I think I talked about this once before on the show. I'm going to cover it again here because I think it is something which we can use to arm ourselves for the arguments to come with friends and co-workers and to inoculate ourselves against the flood of nonsense in which some will try to drown us - which is a really lovely mixed metaphor.
It is my list of "The Rules for Right-wingers."
At the start, you have to understand that there are two kinds of people populating the right-hand reaches of the American political spectrum. One is conservatives, here understood as people who have an ideology in which they believe but with who it is possible to have intelligent disagreement. I have had numerous exchanges with conservatives which were, most commonly, unproductive in the sense of either of us being convinced by the other or of finding significant grounds of agreement - but which nonetheless remained civil and even informative.
Those sorts of people are becoming harder and harder to find.
The other is the right-wing flakes, the right-wing nutcases, the wingnuts, or as I commonly abbreviate it, the wingers. They are almost the totality of the present right-wing and they make up almost the totality of the national Republican party and some among the Democrats. And they are the subject here.
For some time I had observed with varying degrees of annoyance and bemusement the predictable tactics of the wingers in debates - or rather, their tactics in avoiding actual debates. I put together a list of such tactics; actually, early on there were several versions of the list because, again, it was originally done rather light-heartedly or to be more honest snarkily.
But I came to a point where I realized I had had it. I even remember just what that point was, what brought it about, but I won't go into it here for the sake of time.
But at that point I realized I had had it with the evasions, the dodges, the schemes and slime that make up winger discussions. The list of "The Rules" went from being a snarky list to being a recital of wingnut tactics used on a regular basis to avoid actual, factual, engagement on issues and to substitute accusation and obfuscation for investigation and then ultimately to being what it is now: an indictment of the deceit and philosophical bankruptcy that defines the American right.
So here it is, the always-subject-to-expansion-or-refinement list of wingnut arguing tactics and operating procedures, as it stands now. The first dozen or so are essentially the original list from seven years ago at the point it went from snarky to serious, while the rest are listed simply in the order to which they got added.
Rule #1: Attack, attack, attack!
But don't forget to be deeply shocked and offended if anyone on the left responds in kind.
Rule #2: Deny, deny, deny!
Doesn't matter if it's something undeniable, deny it anyway.
Rule #3: When facts are beyond even your ability to deny, change the subject.
This can be done in various ways, for example:
- Introduce irrelevant details on a tangential point.
- Pluck out from what your opponent said an individual phrase you think you can attack, even if it's one that was just tossed out offhandedly, and treat that as if it's the focus of the entire discussion.
- More subtly, try to tie your opponent up in piles of minutia to the point where everyone, including your opponent, loses track of the thrust of their argument.
- Apply Rule #4, which we'll get to in just a moment.
Whenever possible, insist that your changed subject is the "real" one under discussion.
Rule #4: Issue a lengthy, ranting denunciation of "the left."
It should be of the form "What about [fill in the blank]," being sure to include the words "hypocrites" and/or "hypocrisy," thereby arguing that the left can't legitimately criticize the right (because any such criticism is hypocritical) while insisting that the right can continue to criticize the left. (Note: Where possible, include the phrase "you liberals" or better yet, "you libtards.")
Rule #5: Make the particular stand for the whole.
Find something offensive or silly some liberal or leftist, somewhere, sometime, said or did and label it as identifying the entire left half of the American political spectrum. Demand that your opponent spend their time denouncing that example rather than discussing the original topic. Because this making the ill behavior of one representative of an entire group is in a very real sense political form of racism, this is a rule that right-wingers find easy and natural to follow.
Rule #6: Never answer a question.
When faced with one, ignore it and respond with a question, preferably on a different point. If possible, the question should be accusatory, as per Rule #4. If you do not get an answer, repeat the question and loudly demand it be answered while continuing to ignore the original question you were asked. If you do get an answer, ignore it. If necessary, drop the matter without acknowledging having gotten a reply; if possible, repeat the question, insisting it has not been answered, even if it has.
Rule #7: No amount of proof is enough.
Demand every remotely questionable assertion by your opponent be proved in every conceivable detail, right down to dates, times, and places, complete with signed affidavits. Refer to all factual assertions by your opponents as "just your opinion" even if the level of proof you demanded is supplied.
Rule #8: Assert unsourced statistics and facts with great assurance.
Or, more appropriately these days, assert "alternative facts." Reply to requests for proof by saying some version of "You can look it up." You thereby demand that your opponents do the work of proving your argument for you.
Rule #9: Frame the debate in false choices.
For example, respond to objections to expanded NSA spying or bigotry against refugees with "Do you want the US to be attacked or not?"
Rule #10: Accuse the accuser.
If something you said is challenged as bigoted or otherwise wrongful, say "You're being intolerant!" or better yet, "You're the real racist!" Be sure to decry the "suppression" of your "free speech."
A variation of this could be called the "I'm rubber and you're glue" method: Insist, even in the absence of any foundation, that any criticism of your methods or tactics actually applies to your opponent. For example, if someone notes you're avoiding a debate, insist "You're the one who won't debate!" Faced with examples of right-wingers lying, reply "That fits you lefties to a T!"
Rule #11: When a claim of yours has been debunked, continue to use it nonetheless.
When it has been debunked so thoroughly and completely that continuing to use it is counterproductive, stop claiming it for a time, perhaps a few months, after which assert it again as if the debunking had never happened. The attempts to dismiss climate change have provided a good number of examples of this, with repeatedly debunked claims reappearing at almost regular intervals.
Rule #12: Never accept responsibility.
Whenever faced with the evil resulting from some other winger following or acting on your arguments, accuse those who point out that fact of "politicizing a tragedy." Never, never, never admit any responsibility for the meaning or impact of your own words. You want examples? Just check after any mass shooting when someone tries to raise the issue of there being too damn many guns. If you want a really clear example, look up Dr. George Tiller. Or, in fact, pretty much any bombing of an abortion clinic.
Rule #13: When all else has failed - and even when it hasn't - lie.
Recent days have seen a multitude of examples, from the size of inaugural crowds to Tuesday's claim by mouthpiece Sean Spicer that TheRump's immoral and unconstitutional travel ban isn't a travel ban even though both he and The Rump have called it a ban.
We could also include Rudy Giuliani claiming that when he said that TheRump asked him to find a way to legally bar Muslims from the US and he did it by making the issue "safety" instead of religion, that he didn't say that TheRump asked him to find a way to legally bar Muslims from the US and he did it by making the issue "safety" instead of religion.
Rule #14: Specifically for use on TV discussions: When you fear a contrary point may be raised, shout.
If that contrary point is a good one, shout very loudly. Your point may not get heard, but the point is, your opponent's surely will not.
Rule #15: Seize control of the Clock of History.
Choose the period of time most advantageous to your argument and insist that any event outside that time frame, either before it or after it, is irrelevant and must not be considered.
Rule #16: You can call this the "Both Sides Now" tactic.
If the behavior of some right-winger is so undeniably bad that it can't be explained away, airily dismiss it with "both sides do it." Freely employ false equivalencies such as, to cite one that actually happened, equating people wearing anti-war t-shirts to a George Bush campaign rally with people carrying loaded assault rifles to Obama appearances.
Rule #17: All debate stops when you win - and only when you win.
The first part of that is easily seen in the frequent cracks along the line of "you lost - get over it," and not just from wingnut trolls on comment threads: On Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Fishface McConnell said it's time for Democrats "to get over the fact that they lost the election." But the second part of the rule is important and often overlooked: To the wingers, any issue, even any election, they haven't won can be argued in perpetuity and before you question the inclusion of election recall the last eight years of "Kenyan-borm Muslim" and TheRump's campaign strategy last fall of repeatedly saying the 2016 election was "rigged" so that if he lost he could claim Clinton was an illegitimate president.
But if you want a real example, consider gun control. In 2008, in the infamous Heller decision, the Supreme Court, for the first time in US history, held that owning a gun is an individual right. Even since then, the gun nuts - most of who overlap with the wingers - have been snickering "the Supreme Court has ruled. The debate is over."
The thing is, in ruling as it did, the Supreme Court rejected the central logic of US v. Miller, a 1939 case which until 2008 had been the controlling precedent. Miller held that for a weapon to have Constitutional protection, it must have some "reasonable relation to the preservation or efficiency of a well regulated militia" and the right of possession was a collective one, not an individual one.
I'm not going to argue about gun control here. The point is, in the 69 years that Miller was the law, did you ever at any time, hear any gun nut, any NRA-type or worse yet Gun Owners of America-type, ever say even once say "the Supreme Court has ruled. The debate is over?"
Of course you didn't. Because the right wing only knows two responses to issues and events: it's "up for debate" and "we won, the debate is over, shut up."
But the winger patience for debate is extremely limited, which bring up next rule:
Rule #18: If you can't win by the rules, change them.
A great example of this is voter suppression. The right wing knows it can't win if the mass of the American public votes, so it has been engaged in a years-long effort to make it harder and harder for people they figure won't vote reactionary to vote at all.
Rule #19: Intellectual consistency and honesty are for wusses and losers.
Which in a way sums up the whole thing. For recent examples, we could consider Fishface McConnell whining and sniveling about how those mean ol' Democrats are going to oppose Neil Gorsuch - after having just some months ago said he would block even a hearing on Merrick Garland in the post-election lame duck session even if Clinton won the election - or the fact that John McCain immediately endorsed Gorsuch and said he is "looking forward to a vote" despite having said in October that the GOPpers would be "united against any Supreme Court nominee that Hillary Clinton would put up."
But you want an almost-too-good-to-be-true example? Late in evening of election day, 2012, it looked for a time that Obama might lose the popular vote to Witless Romney despite having won the electoral vote handily.
In response, TheRump went on a tweet rampage, calling the election "a total sham and a travesty" and the electoral college "a disaster for a democracy," because "He [that is, Obama] lost the popular vote and won the election. We should have a revolution in this country!"
Fast forward to 2016 and - you know. You know all too well.
Finally for now, Rule #20: Sitzfleisch.
It's German for "sitting flesh" and it goes back to the days before chess clocks put time constraints on games and players would sometimes win games by simply taking so long to move that their opponent would either give up or become so tired from the wait that they would make foolish moves and lose. So more generally it can be taken to mean winning by virtue of sheer, unmitigated, stubbornness. The right wing is a past master of employing sitzfleisch. And frankly, this is one rule we should adopt and adapt because we need to be as persistent as they are stubborn.
Okay, so that's it for now. You might amuse yourself over the next weeks and months by listing which and how many of the rules get invoked whenever some winger opens their mouth. I already have a few examples for the next show.
Something I've mentioned before in posting and updating the rules is that I frankly expect many of us have at some time or another been guilty of one or more of these sins in the course of a debate, especially if it got heated. But occasional sins in the heat of the moment is not what this is about. This is about a consistent pattern by the right of evasion and deceit. It is being an intellectual coward. It is about being a bully. It is about being a liar.
It is about being an American rightwinger.