The 2016 election featured what was undoubtedly one of the most tumultuous and volatile political campaigns in modern history. Never before has the country faced a choice between two candidates that held such decidedly different and opposed views, and whose moral compass’s seemed to lie on the far end of each political spectrum, depending on the viewpoint which your average voter in question held. These circumstances created an environment that allowed an innumerable amount of heated and brutal debates to flourish, where facts and logic seemed to be sucked into a violent death spiral fueled by irrational, emotional, partisan, and reactionary talking points parroted back to you as quickly as they could be regurgitated by the friend, family member, or twitter drone whom you happened to be arguing with. While there is much to be gleaned from this election in terms of political stratagem and the importance (or lack there of) of conventional political wisdom, and the merits of each candidates and the values they promoted, this article will instead focus on what we can learn on a successful way of debating both political opponents and people who hold opposing viewpoints on a variety of issues that you may come across in your day to day life.
The first and most essential lesson we can take away from the election is to do your own independent research on the issues and events that are important to you. Never recycle or reuse statistics or talking points you heard from a political or public figure without first checking them yourself. For the most part, politicians are as about as trustworthy as you can throw them, and unfortunately as our society grows increasingly obese, this distance we can throw them has become less and less. All jokes aside, it is well known that most politicians lie or use manipulated facts to score political points. If you fail to fact check them and reuse a faulty point or statistic in a debate or argument, your opponent can immediately discredit you and whatever point you were trying to make. Therefore, it is always best to do thorough and independent research on hot-button issues. Not only will this help you avoid the above mentioned trap, it will also give you a much better understanding of the issue and where you really stand on it.
So after you’ve done your own research, it’s a good idea to swallow a dose of reality and realize that you simply can’t convince everyone to agree with you or join your side of the argument. Their are some people that are stuck in the herd mentality and will always recite the party line on any given particular issue. No matter how well thought out or factually correct your argument is, they will dismiss it and find some reason to disagree with you, even if they know it to be a flawed one. These people know they may be wrong on an issue, but for whatever reason stick to their side of the argument, whether out of loyalty to a cause or party, social pressure, a strong measure of stubbornness, ignorance, or the inability to admit they were wrong. Arguing with them is essentially pointless and a waste of time. Instead, spend your time and energy focusing on more open minded people who will listen to facts and reason and have the ability to come to their own conclusions about such issues. Furthermore, make sure you never fall into the herd mentality yourself. Be willing to concede points and arguments if your opponent truly has proved you wrong in a logical and factual way. Most people don’t always get it right their first time developing a viewpoint on an issue and it/s okay to evolve your thinking on the issues if new facts or new arguments are presented to you. Don’t let pride stand in your way of the pursuit of the ultimate truth.
One of the most striking failures of conversation regarding politics this year, obvious to anyone that logged on to any form of social media, was the blatant and spiteful personal insults made about supporters one party or the other. This is never a good idea when debating a person one on one or trying to convince them that your viewpoint is correct. Ad hominem attacks only serve to further drive the other person further away from your views and often leads them to despise you and people who lie on your side of the argument. One should always stick to ridiculing the ideas, not the person. Now some might think president elect Trump ridiculed many of his opponents, even going so far as to attach derogative yet catchy monikers to them (Lyin’ Ted, Crooked Hillary, etc), and he won the election so this style of argument or debating must be successful. However, Trump was never trying to convince Ted Cruz or Hillary Clinton that his policies were correct. Instead, he was trying to discredit them in the eyes of the American people. I can assure you that neither Hillary Clinton nor Ted Cruz came away thinking Trump was right on any of the issues after one of the personal attacks he launched on them. While undoubtedly opponents will try and use this tactic against you, never stoop to their level. In a one on one debate, if you are trying to convince a person that your view point is right, and not just attempt to publicly discredit them, it is better to avoid personal attacks and insults all together.
Finally, when arguing or debating someone, it is much better to use facts and logics than to try and convince them with an empathetical argument. Reasonable people like to have things proven to them in a way that cannot be disputed. Empathy leaves much more room for disagreement, as emotions, and morality are all to some degree subjective and differ from person to person. Just because something makes you feel a certain way, does not mean it has the same effect on anyone else. Furthermore, when one lets emotions cloud their judgement, it can often lead to irrational decisions and statements, which will discredit your viewpoint. It’s okay to talk about your emotional feelings, but never use them as a primary crux of your argument.
I hope that some of these little pieces of advice can create more constructive political dialogue that might help ease some of the divisiveness seen in the past election. Try and employ them in your next debate, it might just prevent a fair amount of vulgarity and strained relationships with your family and friends.