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Effectively Debating The Alt-Right and Libertarians Online

Updated on December 2, 2017
Duane Townsend profile image

Duane is an avid reader and follower of all things social, spiritual, and political. Duane is a committed leftist across the spectrum.

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Why Specify Trump Supporting Republicans

"Freedom is hammered out on the anvil of discussion, dissent, and debate." ~ Hubert H. Humphrey

I specify Republican Trump voters for this writing as they are the loudest, and most factually bereft of right-wingers. Their arguments contain the boldest lies and logical fallacies. They're like an ill-informed angry mob chanting in bumpersticker. They simply verbatim parrot FOX News, some right-wing YouTube screamer, or fact free right-wing blogger. These are people that haven't thought their position through, they've gotten their information from thought shepherds; thoughts they obediently repeat. Theirs is a narrative based on alarmist, revisionist history, and the fallacious idea of superior white ethno-centrism. Add a healthy dose of evangelical Christian apocalyptic dominion-ism and you have a tragio-comedic mix of intellectual malpractice.
It's all extremely Trump-like, echo chamber, group-think.
Indoctrination presented as information, full of confirmation bias.

Television news reporting and commentary has become little more than spin doctoring and perception management. Television is steadily ceding credibility to the internet as an information portal, television is more spectacle, pandering to the lowest common denominator. It either acts as a defender of the status quo like CNN, preaches to a right-wing choir like FOX News, or shills for one candidate over another like MSNBC did for Hillary Clinton. All of them are mesmerized by Donald Trump. None seem to impartially represent what the public thinks; other than status quo conformity or right wing dishonesty.

I find right-wing rhetorical deception to be particularly troubling. FOX News, and right wing websites, like Breitbart, fueled by FOX's unprincipled journalistic malpractice, are the greatest hindrance to progress in this country. An unscrupulously deceptive information bubble that keeps ignorant people, ignorant; and safely in the comfort of the know-nothing herd.

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1. Don't Worry About 'Winning'

There is a ninety-nine percent certainty that you will not change your opponent's point of view in an online debate. Fundamentally, debates are about opinion. Many opinions, especially political ideology, are based on identity and emotion. The prevailing opinion forming emotions, especially for conservatives and Trump Republicans are:

  • Fear
  • Self-righteous/indignation
  • Bigoted Contempt


Many internet debates with right-wingers/libertarians will expose those emotions, some are more subtle than others. Those emotionally attached to their position will not be changing that position any time soon, surely not to someone opposing them online.

So why even bother with the online debate, what is its value to you?

Because of the public nature of these encounters, there may be many more people 'watching'. Adopt the stance of teacher. Be factual, do not become offended or emotionally engaged. You're really speaking to the observer, the fence sitter watching the exchange. Most likely your opponent is deeply embedded with 'Identity Protective Cognition'. A psychological defense mechanism for those that are deeply self- identified with their point of view, they perceive evidence that contradicts their world view to be a personal attack on their very being. The bunker mentality of the right-wing bubble.

Identity Protective Cognition

2. Choose your battles wisely.

Every buffoon that shows up is not worthy of your honest, credible, deliberation. Learn to walk away when a fool tries to bait you into an exchange. More times than not, they're simply trolls, out for their own amusement. The troll's objective is your reaction, emotional reaction. If a troll can make you outraged, indignant or exasperated; you've given them what they seek.
You'll sense a troll's motive by self-examination, your inner senses, watching what feelings arise in yourself.

The other type useless to debate with is the militant extremist. The militant fanatic is the polar opposite of the troll, but just as unreachable. Whereas the troll tries to emotionally trigger you and revel in making you seethe; militant extremists are highly emotional themselves. They take major offense that someone disagrees with them, that there is a point of view opposing theirs. They take it personally, many times to the extreme.

These intellectual captives have a pathology, first they're annoyed by your argument, then they become increasingly resentful by your factual retort(s), especially if and when you correct him on the facts, he's then indignant and irate. These people don't like their fantasy world view dismantled. Walk away as their anger escalates. He'll get personal and abandon debate, he'll only want a reckoning.

You don't have time for that kind of juvenile behavior.
You'll notice that I exclusively used the male pronoun for these descriptions, my decade long experience with online debate/discussion has shown me that the predominate majority of people that demonstrate these behaviors are male.

The Red Herring

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3. Know Your Fallacies

Conservatives and right-wingers are steeped in, conditioned with, fallacious arguments. Their world view has been formulated in the media bubble of Fox News, conservative websites and in the case of many libertarians, conspiracy sites and YouTube. Many mindlessly blurt manufactured untruths that careen around the conservative/right-wing information bubble as 'facts'. These falsehoods are then defended in online exchanges with a variety of logical fallacies. The major ones I encounter are:

  • Ad Hominem - A term rooted in Latin that means 'against the man'. It's when a conservative abandons arguing a topic point, derails the discussion, and tries to make things personal. Terms like "loony or kooky liberal", "commie leftist" etc. are used by Trump supporters and right-wingers when they've conceded the argument. Ad Hominem is a sure sign of the user feels defeated on the point. Many right-wingers begin the debate employing ad hominem, do not take the bait. It's simply an effort to drag you down into the mud with them. Hammer the point with factual data, grab popcorn and watch the ad hominem spewing right-winger melt down right before your eyes.
  • Strawman Arguments - Misrepresenting their opponent's position in a ludicrous manner, then setting fire to that position. For example, many of Bernie Sanders positions on issues were strawmanned by calling it "giving away free stuff". It's a lazy intellect's main tactic. Right-wingers strawman argue a lot, Fox News is a progenitor of this lazy rhetoric. Strawman arguments are one of many deflection tactics, an attempt to get you to defend something outside of the point. If you have the time or inclination, make the person defend the strawman they created, but, never defend your position against a strawman argument. Keep them on topic.
    Otherwise, just walk away. Someone that presents a strawman argument has conceded any valid argument.
  • Tu quo que - Also known as 'Whataboutism'. A response to criticism of Donald Trump is responded to with "well what about Hillary?", or "Obama . . .".
    This fallacy is employed to deflect or change the topic.
    Hillary or Obama aren't President of the United States, Trump is.



  • Begging The Question - Asking a question based on a false premise. It's known as the fallacy of false presumption. A blunt example is:
    "Do you think blacks are poor because they are lazy?"

    Do not engage that false presumption. The question is a statement cloaked in a query based on fabrication (and bigotry). Call the questioner on their bigotry if you feel it must be addressed, otherwise let the question hang on the thread, for all to see. Trying to provide an answer to that question will only derail the thread.


There are many more logical fallacies. However, these are the major ones I encounter regularly.

Let Gish Gallopers Gallop

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4. Do Not Try To Interrupt A Gish Galloper

"Gish Gallop is a technique, named after the creationist Duane Gish who employed it, whereby someone argues a cause by hurling as many different half-truths and no-truths into a very short space of time so that their opponent cannot hope to combat each point in real time. This leaves some points unanswered and allows the original speaker to try and claim his opponent lacks the counter-arguments."

Also known as -word salad- , customarily, when someone Gish Gallops, they're desperate to look 'knowledgeable'. The truly knowledgeable wouldn't need to resort to such childishness. This debate fallacy is a sign of frustration, an attempt to pummel you with specious verbiage and nefarious information, many times unrelated to the topic at hand. Someone that thinks quantity equates to quality. It commonly happens on comment threads where the galloper was factually errant and you corrected him on it. He then floods the thread in a Gish Gallop to hide the evidence, move it out of view with their own made up goobley-gook. Like the octopus' defense mechanism of squirting ink to confound its enemies.
You'll have to trust the intellect and critical thinking skills of those observing to see through a Gish Galloper. It would derailing your own point to attempt to counter a Gish Gallop.

Either sit back and sip your tea, or walk away from a Gish Galloper, they are not worth the time or intellectual effort to discuss important matters with.
The Gish Gallop is used by those that lack integrity, or the required confidence, to concede a point to their opponent.

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5. Be Sure Your Own Argument Is Solid

"Tolerance, openness to argument, openness to self-doubt, willingness to see other people's points of view - these are very liberal and enlightened values that people are right to hold, but we can't allow them to delude us to the point where we can't recognize people who are needlessly perpetrating human misery." ~ Sam Harris
(These words work for the purpose of this writing. Although, Sam Harris, a noted atheist, employed these words as a 'well poisoning' tactic against religion.)

A solid, defensible point of view is one that is constantly self-critiqued and adjusted for the sake of coherence and cognizance. You'd be surprised (or maybe you wouldn't), by the vast number of people that hold a viewpoint, belief or opinion because; "that's what I've always believed."

An extremely effective exercise for intellectual acuity is to play your own devil's advocate. In your quiet alone time, question your own point of view, make your own arguments against it, see the inherent flaws. This exercise does not necessarily mean you need to change a viewpoint or belief, it simply means you're honest enough to acknowledge its holes, its inherent contradictions; and still see it as viable. Beware your own 'perfection, or nirvana fallacy', no idea is perfect and universally applicable.
You want to make the rational, most reasoned, argument. To repeat my statement above; do not try to 'beat your opponent' in an online debate. You're simply responding to him. In your response speak to the world, you're teaching.

Lastly, I find that the most effective spokespeople for their point of view online are efficient writers. Learn to present your view point in a few sentences, a paragraph at most. Multi-paragraphed, bullet-pointed screeds, don't get read. Save those for blog posts.

However, most importantly...
Read Read Read...everything.

One Love, Changing the world one mind at a time...

Duane Townsend

© 2016 Duane Townsend

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    • profile image

      Tom Capps 11 days ago

      I've experienced every one of these examples!

    • Duane Townsend profile image
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      Duane Townsend 3 months ago from Detroit

      Logicle...

      There are a lot of resources online that solidly associate the alt-right and libertarians. You should investigate those.

      This Hub does recognize those that display -identity protective cognition-, I think you can be included in that.

      Thank you for reading.

    • profile image

      Logicle 3 months ago

      Why are Libertarians lumped in with dogmatic Trumpists in this hack job of an article that only mentions the word "libertarian" in the headline then proceeds to lump one completely opposite ideology in with another?

      False equivalence much?

    • Duane Townsend profile image
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      Duane Townsend 3 months ago from Detroit

      Simplulo,

      I didn't write this to 'win' debates.

      I suggest you maybe read the article again.

      Thanks for your comment. You're addressing something that isn't the focus of this Hub.

      In debate it's called a -red herring.

    • Simplulo profile image

      Simplulo 3 months ago

      Good general advice for debating anybody online. However, two major items are missing. Besides the catalog of logical fallacies one needs the cognitive biases. We often engage in motivated reasoning, using logical means to irrational ends. Second, "know thine enemy". If demonizing your adversary really helps you win, demonize away, but more likely it will handicap your effort. It will certainly prevent you from winning over any adversaries: once they hear you mischaracterize them, they won't be very receptive to anything else you say. I frequently hear members of all three aforementioned ideological camps mischaracterizing each other, but progressives *measurably* understand conservatives worse than vice versa. Duane, I highly suggest that you read the works of moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt (in particular The Righteous Mind), and maybe watch a couple of his TED talks (he's a great speaker), interviews, and presentations (e.g. the one at Cato). I guarantee that it will raise your debate game, and you might acquire an appreciation for the other camps (I know I did).

      Garry, to you I would offer a third item: How to Win Friends and Influence People. ;)

    • Duane Townsend profile image
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      Duane Townsend 8 months ago from Detroit

      Garry...

      Do you always take articles you read so personally?

      Geez.

      Nothing you said Garry has modified my views about libertarians, actually you've affirmed them.

      Have a good day.

    • Garry Reed profile image

      Garry Reed 8 months ago from Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas

      Psychological projection: involves projecting undesirable feelings or emotions onto someone else, rather than admitting to or dealing with the unwanted feelings.

      If you didn’t make a mistake by including libertarians in your critique then the only explanation is that you don’t understand libertarianism, which you fail to admit but stand by your words anyway.

      I clearly identified my comments as my own even though you accuse me of generalizing.

      I specifically did not characterize all libertarians as like myself; that is what you did in your response. I clearly said that the libertarians I’m familiar with don’t act the way you generalize about in your article. What you did there was psychological projection, blaming me for doing what you did yourself.

      My honest observations about your fallacies were not ad hominem attacks, just observations about your fallacies. It’s up to you to decide if they’re attacks or legitimate critiques. Hope I didn’t hurt your feelings to much.

      You are generalizing when you refer to “several other fallacies” and never specify what you consider to be a “strawman argument.”

      But your biggest mistake seems to be that you think you are entitled to make broad fallacies, hasty generalizations and strawman arguments and attacks against someone who has respectfully disagrees with you while others have no right to make any push back whatsoever.

      It’s almost as though the target of your entire article is really yourself.

      But now you’ll likely accuse me of being a Gish Galloper, which is exactly what your counter-argument attempted against me. The difference is that I’ll gladly admit to it, but you of course will say “I stand behind every word I wrote.”

      A real generalization would be “All you liberals sure do get your tender little feelings hurt awfully easily.” But not knowing you I wouldn’t make that observation about you.

    • Duane Townsend profile image
      Author

      Duane Townsend 8 months ago from Detroit

      No Garry...

      I didn't make a mistake by including libertarians in my critique.

      You committed several egregious fallacies in your comment. Hasty generalization, the cousin of sweeping generalization.

      You characterize all libertarians as like yourself. Hasty generalization.

      You also committed several other fallacies, a clever ad hominem, and a pretty transparent strawman argument.

      Thank you for reading. I stand behind every word I wrote.

    • Garry Reed profile image

      Garry Reed 8 months ago from Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas

      You made a major mistake when you included “Libertarians” in your article’s headline. You mention “libertarian” in the body of your article only twice and grossly misuse it both times.

      First you use the term “right-wingers/libertarians” as though they are the same things. As a longtime libertarian I can assure you that I am not a “right-winger.” I rejected the whole “left-right political spectrum” ages ago and haven’t voted for a “right-winger” since the 1970s, and I still regret doing it.

      Your second mention is the incredibly naive assertion that libertarians’ world view come from “conspiracy sites and YouTube.” There were no conspiracy sites or YouTubes when I became a libertarian and of all the many libertarians I’ve met, read and read about over the years I don’t know any who believe as you describe them.

      Not only are you embarrassingly ignorant of libertarianism but virtually everything you say against conservatives apply just as much to liberals. It’s why libertarians refer to America’s One Party System as Republicrat or Demopublican. They’re both authoritarian and even the least thoughtful libertarian rejects them both.

      Please educate yourself before writing your next article.

    • Duane Townsend profile image
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      Duane Townsend 24 months ago from Detroit

      Much appreciated RonElFran.

    • RonElFran profile image

      Ronald E Franklin 24 months ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      This is a well-thought out and well expressed program for having a meaningful online debate. And it applies to both sides. As one whose opinions can't be pigeon-holed as exclusively liberal or conservative, I've seen the emotional ideologues on both sides. Good job.

    • Duane Townsend profile image
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      Duane Townsend 24 months ago from Detroit

      Thanks Morgaren...glad you clicked and read.

      Your comment is a valuable addition to the discourse, again, thank you.

    • Morgaren profile image

      Tim 24 months ago from Broken Arrow, Oklahoma

      I enjoyed this, as someone who only identifies as Libertarian for lack of a better phrase, I would say that the universal truth of these techniques apply well enough that you might be running a risk of alienating a portion of readership by getting your own ideology involved with the concept of truth that you admit is a hard thing to pin down. Problems have more than one solution, and each solution has its merits and disadvantages. I think we should remember that when we debate politics, cause no one wants to admit if an opponents idea will work out of fear that will cost them votes. Which proves that they are not out for what is best for the country but their own self interest. Not characteristic of good leaders.

      Regardless you made me click and read, so maybe it wasn't a bad choice either.

    • Duane Townsend profile image
      Author

      Duane Townsend 24 months ago from Detroit

      Thanks for reading Ken Burgess.

      Sure, this behavior displays across the spectrum. But, from my observation and experience right-wingers and libertarians exhibit this more commonly.

    • Duane Townsend profile image
      Author

      Duane Townsend 24 months ago from Detroit

      Thank you RJ Schwartz

    • RJ Schwartz profile image

      Ralph Schwartz 24 months ago from Idaho Falls, Idaho

      Duane - Very enjoyable read, well organized and effectively at making your point. I disagree with your political philosophy but I admire your writing technique. Thanks for sharing!

    • Ken Burgess profile image

      Ken Burgess 24 months ago from Florida

      I can tell you from my experiences, mostly on MSN comments and not here on Hubpages where most people are civil even if they strongly disagree, that BOTH sides are full of insulting and ignorant posters.

      I also find, that when I take the time to articulate a strong argument for a position, I often get several people comment with 'thank you' and 'well written'... I ignore the insults, which are often many, and angry rants... all of which come from Clinton supporters or from that side of the isle in general.

      I have one post on there right now that has over 300 thumbs up and almost 300 replies, more than half of those replies are attacks or insults, few are sound counter points.

      That is the state of our country right now... 30% on the far left think any other opinion than their own is idiotic at best, and worthy of beheading at worst... and 30% on the far right aren't any better.

      Leaving about 40% rational thoughtful considerate people attempting to make sense of a world that is going to hell in a hand-basket.

    working