A Lesson In Persuasion From Ben Shapiro

Introduction

I've been involved in debating in some form or another since 2004.

That's when I joined the policy debate team at the Mcdonogh Schoolin Owings Mills, Maryland.

I went to college at R.I.T., where I stayed a member of the parliamentary debate team and at graduate school at Cornell, I coached the a parliamentary debate team.

These experiences have made me realize that unfortunately, there is no magic formula to being persuasive.

However, one thing that the most persuasive public speakers that I have encountered have in common is an ability to consistently frame the issue at hand within a context that is favorable to their argument.

These speakers are masters at controlling the information that is allowed to be considered relevevant to the debate. Therefore, they are able to make their arguments seem obvious and make any counter-arguments seem preposterous.

Someone in popular culture who does this very well is Ben Shapiro, the Editor-in-Chief of the Daily Wire and host of the Ben Shapiro Show.

In his columns and on his show, Shapiro consistently displays the ability to frame the topic under discussion such that the conservative position inevitably emerges as being more reasonable and rational than the liberal/progressive one.

For people who hold conservative views, this makes Shapiro a very appealing and persuasive source of news and entertainment.

In this blog post, my goal is to take a close look at exactly how Shapiro manages to frame debates in his favor.

I'll be using Episode 802 of The Ben Shapiro Show as the basis for my analysis, as I think it is a great example of Shapiro doing what Shapiro does well.

Background Info

The main topic of Episode 802 is the decision by Harvard administrators to rescind their offer of admission to Kyle Kashuv.

Kashuv is a prominent figure in the conservative momevent due to his 2nd amendment activism in the wake of his having survived the Stoneman Douglas high school shooting.

Former classmates of Kashuv recently made public messages Kashuv authored in which he used racial slurs and misogynistic language to denigate students of color and women at his high school, prior to the tragic events of the shooting.

In response to these messages coming to light, administrators at Harvard rescinded Kashuv's offer of admission.

Framing The Debate

In order to make the conservative case that the adminstators at Harvard should not have rescinded Kashuv's offer of admission, Shapiro first needs to make the case that they had a choice in what to do.

This framing is crucial to the persuasiveness of his argument, as it is beyond debate that there are certain actions which could be revealed about an admitted student at any college which would justify rescinding their offer of admission.

Shapiro achieves this framing by refraining from directly quoting Kashuv's comments and by downplaying them as merely being "youthful indiscretions", of the sort which is common among many American teenagers.

Shapiro quotes extensively from Kashuv's apology, which includes several heartfelt excuses for his behavior, and from Harvard's official communications, which use dry bureaucratic language. Crucially, Shapiro never informs his audience that the racist slurs Kashuv used were not abstract slurs but directed at fellow classmates.

By choosing not to share the full context of what Kashuv said and whom he was talking about with ihs audience, Shapiro is able to prevent them from thinking too deeply about the fact that a person whose life story engenders as much sympathy as Kashuv's must have said some pretty racist stuff in order for the administrators at Harvard to rescind his offer of admission.

How To Make An Argument, Ben Shapiro Style

Shapiro's main claim is that Kashuv is a victim of political persecution at the hands of the Harvard administrators due to his outspoken conservative views. This is noteworthy to Shapiro's audience because it would represent one more step towards the United States becoming an illiberal society due to the influence of leftists and social justice warriors in higher education.

This is a popular theme in conservative media. In the eyes of Shapiro's audience, denying forgiveness to a conservative like Kashuv is highly uncharitable and indicative of the application of a pernicious double standard of behavior by the Harvard administrators.

In this worldview, people who have cultural privilege due to their liberal/progressive views often get forgiven for their behavior while conservatives get singled out and punished for even minor infractions.

This is what makes conservative backlash in the form of the election of Donald Trump understandable to Shapiro's audience- conservatives wanted to support the candidate who would even the playing field for them in the conflict against the liberal elite like Harvard administrators for control of America's future.

Shapiro warns his audience that the consequences of conservatives being withheld forgiveness are dire. In a world where conservatives are not extended the common courtesy of being forgiven for their youthful indiscretions, Shapiro fears that they will be excluded in large numbers from privileges like getting to attend Harvard, further destabilizing society.

If the release of such material is damaging enough that actions like the ones taken by the Harvard administrators are warranted, then it is likely that conservatives will not be allowed to occupy any place in public life, Shapiro warns.

This is a highly persuasive argument, as his audience is already primed to empathize with Kashuv's situation since they themselves are likely to have material in their past that would cause a similar uproar if brought to light.

Conclusion

Shapiro shows us that the key to being persuasive is framing the debate in away that conforms to your audience's expectations of what a persuasive argument looks like.

He cannot introduce his audience to evidence which might make it seem as if the Harvard administrators had no choice but to rescind Kashuv's offer of admission- Kashuv's own words. Therefore, he relies on Kashuv's apology to frame him sympathetically for his viewers.

The key to the success of Shapiro's argument is his ability to make the debate exclusively about whether or not the Harvard administrators should have forgiven Kashuv as opposed to being about whether or not Kashuv should have engaged in the behavior that has landed him in this unfortunate situation.

If you find yourself in a debate, try taking a page from Shapiro's playbook. Frame the debate so that you can ignore behavior that is damaging to your case- focus only on the material that paints your case in the best light. And crucially, make sure that your framing aligns with the preconceived notions of your audience.

© Joseph Damiba 2019