Insults Do Not Persuade People To Change Minds

“You, Dear Reader, are an idiot. You were wrong.

“So in the next election, you ought to vote as I say.”

Was that persuasive?


But on Facebook, that is what some Tri-County Area residents proclaim.

“Democrats favor drug abuse … Republicans want to kill children.”

That crap is what some of us think will convince others to agree with them.

News flash! Yes, we have a right to free speech.

But sometimes we ought to simply shut up if we hope to bring people around to our way of thinking.

Let’s use me as an example. Way back in 1968 and 1972, I voted for Richard Nixon. Nixon won election in 1968 with 43.7 percent of the popular vote (segregationist Gov. George Wallace siphoned off nearly 14 percent of the votes cast). In 1972, Nixon overwhelmed George McGovern, winning 60 percent of the vote, including mine.

“Nixon is evil, is dirty, is ‘Tricky Dick’!” I was told between 1968 and 1972, sometimes by family members whose judgments I respected.

“You were wrong to have voted for him.”

So what did I do? I voted for Nixon again in 1972. Not until 1976 (Ford-Carter) did I see that a candidate who deserved my support had to be a good person as well as on the right side of some issues. Ford and Carter were both good men.

We don’t like to be shown up to be wrong, so sometimes we ignore the reality by rejecting the insult.

If we really want to change people’s opinions, telling people they were wrong is not a good way to do that.

“But, Denny … all those negative campaign ads do just that!”

Remember the sub-rosa gutter talk about John McCain having fathered a black child? South Carolinians bought it. Obama born in Kenya? Same thing.

Those ads are not aimed at changing the minds of people who have made decisions. Instead, they are aimed at that tiny fraction of people who are undecided, and there, sadly, negative ads are very effective.

But the above hogwash, “Democrats favor drug abuse … Republicans want to kill children” only hardens the battle lines.

Think about it.

In Clearfield County alone, in 2017, there were 26,147 registered Republicans and 20,405 registered Democrats – plus, I am proud to point out, 237 registered Libertarians, though my own Libertarianism is registered in adjacent Jefferson County.

Back when I was a Democrat, before Hillary made that repugnant to me, or when I was a Republican, before Trump disgusted me, I knew members of the opposing major party. I am married to a Democrat. My daughters are Democrats.

So how does it resonate with me when someone posts on Facebook, “Democrats favor drug abuse”?

It sure reduces my respect for the pygmy-brained Troglodytes who post such hogwash, that’s how.

Ditto for the anti-Republican screeds.

We get nowhere when we attempt to portray our neighbors, our relatives, our co-workers, the people who sit near us in church, as political monsters.

We get nowhere because that is hogwash on its face.

One of my friends (Yes, I do have some) is a sweet lady of about my age. She proclaims, with wide-eyed earnestness, that Donald Trump is “the best President we ever had.”

I simply sigh.

Washington decided that we would not be ruled by kings. He could have been crowned king or President for Life in the 1800s, but did not. Lincoln kept us as one country. Franklin Roosevelt ensured that we do not greet each other with Nazi salutes.

Yet Trump, who has not yet been in office for two years, is “the best President ever?”

You just keep drinking the Kool-Aid, my friend. I sigh, and on occasion I try to persuade.

But I do not call the woman a silly hare-brained fool. In the privacy of my home, when I am alone, I might mutter that, just for cathartic purposes.

Saying it to my friend would destroy the friendship without changing her opinions.

Why do that?

Why not instead continue to try, from time to time, to present different ways of viewing this or that issue of the day?

Doing that is a lot harder than screaming epithets.

Doing that also requires us to think, whereas screaming epithets only requires us to emit verbal diarrhea, an activity that occurs from the neck down, requiring no intellectual activity, no rational thought, just Neanderthal-like grunts.

To her credit, my Trump-loving friend still smiles sweetly at me and talks pleasantly to me, even though she knows that, while I don’t think Trump has been half-bad as President, I detest him as a person.

But that is how I feel about Trump. Our Constitution, and political common sense, both eschew bills of attainder, i.e., blaming others for the failings of their friend or family member.

“Democrats favor drug abuse … Republicans want to kill children.”


Democrats and Republicans are our family members, neighbors, co-workers, co-religionists.

It is past time that we got back to treating our fellow citizens as people, not as pariahs.


Denny Bonavita is a former editor at newspapers in DuBois and Warren.

He lives near Brookville. Email: