Parsing Persuasion: Birthright Citizenship Edition

Students of persuasion:

Today Trump announced that he would end birthright citizenship (the conferring of US citizenship on all babies born on US soil) via an executive order.

This is wonderfully effective persuasion.

First Let’s Talk Technique

The first technique is that this is highly attention-getting. It comes one week before mid term elections when people are paying more attention. It’s also in light of the headlines of caravans from Latin America, so people are already paying attention to immigration issues.

And all those in opposition in the media will “fact check” the claim right into the first story of every news website, propagating his message far and wide.

It’s also surprising. It has been assumed for a long time that it would take a constitutional amendment to change the laws regarding citizenship of babies born in the United States.

Some more techniques:

  1. Trump uses authority: he has top men working on it, presumably experts in the law.
  2. Pacing and leading: “It was always told to me that you needed a constitutional amendment. Guess what? You don’t”
  3. Imagining a future: “It’s in the process. It’ll happen”
  4. Artfully vague language: “But now they’re saying I can do it just with an executive order.”
    • Who is “they?” If you’re on the anti-anchor baby side, “they” means authoritative legal scholars.
  5. Confirmation bias: Trump says it’s possible, so when his supporters hear any evidence, they will interpret it to support that pre-existing idea.

Now Let’s Talk Strategy

With a single announcement he turned birthright citizenship from something that the public assumed would be too difficult and not worth trying into something that people now think is possible.

Overnight, Trump will have millions of Americans who want anchor baby laws to end, to newly think it’s possible to end them, and will be more motivated to vote in the mid-terms so they can make it happen.

He also gets *millions* of people to research the legal possibilities. The sides will make the arguments for him. In the first day alone we learned that prior to 1960 it was not applied to illegal aliens and that the amendment’s original author never intended it to apply to aliens.

And here’s the 3D chess: He forces Democrats to be constitutional originalists. They cannot claim the 1st and 2nd amendments require a modern interpretation but the 14th amendment must be interpreted as original text only. They have to pick one or the other. Either he gets the 14th amendment re-interpreted, or he saves the 2nd amendment.

Bonus persuasion: the liberals want the 2nd amendment repealed and the 1st amendment modified or reinterpreted. Trump wants the same for the 14th amendment (and possibly the 17th). Now both sides are interested in the possibility of altering the Constitution. This makes it much more likely to actually happen because its no longer outside the realm of possibility.

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9 thoughts on “Parsing Persuasion: Birthright Citizenship Edition”

  1. What you call persuasion is normally called demagoguery. I’ll grant you it is an effective trick. It does as you say, gets “millions of people to research”, which not true literally does capture the unnecessary flailing that will inevitably result from this ill conceived trick.
    You rightly say it is a bit of genius that he does this right before the election because so many of his low-information so called “supporters”, or who Trump calls “My People”, have no idea that he is promulgating complete bullshit. They will take the statement at face value and add it to the list of things that they feel passionately about but are completely ignorant about. And it will all be because “he” said it.
    That’s demagoguery.
    He is striking political points w a falsehood.
    I’ll grant you he is good at it. It has become one of his go-to tricks. And when he is finally flushed out and has to admit he was wrong, he simply mumbles something and moves on to the next thing.

    Hardly amazing persuasion.

    In short, he cant do it by executive order. Constitutional amendments can only be changed / corrected by another constitutional amendment.

    Now… if you’re prepared to say he is announcing the beginnings of a constitutional overthrow… that may have more merit as a point. But not this. Please.


      1. But that is not what Trump, or you said.
        Not that it matters, you have already played loose w facts, but he did not start the movement to alter the 14th amendment either…Its been around for awhile. I heard about it a few years ago. However, certainly if he begins to advocate for it, it will gain quite a bit more visibility and create a great deal of debate/fight.

        But I have real problems w this approach. It is a common trick of Trump’s as I noted. Most recently he declared “We are going to have a tax cut for the middle class before the election”

        A statement that is, like this one about repealing a constitutional amendment a farcical lie. While different in immensity, the lie was said. It had zero chance of happening since Congress was not going to be in session till after the election. When confronted he eventually, not immediately, changed his language to “we’re going to send a proposal” or something like that.

        How are either of these incidents, similar in form, considered “persuasion”? They are outright falsehoods.


  2. <

    Bonus persuasion: the liberals want the 1st and 2nd amendments repealed. Trump wants the 14th amendment repealed (and possibly the 17th). Now both sides are interested in the possibility of altering the Constitution. This makes it much more likely to actually happen because its no longer outside the realm of possibility.

    I do not know where you get your information, but these statements are wrong at the core. I know of no “liberals” [ whatever you happen to mean by that pejorative ] who want to repeal the 1st amendment. Nor the 2nd for that matter. Your premise of persuasion has no basis.

    If you have references to substantiate this claim please supply them.
    And while doing so be sure to be clear on what a “liberal” is and is not.


      1. I have seen precisely zero calls from “liberals” to repeal the 2a. I’d appreciate if you’d send references or links. Better if you put them in your text as proof links for such an amazing assertion.

        While I appreciate the changes made concerning the 1a, still you make an assertion that is flamboyant, and essentially without any meaning more than jacking up the conversation. Who is calling for this? Again, I have never seen anyone make such a call as you assert.

        Maybe persuasion does not have to have any particular adherence to the facts or truth…But to the degree this is true it is not persuasion so much as dupping / fooling ones audience. That goes on all the time, and examples of Trump doing this are many. One recent one being the announcement that his policy and his revisions to the health care laws will protect “preexisting conditions” while in actual fact the Justice Department is prosecuting the exact opposite at his policy direction. [ref: ]

        I don’t understand, perhaps, the difference between “persuasion” and flat out deception.


  3. 1. Retired Justice Stevens called for repeal of the 2nd amendment this past March.

    2. Persuasion is about moving people’s minds and emotions in certain directions. Be careful about requiring a mathematical level precision in people’s communication because in that case every woman wearing a push-up bra is duping/fooling her audience. You don’t want to ban those, do you?

    You also must contend with the well-documented phenomenon that different people experience the same events very differently, so even first-hand accounts are not reliable as to what actually occurred.


    1. 1. I read the article. Interesting. At root is the sea change that happened concerning guns in 2008, as he says. Its interesting that what he really is against is the interpretation imposed by the Court that changed hundreds of years of history and understanding of the meaning of the amendment. It’s a complex subject not to be resolved here. Reading Jill Lepore’s history she deals w the thread of the 2A over this time. In short, it never was held to mean what it was decreed to mean in the 2008 decision. They want to repeal the decision, thinking the amendment too ambiguous they want it to be clarified. I think there is a nuanced difference there.
      And of course the discussion of who is a liberal and what do these labels even mean anymore is more than this thread can bear. I see it as a critical piece of misunderstanding in our public square that enables a great deal of mischief, what you call persuasion, to pass through without being properly vetted.

      Thanks for the reference.

      The 1A assertion remains unaddressed.

      2. To me the larger point of this thread is this notion of Persuasion.
      You take my rebuttal to yours about lying, which is at the root of the original post, and equate it to a mathematical rigor? And example that by a woman’s dressing?
      I don’t think anyone can follow that argument. It’s a fine example of a non-sequitur argument.

      Its lying. If you persuade someone based on lying you have not done a good thing.
      I gather you are not going to yield this very basic point.

      ps. I don’t understand the point or relevance in this thread of your point re people varying experience of an event. Yes, as a statement I agree. But it has no relevance to the original point of Trump announcing he can change the meaning of the 14th A by decree. Or any of the other many lies he tells on a routine basis.

      It baffles me how you are willing to appeal to these demagogic tricks as legitimate argument for the purpose of persuasion.


  4. A question occurred to me concerning this notion of persuasion.
    Does morality have any effect on what constitutes valid vs invalid persuasion? Or is it fair to say, whatever works is good? Is there anything, any act or tactic that is outside the bounds of what is allowed in the endeavor of persuading people’s minds in certain directions?
    If there is such a morality, what is it?
    Best I can tell you are advocating a valueless system… or one whose core value is simply winning “the minds and emotions” of people what ever the means.

    Not sure it covers the bases to respond, as I have heard Adams do, “I don’t believe this but this is what is happening and it works!”.


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