Let's first go over what The Strawman Fallacy (or argument) is:
The straw man fallacy involves misrepresenting an opponent’s position to make it easier to refute. It oversimplifies an opposing view or disregards inconvenient points in favor of points that are easy to argue against.
The flow of this fallacy of relevance usually goes like this:
Person A makes a statement Y
Person B restates person A’s claim in a distorting manner.
Person B attacks the distorted version.
Statement Y becomes a false or invalid stance.
Long before I knew the actual term for it, I noticed liberals used this tactic all the time. An example based on a real exchange:
Me: I'm not going to say much about this yet because we haven't seen all the facts of the case. I know from previous incidents like this one, there is way more to the story than what we're seeing.
Liberal: Wow. So you're saying it's the victim's fault?
If you're scratching your head at that conclusion, you know how I felt.
As a stick-to-the-point, just-the-facts, ma'am kind of person, it infuriated me and frankly, I didn't know how to respond (other than to use some colorful language and directions as to where they could go). Let me pause here to acknowledge it's not just liberals who use it - gaslighters, narcissists, and basically anyone who cannot argue a topic on the merits of the actual topic love it, too. Hm. Never mind, all the same, really.
Then came the glorious day when someone said the magic words to one of those insane distortions: That's a strawman fallacy/argument if there ever was one. I copied and pasted this new-to-me term into my search bar, and lo and behold, there it was. Confirmation that I wasn't imagining this phenomenon.
While the knowledge empowered and validated me, I next needed to know how best to respond. And what I learned is what I'll share with you now, too.
Combat the Strawman Fallacy In 3 Easy Steps:
Do not argue or defend yourself over statements you did not make. Do say: I will not defend myself on statements I didn't make. Would you like to continue the conversation based on what I actually said, or are we done here?
Do not apologize in any capacity for statements you did not make or for how they chose to interpret your statement. Do say: I see you're very upset by your interpretation of what I said. Unfortunately, you've misunderstood. Maybe it'll help you to repeat back to me what I said.
Do not get sucked into the vortex of circular arguments. They will argue for as long as you'll allow it, repeating the same things in different ways. Do say: It's clear we aren't going to agree on this topic, so I'm leaving the conversation.
Above all else, remain calm. Their intent is to rattle you, put you on the defensive, and break you down. Never let em see you sweat, as the saying goes.
The "mistake" of moderates and conservatives is that we enter a discussion under the belief that, if you provide facts, logic, and common sense, they will - at the very least - come to some mutual respect. Understand that they do not want to come to a place of peace, they just want to win.
This is not to say we should never get into dialogs with people of opposing views (as someone using a strawman fallacy would contend). Those dialogs are vital & have the chance to be impactful and perhaps even unifying. Rather, recognize who and what conversations are worth investing your time and energy into.
Protect your peace.