The method to his madness
Image via Wikipedia
It’s understandable for heads to spin as President Donald Trump ushers in a “post-truth” era. Despite new technology making it easier than ever to hunt down the facts, we’re finding it increasingly difficult to sift out sly deceits and distill credible information. We’re finding ourselves overwhelmed by the new administration’s lies—both big and small. But don’t feel defeated just yet. This tactic of fatiguing the public with falsehoods has been used before, and more importantly, it has been overcome.
It’s called the “Gish Gallop” method. Named after biochemist-slash-creationist Duane Gish who mastered it during the evolution debates of the 1980s and 1990s, the Gish Gallop method involves putting your opponent in the awkward position of having to refute everything you say. Otherwise known among expert debaters as “spreading,” the Gallop tactic capitalizes on mankind’s imperfect reasoning abilities by dispersing several false claims, Quartz reports. The responsibility to disprove all of those falsehoods falls on the liar’s opponent, which takes momentum away from their own argument and places all of the focus on upholding facts. Failing to disprove just one of those lies renders the truth-seeker’s argument essentially worthless even if they’ve proven dozens of other claims to be false.
But at its most basic level, the Gish Gallop method comes down to time. For instance, it takes one sentence to claim Trump has no business conflicts, but how much research and thoughtful reporting does it take to prove that he does? By the time you’re done reading a story about his entanglements, Trump has likely already rattled off a dozen other lies that all need disproving. It’s easy to see how reporters and readers alike can get overwhelmed.
Luckily, we aren’t defenseless against this tactic. Acknowledging it exists is the first step, which you’ve already accomplished if you’ve read this far. Check. Now we need to take a few pointers from seasoned debaters:
Step 1: Reorganize the argument. Drown out all the little lies by hammering down on one clear, concise counter argument. NBC’s Chuck Todd did a good job of this when Kellyanne Conway offered up “alternative facts.”
Step 2: Become fact checking’s biggest fan. While supporting credible media outlets is a good start, we should all be questioning claims that sound untrue. Avoid getting into energy-zapping comment section feuds with strangers, but if your Aunt Muriel shares an inaccurate story about the dangers of Islam, kindly point her in the right direction.
Step 3: Stay vigilant. Facts can only give way to lies if we allow it. Maintaining reality and defending the truth takes energy, but it’s worth the effort if we want to avoid wading into an Orwellian future. Together, we can all keep Trump accountable and maintain some sense of sanity in the process.