yeah... many of those callers are paid actors, especially if the show is on the Clear Channel network. Sometimes only the producers answering the phones are in on it, other times the host is, too. You see, there's nothing worse in radio than silence or "dead air," so having actors call in keeps the show entertaining. The problem is this can be used to spread ideas, so not just for entertainment, plus the listeners aren't aware and think they are listening to real people giving real opinions. Don't believe me? Look it up!

If there is a website that tackles what you are asking about from a more contextual perspective, I'm not aware of it. I hope what I have related helps you frame your ideas. People on both sides know things aren't OK, please be respectful of their intentions as you refute the bad information they've been given. Make friends, not enemies, as the saying goes.
posted by jbenben at 9:26 AM on March 11 [2 favorites]


This article "Psychological 'vaccine' could help immunize public against 'fake news' on climate change" from University of Cambridge (UK) discusses how climate change opinions could be altered, and might help you with the Trump supporter. I don't know if the "vaccination" works after ideas have been held for a while, though.
posted by anadem at 9:51 AM on March 11


Finding reasoned answers for these points is not a waste of time.

Even if this person cannot be persuaded back, he may be persuaded from going further into this mindset.

Even if not this person, having a ready collection of easily findable, easily comprehended "the other side of the story" information would be key to neutralizing misinformation when people -- especially young people -- first find it.

An analogy: you hear about people abandoning churches when a reasonable religious question they have is basically ignored or, worse, punished. Questions like: why would a benevolent all-powerful deity allow evil and suffering? Why would this good person I know be made to suffer? Why would unbaptised children not go to heaven? What happens to non-believers in other countries who have never been exposed to my 100% the best religion?

These are all intelligent questions that any number of believers will come to think about, given enough education and time. But their fundamentalist neighbors, and even the educated people they know, are unequipped to handle them, so they just say "don't ask". There are answers, but they're not simple; religious scholars work on them and work on them, and people study them their whole lives. Even understanding that the answer isn't simple takes some teaching from a really good teacher.

Rather than providing that, though -- which is truly difficult -- people just learn that even asking these questions risks bringing them shame and alienation.

Handling people who think a little further than their friends and family has been an evergreen problem. However, we can do better now.
posted by amtho at 9:58 AM on March 11 [1 favorite]


Just to clarify:

This seems like some kind of interesting experiment for you to satisfy your curiosity.

I don't know what your real goal is here. If it's just personal amusement...


Neither experiment or fun&games intended: it's an unusual encounter for me, and the kind of situations I'll be in with him make it impossible to ignore this side of his worldview, so it's part background, part practical advice (such as saucysault's) I'm looking for.

Are you a US citizen?

I can tell from the way you phrased your question you lack a practical understanding of the way politics and government has worked over the last 40 to 50 years.


Though I spent six teenage years in NYC, I'm European and have been since then, and definitely lack particular knowledge of stateside politis&government. I'm alarmed at what's going on, and marched here on Jan 21, but this kind of encounter is a definite outlier here. I understand I may be sounding detached about this, but the context is very un-USian.

Thanks for all the useful information and advice so far. I have no intention of engaging with a view to convert. I do harbour a hope that I may leave a little mark, and intend to do so in writing - I find it hard to believe that someone who was ready to pivot over 9/11 conspiracy theories may not, at some point pivot back - and though I have no illusions about being the person to initiate that shift, I prefer to go on the record as resoundingly disagreeing. (Something that I'm gauging would be very fraught, done in person, during our week together.)
posted by progosk at 2:22 PM on March 11 [1 favorite]


Nthing the "you're not going to reason him out of it" comments others have made, as reason didn't get him into it. He simply found things that supported his feelings on certain matters. Anyone that dismisses science is not using logic in any meaningful way.

People in general, not just Trump supporters, like things that support what they already feel is true, and can do amazing mental gymnastics to avoid breaking that illusion. If you've only got a week with this guy, you're not going to make any major changes. Stand by what you believe in and let him see a rational & calm liberal up close & personal. Let him get to know you as that "nice liberal guy/gal I worked with for a week. Hell maybe they aren't all bad". You aren't going to change his world view in a week. In my opinion one of the best way to remove peoples hate of the "other" is to let them get to know it up close & personal. Fear is what motivates so much of the Republican agenda.

As for you finding links to send him that counter his arguments, go the other way with that. Maybe look at getting him to provide you links to all this actual research he is quoting. Ask for links to this primary research, ask for peer reviewed research in serious publications not YouTube videos or "news" articles about it. I've found with arguing with some people that sometimes he's not going to realize he's wrong until he looks deeper into subject to try & prove me wrong. To try & find evidence to convince someone that isn't already a "true believer" can be harder than people think. It's a long shot & let's face it though a 9/11 conspiracy theorist, isn't really going to be open to a logical argument.
posted by wwax at 8:55 PM on March 11 [4 favorites]


Just watched Brendan Nyhan's talk about myth-busting's tendency to backfire today. Seems relevant. Also: Brendan Nyhan: The Psychology of False Beliefs. Then there's his recent New York Times article on fact checking and changing minds, and he has a blog here.
posted by Coaticass at 2:20 AM on March 13


Politics is the battle for power and is not based on logic. It's not a debate. Trump supporters like Trump, hate Hillary (or the Dems in general), or both.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 3:21 AM on March 13


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