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How to Lose Every Argument

Usually, I’m hesitant to lay ultimatums down saying that one tactic or another will never, ever work. That makes a lot of assumptions that I’m not qualified to make, However, I would say that with certain goals, being uncivil harms, not helps, the cause.

This is true for any cause. But it is especially true for the cause of human liberty and social peace.

Defining Civility

Civility has taken quite a beating recently. From being confused with “political correctness,” to being maligned as only the domain of losers, numerous public figures have decided that treating their opponents on either side of the aisle with respect is a thing of the past. In this fracas, civility has often been cast as another term for word policing and censorship.

Civility is a view that the human being you are talking to is your equal.

Yet this definition of civility misses the important reason we developed civil language in the first place.

Civility is a view that the human being you are talking to is your equal. The reason I treat you with respect is because I view you, your opinions, and your ideas as I view myself. No matter how evil or good, uninformed or smart I think you are, if I had your experiences, I could be in your position. I may very well have become you and held your views.

Without this understanding, some of the greatest accomplishments of civilization would have been prevented by the dividing lines of culture.

To put it another way, civility is the humility that if you were born in North Korea, you’d also think Kim-Jong Un had god-like wisdom and power. Reclaiming the position that all of us should be treated as equals to the other is the true definition of civility. The way we speak to each other is the respect developed from that.

As a tactic, though, some have argued that incivility has its uses. It gets attention. It shakes people out of their apathy. Some even contend it won Donald Trump the presidency. The blunt, honest, truth, they call it. I would argue that if our goals are peace and liberty, there are two big reasons incivility has no place in our movement.

Incivility Prevents the Spread of Ideas

Liberty and peace are primarily advanced through the spread of ideas. It was not too long ago that John Locke, arguing that the subjects of the king had inherent rights, refused to put his name on that book, the Second Treatise of Government, for fear he would be hanged for such a radical idea. A mere hundred years later, the Founding Fathers built an entire government based on those ideas. Today, even the word “libertarian” is mainstream, and more people believe in individual rights and self-ownership than ever.

Division prevents the spread of ideas.

Further, nearly every major advance in liberty has been preceded by an advance in our ability to communicate ideas. The printing press, the radio and television, and the internet each have advanced human liberty by leaps and bounds.

And this is where incivility becomes a major problem. Division prevents the spread of ideas, and I’m not sure it’s possible to be irascible, i.e. easily angered, or uncivil, without being divisive. When I divide you, set you apart, say you are not equal to me, you, rightly so, stop listening to me. And that stops the spread of ideas between us.

“Forget” Everything about You

These were the words (more explicit in real life) of Philadelphia woman as she urinated on the American flag this Fourth of July. It contained all the shock doctrine, attention, and brashness praised by opponents of civility. After she got death threats and had a contract put out on her head, the media responded, with everyone from the Daily Mail and The Sun to Breitbart and Fox News picking up the story.

In the face of such an overreaction, there is a tendency to respond in kind. And many writers did, some calling those who respect the American flag “flaggots” and “flag-worshipers” or “admirers of a piece of cloth.” One journalist wrote “you should be offended with your own damnable hypocrisy… calling for the bodily harm of someone committing a nonviolent act against a symbol.”

There’s no need to attack either side for us to agree that harming someone over a symbol is wrong.

This is laying a dividing line down, splitting those who support the flag for what it stands for to them, maybe American values like freedom, liberty, and equality under the law, maybe the only thing they recognized in a foreign country, maybe the last thing they saw draped over their grandfather’s coffin, from those people who see the American flag as a symbol of oppression, genocide, or war.

It is a dividing line that doesn’t need to be laid down, as there’s no need to attack either side for us to agree that harming someone over a symbol is wrong.

This is even a dividing line that doesn’t need to be laid down. Most who support the flag could be easily convinced against those who would cause bodily harm to someone for defacing it, were they not lumped into the same category. They would also be most likely, since they shared similar values, to be able to rein in those who were advocating violence.

I don’t know of a way you can be uncivil – to come from a place where you view the person you are talking about or to as lower than you – without being divisive. They are inherent to each other, as the person targeted is inherently pushed away by such damaging language. When that person is pushed away, rest assured they will lock down, the conversation about our ideas on peace and liberty will end.

The Roots of Tyranny

More importantly, though, we have to recognize the role incivility plays in the roots of tyranny. The roots of tyranny have always been in the beliefs that a group of people deserve fewer rights, are less intelligent, less noble, less pious, less moral than another group. The claim of the inferiority of the other is the one consistent thing that has justified tyranny and force from time immemorial.

We cannot impose tyranny on another person without believing they are lower than us.

Our wars in the Middle East were justified because the Muslims are “savages” and “uncivilized.” Our drug war at home was justified because drug users were considered lower beings than the rest of us. Labor regulations were justified on grounds that some people – you know, those people – just can’t manage their own lives. Chinese immigrants were ruthless and bent on poisoning people, blacks were thugs and uncivilized, and so on.

We cannot impose tyranny on another person without believing they are lower than us. Equality of rights is key to preserving any type of liberty. Equality is what civility starts to bring back. If many of the “proud boys” in the alt-right and members of Antifa sat down at the bar away from politics, they would find plenty to agree on. And both sides having seen the other as human, they would be less likely to use force against the other.

The odds are, if we sat Antifa and the “proud boys” down for a beer, the clash at Berkeley would never have happened. It is only when one group views the other as less than that they are willing to use violence on them.

Civility starts from a position of “we are equal in dignity.” Incivility starts from the opposite position. And all it does is reinforce the divide between whatever sides are in the conversation.

Walk Away

Do you know why we hate lawyers? Because they are the civilized form of a warrior. Prior to legal systems, you would just kill your neighbor if he wronged you. That civility prevents lots of unnecessary deaths.

Do you know why many people hate politics? Because they are on the modern day battlefields. Our ballot box is the pillbox, our elections the great battles across fields of blood, only instead of killing each other with weapons, we are using words.

Beating up your target just turns people on the fence against you.

Lose civility, make it so people think words aren’t enough, and we will go back to the violence of before. That is something I absolutely cannot bear to see happen here, and we are so, so close.

Some people confuse hard truths with a lack of civility. Look at Glenn Greenwald. He tells the truth. He doesn’t hold back. Yet he is still civil. He still commands the conversation always strives for clarity, honesty, sincerity. And because of this, he gains far more respect than if he just spit all over everyone who disagreed with him.

Hard-hitting journalism doesn’t mean you have to beat your target up, and often beating up your target just turns people on the fence against you, exacerbating the problem you were hoping to address in the first place.

Finally, there are people who have no interest in civility. They only want to insult, humiliate, smear, and get attention for doing so. They will always find sparring partners with others who desire the same. What can you do about them?

My suggestion: walk away. There is no good to be accomplished in this realm. Being civil to others, however, serves as a model for others, and a way to gradually change the world to one where there is greater peace and liberty.

Daniel Johnson


Daniel Johnson

Daniel is the Executive Director at Tax Revolution Institute, the President of the Solutions Institute, and an anti-partisan super activist.

This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.

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The IRS Swings on Dark Money but Misses the Target

By Nan Aron

If you’re concerned about “dark money” in politics and the tsunami of cash from the super-wealthy and corporations pouring into the political system, or if you were outraged by the recent “scandal” involving the IRS’s clumsy assessment of 501(c)(4) groups, your ears probably perked up when you heard that the Internal Revenue Service has issued draft regulations to “provide clarity” to the rules that govern so-called “social welfare” organizations.

Yet the new regs will do almost nothing to fix the things you think are broken and may, in fact, do some real damage to the ability of everyday Americans to have an impact on the political process.

The proposed rules cover 501(c)(4) groups, named for the section of the tax code that governs them. Although this is the segment of the nonprofit world best known for notorious organizations like Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS, it is actually made up of over 86,000 mostly small organizations nationwide, some of which are almost certainly active participants in your own community’s civic life. They weren’t invented in the last election cycle; they’ve been around for generations. Their purpose isn’t to hide donors but to advance policies. The big, famous guys and the shady newcomers get all the attention, but they aren’t typical of the sector, any more than Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber reflect the experience of the bulk of the people making a living in the music industry.

These groups are involved in elections because it’s often impossible to advance a policy cause without being involved in the political process. For that reason, in 1959, the IRS promulgated rules that said that (c)(4)s can involve themselves in electoral politics, but that partisan activity cannot be their “primary purpose.” Unfortunately, the IRS neglected to define what it meant by “primary,” presumably some percentage of an organization’s total budget.

That kind of ambiguity was fine for a long time because almost all (c)(4)s were only allowed to communicate messages about candidates to their own members, and many were engaged principally in nonpartisan election activity like get-out-the-vote, and voter registration drives anyway.

Then, in 2010, the Supreme Court decided the Citizens United case, and the game changed. Citizens United allowed corporations to spend unlimited amounts in support of, or opposition to, candidates in elections. Most people don’t realize it, but nonprofit groups are corporations, so the new rules also applied to them. Suddenly, the well-worn vagueness of the “primary purpose” test, combined with the fact that (c)(4)s, like all non-political nonprofits, don’t have to publically disclose the names of their donors, made them a perfect vehicle for those looking for a way to inject massive amounts of anonymous money into elections.

It’s no surprise that the IRS is trying to restore order to this previously sleepy corner of the tax code—and to respond to attacks from both the left, right and center—but the suggested regulations (which are open to public comment until February 27) are frankly befuddling. They don’t have much, if anything, to do with the controversial actions of the host of well-funded new (c)(4)s that have popped up post–Citizens United, but they do take a big bite out of the work of the long-established smaller ones.

Here’s why the proposed IRS rules will do almost no good but cause much harm:

Nonpartisan efforts to increase civic engagement and voting participation will suffer

Just like now, under the new rules, candidate-related spending would not be allowed to be the primary purpose of an organization. But unlike the old definition, this one throws a lot of new things into the candidate-related pot that were previously considered social welfare work or nonpartisan political activity.

The IRS now says that any (c)(4) that acts in any way within the context of the electoral process is by definition engaged in candidate-related activity, even if the work is not aimed at supporting or opposing any specific person.

The effect will be to discourage get-out-the-vote efforts, candidate scorecards or voter registration work.

Groups would be significantly constrained from doing work around issues or pending votes in Congress in the period leading up to elections if their advocacy work mentions anyone running for political office—which in the case of the House of Representatives, for instance, is virtually everyone. Why should public debate about issues be constrained just because a bill is scheduled for a vote near election time?

There is nothing in these rules that deals at all with disclosure of donors

If you’re worried about “dark” money and a lack of disclosure of donors, there is nothing in the regs about where the money for (c)(4)s comes from, and they don’t require any new level of disclosure. If the money was “dark” before, it will continue to be “dark” after.

We probably still won’t know how much political activity is OK, so the kind of ambiguity that led to the IRS “scandal” will still be there

In order to stay on the right side of the tax code, a social welfare group’s “primary purpose” has to be social welfare and not electoral politics. The new regs contain no new guidance at all about what constitutes an organization’s “primary purpose.” (Admittedly, the IRS is asking for open-ended input about the issue, but makes no proposal of its own, leaving its track record of ambiguity perfectly intact.) If the new rules are enacted without a resolution to this core issue, IRS examiners will still have nothing concrete to go on when assessing new applications and established groups will still not know how to comply with the rules. So if you think the IRS proposal will solve the problem of IRS “bias” or help clarify who is cheating and who isn’t, once again you will be sorely disappointed.

The big money will just move elsewhere, and it’s the little guy who will be hurt

The big “dark money” groups everyone is worried about are like opportunistic parasites seeking a vulnerable host. Once the (c)(4) category is exposed to “reforms” and no longer of use, they’ll just jump to new categories, like trade associations or limited liability corporations. In fact, they’re already on the way out the door. Unfortunately, the new rules, designed to deal with the now-notorious troublemakers, will still be there long after they’ve gone, hurting no one but the smaller, law-abiding groups left behind.

So if the IRS proposal is flawed, what’s the solution? The answer depends on what you think the problem is. The attention being paid to (c)(4) groups is rooted in concerns that the social welfare category has been hijacked by a relative handful of very wealthy donors. Let’s be candid, if the same hundreds of millions of dollars spent in the last election came from a massive number of $100 donations, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. One can read the IRS proposal as a back-door way of making the (c)(4) category such an untenable vehicle for political work that those very big donors and corporations seeking political involvement would be forced into entities where disclosure requirements are more rigorous. But if disclosure is really the underlying issue then let’s deal with that instead of taking down an infrastructure of policy and political involvement that is an essential component of our democracy.

One possible approach is for Congress to establish rules for meaningful disclosure that capture only the biggest donors and those with explicit electoral goals, but avoids exposing everyday people. There may also be value in distinguishing between groups that have broad support from many people, including many small contributors, and those that are set up for the use of a tiny handful of very big donors.

The sooner we acknowledge the real motivation behind the IRS proposal, the sooner we can create meaningful solutions that actually address the real issue and don’t inadvertently take down small nonprofits and groups with a strong civic-engagement mission whose role is central to our democratic system.

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The IRS is Attacking Free Speech

Vibrant political speech is in America’s DNA, and Americans don’t want the tax man acting as a political speech czar.

However, late last year the Treasury Department and the IRS proposed rules that would thrust the IRS into the role of regulating vast amounts of constitutionally-protected political speech by 501(c)(4) nonprofit civic groups.  The rules would, in effect, create a huge “no speech zone” for these groups, with IRS staff calling balls and strikes as to what speech is permissible and what is not. This proposal followed earlier revelations that the IRS targeted certain conservative nonprofit groups for extra scrutiny.

This untenable proposal proves the obvious: the IRS has neither the expertise nor the authority to regulate political speech. The proposed rules are absurdly and needlessly broad, trampling on speech that has never been regulated before and that is at the heart of the First Amendment. The proposal also puts the tax rules in hopeless conflict with themselves and other laws, making them unworkable as a practical matter.

The IRS would be like a stalking horse to silence the speech of nonprofit civic groups with which it might disagree. An in-depth analysis of this IRS regulation was recently released by the Tax Revolution Insitute.

It restricts us from engaging in legitimate policy advocacy by gagging us from even referencing a politician, let alone talking about voting records, during election season.

In comments filed by the U.S. Chamber urged Treasury and the IRS to withdraw their proposal. We argue that:

  • The IRS should not be given authority to regulate or ban core First Amendment speech.  Using the IRS in this way would violate our nation’s longstanding tradition that such regulations should be put in place by Congress or by the FEC, a bipartisan agency uniquely designed to guard against political abuse.
  • The IRS is particularly unsuited to serve as a regulator of political speech.
  • The amount of speech the IRS would regulate under the proposal is absurdly broad.
    • The proposal sweeps in not only election-related speech but also huge quantities of speech on pure policy issues.
    • It creates long, nationwide blackouts of speech every election year.
    • It captures every kind of speech – not just broadcast – but internet, newspaper, magazine, infomercial, even e-mails to a civic group’s own members if it is intended to reach more than 500 persons.
  • The proposal is legally unsound.
    • It violates the First Amendment by conditioning a civic group’s tax status on impermissible prohibitions on free speech.
    • It exceeds the IRS’ and Treasury Department’s statutory authority.
    • It violates standards applicable to all agency rulemaking because it is irrational, arbitrary, and capricious.
  • The proposal’s plan for any new rules to be effective immediately is a blatant effort to chill the speech of 501(c)(4) organizations now, just ahead of an important election year.