A Field Guide to Bad Faith Arguments

Once you recognize these weak tactics in your mentions, you can easily outwit them

Aaron Huertas

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Credit: JakeOlimb/DigitalVision Vectors/Getty Images

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Bad faith arguments are common in politics. And while they’ve always been part of political culture, they’re much more rampant on social media. It’s easy to fall prey to bad faith arguments and waste time engaging someone on points that obscure rather than shed light on how we’re all affected by policy and politics.

So with that in mind, here’s a field guide for spotting and responding to bad faith arguments and staying focused on the real-world issues that matter.

What’s a bad faith argument?

The hallmark of a bad-faith argument is that it disguises the core point of a debate rather than addressing issues, beliefs, and values head-on.

Bad faith arguments aren’t “real” positions; they’re proxy positions people take for rhetorical purposes. In some cases, a bad faith position can be intentional. For instance, Sen. Mitch McConnell made up a “Biden rule” to justify stealing a Supreme Court seat. Instead of arguing about the merits of refusing to hold a vote on President Barack Obama’s justice nominee Merrick Garland, McConnell made a proxy argument about Democrats being hypocrites for complaining about his power grab. And indeed, many Republicans and independents came to believe that the “Biden rule” was real and that McConnell was simply playing hardball politics just like the Democrats.

Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, owner of a stolen Supreme Court seat. Photo: The White House/YouTube via Wikimedia Commons/public domain

But most bad faith arguments aren’t from wily, professional politicians like McConnell. They simply come from a place of not wanting to confront the actual arguments someone else is making.

For instance, climate policy advocates point to scientific evidence that burning fossil fuels and increasing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is causing seas to rise, more wildfires…

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Aaron Huertas

Democracy is pretty cool. We should try it some time. Voting rights, science policy, political communication and grassroots activism.