If my timeline is like anyone else’s, right now it’s a hot mess of breaking news, political opinion, denial, and a few people desperately posting cat pictures in a bid to save their sanity. (Seriously, if you’re on Twitter get following Cute Emergency, Everything Goats, Baby Animal Pics, and even Paint Mixtures—you’ll thank me when they appear in your timeline.)
Whether you engage in politics on your social media or not, chances are at some point, however carefully you curate your lists, a foam-mouthed Trumpie is going to get through. On Facebook they appear as friends-of-friends, or top commenters on public posts. On Twitter they think nothing of leaping into a private conversation and spraying everyone with a slurry of ignorance and bile.
Most of the time, engagement is futile. The block button is there for a reason and I use it liberally. Got “deplorable” or that stupid frog in your avi or handle? Blocked. Call me a libtard—blocked. Some people just want to watch the world burn. We don’t owe them an audience.
Some people, however, are worth engaging. Not because I think Trumpies can be reasoned with—sadly, if they still don’t regret voting for the orange baboon, chances are a Facebook conversation isn’t going to change their minds—but because there are still plenty of people out there who are on the fence. Who think we should still “wait and see” what’s going to come next. Those are the people we need to reach, and the Trumpies give us the perfect vehicle with which to do so.
The way to do this is simple: keep them on track. Trumpies love to spin. Trump’s whole campaign was nothing but smoke and mirrors, every scandal refuted, not with denial or admission, but by pointing the finger and throwing mud elsewhere. Given a direct question and no wriggle room to evade it, they splutter and fall apart. This isn’t only incredibly satisfying to behold for the soul who stooped to engage them, it blows away their straw men and leaves their naked incompetence visible to the world.
The chain on the left is a perfect example of this in action. Tom and Carrin are both entrenched in their views, and neither is going to change the other’s mind. However when Carrin jumped on Tom demanding evidence to support his claims about Trump, Tom delivered. Backed into a corner, Carrin could only bluster about Bill Clinton’s conduct in office, and Tom called out the misdirection.
I had a similar conversation on a friend’s Facebook wall recently. The friend asked, perfectly seriously and civilly, for an explanation why people thought seeing Trump’s tax returns mattered. A Trumpie replied it didn’t matter, Dems were just being “salty” because we were sore losers. I corrected him, with reasons. His response was to say Muslims controlled Obama. He offered me tissues and a safety pin. He said Obama caused America’s racial divide. Then he said Obama wasn’t even born in America, but had renounced his true citizenship to get free college. And only people who claimed welfare liked Obama anyway. His concluding point was that “billionaires in [this] country don’t pay taxes.”
To each garbled response I simply pointed out he hadn’t answered the original question (why seeing Trump’s tax returns mattered). Not because I thought he’d actually be able to give me a satisfactory reason why not seeing the returns is a good idea—I’m as entrenched in my POV as he is in his—but to reinforce to my friend on the fence, and his friends on the fence, and their friends, that old Trumpie had nothing in his corner but increasingly deluded—and completely irrelevant—whining about Obama.
Four times, I asked him to answer the question. At one point another friend commented, also asking for a straightforward answer. He couldn’t give one. My friend on the fence concluded there was key information we could learn from viewing the returns, and no good reason for Trump to hide them. The case was won, not by browbeating my undecided friend with arguments in my favour, but by exposing the arguments against as the hollow straw men they were.
As time goes on, this technique will become an increasingly vital tool in our armour. Already I’ve seen so many people saying they’re going to “switch off” from politics. Others have written more eloquent posts than I explaining how even having the ability to make that decision betrays a wealth of unconscious privilege, but political fatigue is a real threat to our cause.
The right know fatigue is a threat. Whether by practicing self-care, or simply through boredom, people are turning off when we need them to be turning up. The civil action needed to overturn a presidency is surprisingly small, but it needs to be sustained. It took a couple of months of demonstrations for South Korea’s president to be impeached; we’re still only a couple of weeks into the Trump presidency.
Nonetheless, we have powerful numbers on our side. Not just the 3-4 million who protested on the first day, nor the hundreds of thousands who have kept up the protests since then all over the country. (Check out this spreadsheet of planned actions over the weekend.) Trump came to office without a mandate and his approval ratings are historically low. It took him only 8 days to reach majority disapproval, and his numbers are still falling.
With every new action—another unconstitutional executive order, another
lie alternative fact from his staff, another botched military raid, another grossly unqualified cabinet nominee, another story about his failure to divest from business interests, or frivolous waste of millions in taxpayer money, or another bitter tweetstorm issued in the small hours when his handlers weren’t looking—more and more people turn their backs.
Now is the time for us to engage. By remaining cool and collected and keeping Trumpies on point, we can bring their entire house of cards tumbling down.