Consider three basic rhetorical techniques that Trump (borrowing from the Soviets and Putin) so often uses (blatant lies, whataboutism, and that a given contention is obvious) and one finds that each technique is designed to avoid discussion, to avoid inquiry, to end debate.
He aims to stifle.
1. Blatant falsehoods. Trump lies or makes false statements repeatedly, now numbering in the hundreds just since January 20th. Daniel Dale of the Toronto Star has a running tally of Trump’s lies, from small to big. Often, these lies are also absurdities, simply nutty & false.
Example: Trump claims “As you know, Mexico has a tremendous crime problem – tremendous – one of the number two or three in the world.” Fact: “According to United Nations homicide-rate figures, Mexico is not even in the 15 deadliest countries in the world. Trump appeared to be referring to a study he previously shared on Twitter, which concluded that Mexico had the second-most “armed conflict fatalities” in the world in 2016. But its methodology and conclusion were widely questioned, and the organization behind the study, the International Institute for Strategic Studies, later acknowledged it had made an error. “We accept there was a methodological flaw in our calculation of estimated conflict fatalities that requires revision. Our researchers are working to rectify this and we will share the results in due course,” the organization said in a statement in June.”
Trump’s goal: Persuade low-information, gullible followers to accept what he says at face value. He typically throws a bogus or distorted ranking into his claim (e.g., “number two or three in the world”) to make his statement seem considered, measured, accurate. His hope is that dupes won’t research his contentions. They’re designed to be accepted initially, immediately, and unquestioningly.
2. Whataboutism. This is a Soviet-era technique that Trump and Putin now use frequently. When confronted with an accusation of misconduct or wrong-doing, the user quickly tries to shift the focus to another subject rather than his or her own misconduct.
Examples: If someone questioned Soviet human rights conduct at the time, the Soviets would ask “what about Indian reservations in America?” If someone rightly questions Trump’s many conflicts of interest, he’ll try to divert attention to Hillary Clinton’s emails, the Clinton Foundation, etc.
Needless to say, past or concurrent injustices elsewhere do not exonerate a wrongdoer for his own, immediate misdeeds. That tribes were mistreated, or that Clinton had problems with an email server, would not justify Soviet brutality of Trump family self-dealing.
Trump’s goal: Stop consideration of his own misconduct, there and then, by blaming someone else for something, anything. Point to an unconnected out-group to divert attention from his own in-group conduct.
3. Obviousness. Simply declare something a matter of common sense, merely insist it’s obvious. Deny that there might be a relevant and material objection to what’s being said. David Graham discusses this at length in Why Trump Invokes ‘Common Sense’ (“It serves as a justification for his policies and as an antidote to expert opinion.”)
Example: Here’s an example, that Graham uses in his essay:
It is common sense [to Trump] that the only way to keep people and drugs from crossing the Mexican border is to build a wall from ocean to gulf. But experts reject that, noting the physical impossibility of sealing some parts of the border and pointing out that unauthorized immigrants and illegal drugs get through the border by various measures—semi truck, for example. (Ironically, border crossings have declined sharply since Trump’s inauguration, offering evidence against the notion that illegal immigration can be controlled only with a wall.)
Aside: Graham notes that Thomas Paine, in Common Sense, used the term knowingly, in a way more insightful than Trump ever has: “The title of Thomas Paine’s Common Sense appealed to the wisdom of people in governing themselves, but it cracked an implicit joke, too: The idea of democratic governance was decidedly not commonsensical for the era.” In any event, Paine didn’t merely offer a contention – he produced a reasoned, lengthy argument in support of it. Trumpism, like Putinism, is the opposite: it seeks to inhibit debate in favor of servile, unthinking, immediate acceptance.
Trump’s goal: Swallow what he says without question. Don’t look to studies or inquiries. Take his world for it.
By each of these three techniques, Trump aims to stifle relevant debate. He seeks only one-round of statements – his own – and then only enthusiastic applause (or silent acceptance) in reply.