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Power of Persuasion

Posted on Friday, June 30, 2023
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by AMAC, Robert B. Charles
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16 Comments
Persuasion

Americans have lost confidence in their ability to persuade each other. The beginning of wisdom, or at least a foothold on that mountain, is returning to faith in persuasion. If we encounter closemindedness – and we all do – the remedy is an intellectual can-opener, patience offering light until seen, not returning the favor of a closed mind. This – believe it or not – is the key to America’s future.

The Founding Fathers were resolute in their beliefs, and many clashed, but they shared one, a belief in persuasion. They believed a combination of logic, emotion, and ethics – the old Greek logos, pathos, and ethos – would get them, and every succeeding generation of Americans, to truth.

Their first testament to this belief in persuasion was the Declaration of Independence, which used all three means to convey their convictions to the King, other colonists, and world – classic persuasion.

If fidelity to truth – everyone seeking it, accepting it when found, reminding each other to seek it – was the magic elixir for keeping the Republic, for preventing a drift toward mindlessness and tyranny, then an openness to persuasion was the way truth got preserved.

Follow me, and you will – I think – be persuaded. Why would our Founders have placed freedoms of religion and speech at the front of the line, in the First Amendment, and first line of that Amendment?

Obvious, is it not?  The future of the nation depended more on preserving those two freedoms than any other, and then a Second Amendment, “right to keep and bear arms,” to preserve the First, and others.

If faith guided most lives, why did they elevate speech to position one? Because only through openness to new and controversial ideas, opinions, discoveries, perspectives, and understandings of truth – could they assure a timeless right to criticize government and persuade others of the truth.

Without free speech, the other identified freedoms all went silent, just as without arms all freedoms in the Bill of Rights were suddenly placed in jeopardy. But the speech part was more than theoretical, or some “pie in the sky” idea that truth would emerge, in some future wonderland, with persuasion.

They lived this conviction. Nowhere is this more obvious than in they way they battled – and they did battle – over ideas, including the shape, limits, and powers of government. At the Constitutional Convention, which lasted three tight-lipped months, Madison’s persona notes tell us a great deal.

Want they tell us above all is that these hard-bitten, fight to the death, believe in the future revolutionaries – all believed firmly in the power, efficacy, and almost sanctity of persuasion.

How? In all that time, battling over every possible issue around life, they never once – according to Madison’s notes – criticized any other member of the gnarly, independence-focused, truth-seeking group…for changing their mind.

Think on that. What does that mean? What could possibly sideline such a standard, petty, human emotion – one we see surfacing all the time in politics and media today – and make them all respect a change of mind, a phenomenon which occurred often in shaping the founding documents?

Answer: Respect for pursuit of truth, through the process of speaking and listening, all the while being open to the idea of persuasion. They knew they were not God, did not have a monopoly on wisdom, but did have a way to scale that mountain together – batting ideas back and forth, until they got closer.

The process they used was recourse to persuasion, an openness to hearing, pondering, and offering statements that drew on their shared respect for logic, understood emotion, and ethics – or use of their minds, hearts, and consciences – to figure out the problem, troubleshoot it together.

That is how we got the Constitution and Bill of Rights – not just consensus on the Declaration of Independence, but agreement on the complex configuration, interbranch and interstate balance of powers, and exact wording for the “must have” limits on the federal government by the people.

So, where does this leave us today?  In a state of muddle, or a state of curmudgeonly frustration and disagreement over just about every aspect of life, including how best to limit government. Why? Because we have forgotten the importance of persuasion – and even how to persuade.

How much easier it is to declare oneself right, and just close the door, hang up the phone, delete the email, ignore or disfavor or unfriend or disavow the opinion we know, or we think we know for sure, is wrong. But here is the rub – that is not what the Founders did, not early or late.

Did they disagree fervently on just about everything? Yes. On the role of each branch, role of the states versus federal government, role of the people, which of 60 amendments should be axed, whey, when, how, with what urgency to ratify the Constitution, whether and how to end slavery?  Yes.

They worked each of these issues to exhaustion, resolved most of them through persuasion. Look at the notes, their heartfelt letters – filled with persuasion – to each other, their speeches, the Federalist Papers, arguments before state legislatures, Congress, the Courts, and in private. 

The only one they could not resolve was slavery, and that one – in the end – the nation came to blows over, but for most of this nation’s history we have figured out that the institutions framed and rights contained in the Constitution got there – and will only stay there – if we believe in persuasion. We need – as one nation – to rediscover our confidence in the past and present. Best way? Still persuasion.

Robert Charles is a former Assistant Secretary of State under Colin Powell, former Reagan and Bush 41 White House staffer, attorney, and naval intelligence officer (USNR). He wrote “Narcotics and Terrorism” (2003), “Eagles and Evergreens” (2018), and is National Spokesman for AMAC.

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Chris
Chris
9 months ago

but they shared one, a belief in persuasion” — therein lies the rub, the Left no longer believes in the power of persuasion, in fact they deny the basis of it, argument based on logic. Look at their claims that mathematics is “racist”.
The real fight is getting them to believe in persuasion again — but how can you do that when you need to use persuasion to do so? They have utterly closed their minds to it. Unfortunately, in their minds, they have good reason to, they *believe* that people on the Right are either evil or hold evil beliefs, it’s religious for them. Until we come to terms that Leftism is a religion and address it as such, no persuasion will work, because for them it is a matter of faith. It’s harder to persuade a person that the tenets of their faith are wrong than to persuade them of pretty much anything else.
If I thought someone was the equivalent of a Satanist, I am not going to listen to a single argument they make because I know how tricky Satan can be — the Left views us that way. Our words land on deaf ears. We must utterly discredit/destroy their faith before we can have any hope of persuading them. Heck, they don’t even want to persuade us anymore, they are mainly focused on punishing us/forcing us to acquiesce, rather than winning argument.

anna hubert
anna hubert
9 months ago

If you are able to reason with the other side persuasion night be a possibility

Rob citizenship
Rob citizenship
9 months ago

The power of persuasion — really good to think about, how important, how fundamental , especially regarding the connection with truth. As you wrote , pertaining to the mindset of those at the Constitutional Convention 1787, ” … offering statements that drew on their shared respect for logic, understood emotion and ethics –” So, thinking about that framework brings a fuller understanding to the history involved at that point, at that place -Philadelphia, at that time. Having a clear understanding of what the goals are, it could be useful to consider some pre – internet ways of reasoning , for example the requirements for good management, good decision making — Planning , Organization, Coordinating, and Scheduling, all connected by clear, intelligent Communication. Truth being most important part of any endeavor. Well Done ! With this article Robert, it is a matter of good sense, and promotes ethical ideas.

johnh
johnh
9 months ago

This would make a good poll for AMAC : Answer yes/no whether you believe the 2020 election was honest & accept winner. This is timely with this article as it seems like a lot of people are trying to convince others that the election was either honest or Corrupt.

Robert Deighton
Robert Deighton
9 months ago

Such a wonderful, thoughtful message, Thank you.

Morbious
Morbious
9 months ago

There is no reasoning with dem robots. Occasionally there is a facsimile of such, among acquaintances who see each other infrequently. Otherwise, making points to a dem robot is like talking to a refrigerator. The only way this country is saved is for a few dem robots to break their conditioning and help their fellows to do likewise. They snarl and snap their teeth at us.

Maurice D
Maurice D
9 months ago

I enjoyed the article, and found it timely and very relevant. Many thanks.

Catharine Noel-Repetski
Catharine Noel-Repetski
9 months ago

So much for persuading “lefties”. We ended up un-friending each other,

Rob citizenship
Rob citizenship
9 months ago

Spell check system did it again — caused an error .In comment just sent a few minutes ago ( on July 3rd ) last sentence — should be ” In the spirit of respect for Truth in all endeavors .” The spell check system entered I’m instead of in. O.K. , that’s better now.

Rob citizenship
Rob citizenship
9 months ago

Respect for the pursuit of truth, in connection with the use of persuasion giving more thought to the matter, and the historical comparisons in the article — I do believe that one reason for persuasion being used less than it was could be the change in thought patterns and how many people express themselves due to the internet ( and the internet version of the English language) . For present day endeavors, after having a goal established, it could be useful to consider some pre – internet ways of reasoning as the power, or art , or tactic — call it the practice of persuasion will be more effective with vocabulary that is right to the point, direct, unambiguous, For example, thinking in terms of describing the elements of good character, such as respect, courage, responsibility , fairness, and other good qualities. Or the requirements for good management , good decision making, those being planning, organizing, coordination, scheduling, and clear, intelligent communication. Very important topic, Robert , great writing Well Done ! In the spirit of respect for Truth I’m all endeavors.

John L
John L
9 months ago

Putting it in the context of a group of men trying to form a new country to free themselves from the tyranny of England, these men all had one common goal. They also had a sincere faith in God. Now, think about the people we have in the Executive and Legislative branches of Government today. Many of them are only interested in their own self gain, not the country’s interest and “the people’s” interest. Far from it! I dare say, some of them want to destroy our country because they have sold out to China and Marxism. I only wish we had the kind of people in government that had the ideals and beliefs that our founding fathers had. Putting our country first in everything they do. I’m afraid we are past the persuasion stage. The only persuasion that will work now, may be another revolution or, possibly, a Convention of States to make drastic changes in the way our government operates. It has become a swamp so big that it has a life of it’s own.

InsanitySquared
InsanitySquared
9 months ago

Hmm, when it comes to the power of persuasion it seems like the defeated former President persuaded the large chunk of the Republicans that there is not alternative to him. Well, this Independent gave him a chance back in 2020 but he will never be persuaded to give him another chance in 2024. I am a right-leaning guy and if the defeated former President is the Republican nominee, I am either staying home or voting for the Democrat for the POTUS. I still see myself voting for some rational Republicans so that there is some balance of power. But if the Republicans insist on glorifying the defeated former President, they will see him defeated once again next year. He will be twice-impeached, twice-defeated former President under criminal investigations. Is that what you all really want? Well, you can downvote me 10:1 here, but remember that in the general election you are the minority 3:1. Cheers & Peace!

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