|Frank Wright, Ph.D.
President & CEO
Winston Churchill once said: “The farther back you look, the farther forward you see.”
We live today in just such a time, where we must look back to see clearly what lies ahead. It is important that we do this, because, in my opinion, the way ahead for followers of Jesus Christ is more fraught with danger than perhaps any time in the history of our republic. Yet with that same hazard comes great opportunity, if we are diligent to pursue it.
I am persuaded that in order to advance truth, you must have a healthy respect for its foes. As someone once said, it is good to read the Bible every day to know what God is thinking; and it is good to read the Washington Post every day to get the opposing viewpoint.
Well, that may be overly harsh on our friends at the Washington Post, but the principle is a good one. If we aim to proclaim truth, we must carefully study how our adversaries oppose it.
After 15 years of working on Capitol Hill, I have observed a standardized approach used by many who contend with us in the marketplace of ideas. It is a systematic strategy that I call “The Politics of Opposition.”
In this seven-point framework, you will see the principal way that ideas are opposed in political, legislative, and public policy forums. More than that, you will see the principal way that truth is opposed in almost every forum of debate.
As we begin, keep in mind that what I am writing about is primarily a strategy employed by those who stand in opposition to the advancement of an idea, a policy, a value system, or of truth itself.
Step One in the Politics of Opposition is simply to ignore your viewpoint. Here your opponents will not condescend to even acknowledge your idea. In fact, they believe that the very act of their acknowledgement would give your position recognition it does not deserve. And so, you are summarily and haughtily disregarded.
Step Two is to marginalize your opinion by characterizing it as out of the mainstream.
Here your opponents will shake their heads saying that only those on the fringes of the debate hold this position. And accompanied with appropriate winks and nods, they will conclude by saying: “These people are, well, a little extreme.”
In Step Three, your opponent will attack the factual basis of your position. Recognizing that you can no longer be ignored or marginalized, your adversaries will begin to contend with you. However they will not contend over the perspective you are advancing but over the foundation on which it rests. If they can destroy or discredit your factual foundation, your viewpoint goes with it. In this way, your antagonist attempts to argue that your stance is not worth even discussing, since it lacks any basis worthy of consideration.
But when efforts to undermine the factual basis of your belief fail, those who challenge you will move on to Step Four, which is dismissal. With a wave of the hand they invoke their favorite incantation: “The debate is over.”
Here are some other words that accompany this dismissal:
History has shown . . .
Experts agree . . .
It is now beyond dispute . . .
This matter has been long settled . . .
The not too subtle point being that you are a member of the Latter-day Flat Earth Society, arguing a position that has been completely discredited. And having declared the debate over yet still seeing your persistent efforts in the marketplace of ideas, your foes will eventually draw the next arrow from their quiver.
Here in Step Five begin the ad hominem attacks – attacks against the person. These personal attacks are shaped like this, at least initially:
No serious person believes this . . .
All reasonable people now agree . . .
Reputable experts are of one opinion . . .
And of course, by this they mean that you are not a person to be taken seriously; you are not a reasonable person; as a matter of fact you are, well, disreputable.
While these attacks may begin somewhat diplomatically, they quickly descend into rank name calling, casting aspersions on your character and integrity, even pelting you with epithets.
So much for tolerance!
But note well, that these attacks are all designed to accomplish one thing: to divert attention from your viewpoint. When your viewpoint gains traction in the marketplace of ideas, you will become the target. And these ad hominem barrages are then followed by something far more ominous – which is precisely where we are today in my view.
Step Six in the Politics of Opposition is to restrict your ability to advance your views. Here your opponents undertake substantive efforts to functionally limit your ability to make your case in the marketplace of ideas.
And finally, in Step Seven efforts to constrain your freedom to express your ideas are followed closely by aggressive efforts to prohibit you from advocating your position. Here the force of law or regulation is applied to stop you and give warning to others who may be of like mind.
Ignore, marginalize, attack the factual basis, dismissal, ad hominem attacks, restrict, and prohibit.
These are the Seven Steps in the Politics of Opposition. In the next installment, I will show its application in our contemporary framework and outline some strategies for leveraging this opposition to advance the Gospel.