What happened when I called conservatives vermin

It happened in Twitter, because of course it did. I decided it would be interesting to see what would happen if I used the same type of language to describe conservatives that they use to describe immigrants, minorities, and liberals in general. This was a couple of days ago, and the results are still in progress. it has been educational… for me. There’s no evidence that the conservatives who have chosen to engage with me learned anything from it, but I didn’t expect them to. It all started with this tweet:


Now, I understand that decontextualized inflammatory comments are problematic, so I went on in an entire thread after this initial tweet to talk about my motivation for saying this. You can see me trying to signal to people that they should read more by my sentence fragment at the end (“Now, just to be clear… (cont)”). Of course, if you know Twitter at all, you aren’t surprised that this was met with limited success. Most people never got past the first tweet.

But before getting into my explanations and the reactions to the tweet, let me begin with some background.

Four days prior to my tweet (six days prior to the publishing of this article), President Trump had given a speech that received a lot of attention because he talked about immigrants as an “infestation”. It wasn’t a small news story.

(This is just a sample of the current search results on the story… it was hard to miss. Scroll down past the screen shot to keep reading.)


It’s important to point out how widespread reporting on this was, so that you aren’t fooled into thinking that the people replying to my tweet may have just missed it (oops!) and were unaware that the current leader of the “conservative” movement and Republican party in America made these comments.

This is also not a new or unique event: Trump has previously said that immigrant gang members are “animals, not people” and refers to immigrants as “breeding” in sanctuary cities. In years past, prominent conservative figures have called Obama “subhuman” and claimed that liberalism is a mental disorder. But since the election of President Trump there has been a dramatic uptick in nasty language from the right that dehumanizes anyone who isn’t a white Christian conservative.

Two days ago I thought to myself: “How will they react if that kind of language is applied to them?”

Here is the rest of my initial tweet thread, after the top tweet:

The argument is pretty clear: We can’t meet rhetoric about “stamping out” liberals or immigrants with reasoned debate, we have to take a stand and make a proportional response. We have to make it clear that calling immigrants an “infestation” or “vermin” isn’t a difference of opinion we need to debate, it’s a disgusting atrocity against human rights that should be extinguished.

But there was another layer as well: I specifically pointed out that the language I am using (talking about immigrants as if they are non-human, talking about conservatism as if it’s a threat to America, and so on) is directly stolen from the way conservatives talk about immigrants, minorities and liberals. It is exactly parallel.

I did this on purpose, because I wanted to see how many conservatives “fell for it”: that is, how many of them are going to accuse me of being oh such a horrid person for daring to use the same language their president has used, but to apply to conservatives instead of “others”.

How many fell for it? Lots… and I’m too experienced with the internet to think it’s worth trying to reply to every one of them.

But here is someone who saw my tweet and was just sick of mean political rhetoric! I mean… I mean, really!!


And here is someone who decided that my dehumanizing language was the epitome of “social justice” culture:


Now this is where it gets interesting: A lot of Trump supporters described my words in a way that I would say is objectively kind of accurate… but they seemed oblivious to the fact that their very same criticism applied to Trump as well.


You can tell I’m starting to take these comments less seriously when I start tossing around the “bro”…


….and there is more like this, but it gets boring after a while.

I also won’t bore you with the vast majority of the other responses, which often centered around me being too muscular to be intelligent, correcting weird minor technicalities to avoid engaging the point (e.g. “schooling” me about the fact that we are a constitutional republic rather than a liberal democracy, or the fact that Trump said “infestation” but didn’t use the actual word “vermin”), and random homophobic slurs.

Did a single person think to themselves:

Hey, if I’m calling Greg a Nazi for using this kind of language, and Trump also used this kind of language, does that make Trump a Nazi?

There’s no real evidence of that… but I didn’t expect there to be.

What I do hope for, however, is that this entire episode can be a lesson for some of my liberal and progressive friends watching from the sidelines. This message is especially for my progressive friends on Twitter who still say we need to be polite, and who still say we need to try to win people over.

Stop thinking you can shame these people.

Stop believing you can reason with them.

Stop trying to get them to like you. They will never like you.

That is not how they are wired. They will never “see” that they are hypocrites. They will never “see” that they are treating other human beings badly. The energy you spend trying to educate them is a waste. We just need to beat them.

Are they “vermin”? No. Are they “subhuman”? No.

But please learn how these people operate, and adapt your political and rhetorical strategies accordingly.

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  1. rabidpogoista says:

    Greg, to be honest, this isn’t much better within the context than it is out of context. For starters, it’s completely hypocritical. You’re trying to make the case that it’s never okay to call people vermin, yet you carve out an exception for people who call other people vermin, proving that in your ethical framework, that “never” isn’t absolute and that there are cases where it’s okay to call someone vermin.

    If you can’t be better than those you criticize, then you’re as worthy of criticism as they are.

    Second, you employ the identity politics fallacy by putting the words that a vocal minority of Conservatives (the alt-right) have said into the mouths of all Conservatives. For the vast majority of Conservatives, T-rump doesn’t represent us, and even most of the Conservatives that support him still call him out when he says crap like this.

    And thirdly, no, you’re not teaching them anything. In the alt-right playbook, there’s a definition for vermin that fits illegal immigrants but doesn’t fit US citizens, in that the former is living someplace where they’re not legally allowed to live.

    Since Conservatives, alt-righters included, are by law allowed to live within the boundaries of the United States, and illegal immigrants are not, they apply this definition accordingly. It may not be nice of them, but at least they’re consistent.

    You might be showing them that it sucks to be called vermin, but this isn’t news to them, and in their framework, just because something doesn’t feel good, doesn’t mean it’s wrong.

    • Greg Stevens says:

      1) Someone in Facebook comments mentioned the seeming hypocrisy of the position stated in the tweets. I’ll paste my response to that at the bottom of this comment.

      2) When so-called “moderate conservatives” rise up and take down the elected leaders who say and do these terrible and ridiculous things, I will believe in “moderate conservatives”. Until I see them act, I can only assume they have not wrested control of their party and their group back from the lunatics because, on some level, they don’t want to.

      3) I agree 100%.

      OK, here is my response to the accusation of “hypocrisy”:

      I agree that there is a tension between the notion “I’m trying to illustrate to you that this is bad behavior” and “liberals can’t afford to not respond in kind any more”, which were two distinct messages woven into to my series of tweets… there is a tension, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say they are outright contradictory. We live in a weird and complex world and sometimes we are put into situations where there are no “good” options only “least bad” ones. I know that’s a little bit of a trite observation, but I think it is true and is relevant here.

      I want to live in a world where all sides can argue passionately about ideas, and rationally about how they believe their moral assumption lead to policy implications, and so on. And in that world if I am given a choice between the slow and difficult path of convincing someone with rational debate and “beating” them with insults, I choose the slow path of education and sophistication every time.

      But we don’t live in that world. And I’m very fearful (and I’m not alone) that we are at a tipping point where the tribal instincts have been stoked so badly that energy spent trying to educate is energy wasted… while the other side makes progress at stripping away the rights minorities and building a world hostile to non-conformists. Strategically, if that is the world we live in, the only way I see a “positive outcome” is to simply beat the other side.

      There is a saying that “you can’t legislate morality”. I think that is partially true. But I also think that when social standards and human rights have slipped so far that outright self-declared Nazis are winning GOP primaries and the president is calling immigrants “not human”, I have to stop caring whether we can legislate moral “feelings” and just focus on making sure it’s socially unacceptable to behave immorally to our fellow humans.

      When the rhetoric has tamed a little, maybe b 2050 or so, we can get back to philosophizing over the best way to change how people think. Until then, using words as weapons and being “no better than the other side” may be, sadly, the only path forward.

      • rabidpogoista says:

        1) I hear where your coming from, and I get that there’s a lot of fear coming from the left, but this doesn’t address, refute or justify the hypocrisy at all. For starters, If you hold that our weird and complex world justifies this as some kind of “least bad” option, then you can justify literally anything under that framework. In fact, this very mode of thinking is largely what put T-Rump in office in the first place.

        Additionally, it’s not true that the option you’ve picked is actually “least bad.” Whatever you hope to accomplish in the realm of society or politics or whatever else, returning another’s name-calling will only land you a step further away from that goal, so no matter how you slice it, there’s no way this could be considered a “less bad” option than, for example, saying nothing. That said, there are plenty of things that you COULD have said that would have actually been “good” options, like simply stating straight out that T-Rump calling people vermin was a bad thing, or better yet EXPLAINING WHY it’s a bad thing.

        I get that the your post may have been an attempt at the former, but it was a poorly thought out attempt, since it should have been clear to you that it wouldn’t have this effect.

        Also, perhaps this is off-topic, but I think you’re being a bit hyperbolic about the problem when you say things like “social standards and human rights have slipped so far that outright self-declared Nazis are winning GOP primaries…”.
        The only case where I’ve heard of this happening is the case of Arthur Jones of Illinois, but he only took the nomination by running unopposed, so it didn’t have anything to do with the decline of social standards and human rights.

        2) Quoting you: “When so-called “moderate conservatives” rise up and take down the elected leaders who say and do these terrible and ridiculous things, I will believe in “moderate conservatives”. Until I see them act, I can only assume they have not wrested control of their party and their group back from the lunatics because, on some level, they don’t want to.
        Perhaps they don’t want to, but bear in mind that if so, the REASON they don’t want to is because they apply the same “less bad” approach that you do. Moderate Conservatives may not like the guy in power, but some may view him as “less bad” than whatever lunatic may take the current lunatic’s place. I’m not justifying them in that, per se, but you and they are coming from the same place here.

  2. Tom says:

    That was an excellent experiment and post. A sadly predictable response from and lack of awareness by the respondents.