Monday, March 10, 2008

Rhetoric: "Unify the Country"

A common refrain in political debate is that the country is divided and needs to be united. People frequently decry the use of "wedge issues" that they say further divide the nation or polarize the electorate. They want the country and government to be more bipartisan. And so it is standard for a political candidate to portray themselves as "a uniter, not a divider".

As is often the case in political debate, these claims are seldom spelled out clearly, and it's not obvious what sort of unity or disunity is being referred to.

Division is Inevitable and Already Present

There is a sense in which unity is impossible, and division is inevitable, because there will always be disagreement among people with respect to issues such as abortion, taxes and spending, war, and so forth. It's not "dividing people" to bring up one of these issues: people are already divided on them.

There's an obvious way to end divisiveness and bringing about bipartisanship: stop disagreeing with your opponents. Adopt their positions on abortion, taxes, war, etc., and there will be unity. Hardly anyone accepts that solution as feasible, however, because people believe their opponents are wrong about those issues, and they're not willing to accept a flawed position in the name of unity (which is a perfectly reasonable attitude to have).

Furthermore, the differences of opinion on these sorts of issues are usually legitimate, because there are moral considerations that push us in different directions and it's not obvious which ones should win out. There's not going to be consensus on all -- or maybe even any -- of these issues. (And, if there were, would we need political parties or leaders?) So, if people are calling for unity and an end to division on these fronts, then the call is futile.

Some Sorts of Division are Unnecessary

However, the call for unity and the end of divisiveness might have a different meaning, and instead be responding to the acrimony and invective in political debate these days. This is a position I have more sympathy with, of course, as the purpose of The Civil Debate Page is to try to address the needless level of hatred in today's politics.

As I said above, it is inevitable that we are going to disagree on important issues. However, that disagreement can be expressed with both dignity and respect, and doesn't need to result in insults. We don't have to instantly think the worst about anyone who takes a different position from our own on moral or political issues. We can be united in treating each other with respect, even though we have serious differences of opinion about these issues.

This sort of unity is more plausible, and the mission of this page is to provide instruction on how to achieve it: avoid name-calling, ad hominem arguments, caricature, etc., use good reasoning, and so forth. However, not many people -- in particular, not many political leaders -- follow these guidelines, even as they call for unity and decry divisiveness. Despite their bad example, the rest of us can try to obey the rules of civil debate as best we can, and refuse to lend our support to those who break those rules.

Best Response

At any rate, whenever a politician or pundit engages in the "uniter, not a divider" rhetoric, we should ask them to clarify what sort of unity they are advocating, what sort of division they are condemning, and what course of action they are suggesting we follow.

Are they going to try to unite the country by resorting to name-calling, or by civil discourse?


EXAMPLES AND ANALYSIS
"That’s the choice you face this November -- between dividing ourselves up, looking for scapegoats, ignoring the evidence -- or realizing that we are all stronger together. If we turn against each other -- whether it's divisions of race or religion -- we're not going to build on the progress we started. If we get cynical and just vote our fears -- or we don’t vote at all -- we won’t build on the progress we’ve started. America has been a story of progress, but has not gone in a straight line. There have been times where we've gone forward, there have been times where we've gone backwards. And what’s made the difference each and every time is citizens voting, and caring, and committing to our better selves. Coming together around our common values, and our faith in hard work and our faith in each other, and the belief in opportunity for everybody, and assuming the best in each other, and not the worst."
-- President Barack Obama, June 25, 2016.

Comment: Obama is calling for setting a higher standard of debate, but at the same time he's demonizing his opponents as not caring about evidence. As a result, his remarks imply that it's mostly his opponents who resort to unfair rhetoric. Also, Obama is using "uniting, not dividing" rhetoric – though, how do you unify with people you accuse of ignoring evidence? – as well as "appealing to fear" rhetoric.

***
We respect the choice the people of the United Kingdom have made. … This time of uncertainty only underscores the need for calm, steady, experienced leadership in the White House to protect Americans’ pocketbooks and livelihoods, to support our friends and allies, to stand up to our adversaries, and to defend our interests. It also underscores the need for us to pull together to solve our challenges as a country, not tear each other down.
-- Democratic presidential candidate former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, June 24, 2016, in a statement regarding the Brexit vote.

Comment: "Pull together" is "unify the country" rhetoric. How are we supposed to pull together? On what should we be unified? Who is it that has been tearing other Americans down? Has Clinton been doing it, or does she believe that it's only her opponents who have resorted to that behavior?

***
"I want to echo something that I heard my friend and former colleague Peter King saying as I was listening here. This is a moment for Republicans, Democrats and Independents to work together as one team. The American team. And it’s a time for statesmanship, not partisanship. I think that our fellow American citizens expect that."
-- Democratic presidential candidate former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, June 13, 2016, referring to the Orlando nightclub shooting by Omar Mir Seddique Mateen.

Comment: This is "unify the country" rhetoric, but what, exactly, are Americans supposed to unify on and not be partisan about? It's trivial to say that we should all be opposed to terrorism. Should we all unify on one plan to deal with terrorism, even if we don't all think it's the best plan? Without specifying this, how can she be sure that it's something all Americans want?

***
We need a President who is serious – who will identify the enemy by name and do everything necessary to defeat it. The next few days will be sadly predictable. Democrats will try to use this attack to change the subject. As a matter of rigid ideology, far too many Democrats – from Barack Obama to Hillary Clinton – will refuse to utter the words ‘radical Islamic terrorism.’ They will claim this attack, like they claimed every previous attack, was isolated and had nothing to do with the vicious Islamist theology that is daily waging war on us across the globe. And they will try to exploit this terror attack to undermine the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms of law-abiding Americans. Enough is enough. What we need is for every American – Democrat and Republican – to come together, abandon political correctness, and unite in defeating radical Islamic terrorism.
-- Sen. Ted Cruz, June 12, 2016, referring to the Orlando nightclub shooting by Omar Mir Seddique Mateen earlier that day.

Comment: First, this is "distraction" rhetoric. Second, Cruz is accusing Democrats of exploiting the shooting, but how? What is the evidence that it is Democrats – as opposed to Cruz or Republicans – are exploiting the issue? Finally, this is "unify the country" rhetoric. What, exactly, are we to unify on? Stopping terrorism? That's a platitude. Uniting on Cruz's plan to fight terrorism is more informative, but what if some people think it's not the best plan? Are they supposed to just give up their convictions for the sake of agreeing with Cruz?

***
"We believe that cooperation is better than conflict, unity is better than division, empowerment is better than resentment, and bridges are better than walls. It's a simple, but powerful idea. We believe that we are stronger together and the stakes in this election are high, and the choice is clear. Donald Trump is temperamentally unfit to be president and commander-in-chief. And he's not just trying to build a wall between America and Mexico, he's trying to wall off Americans from each other. When he says let's make America great again, that is code for, let's take America backwards."
-- Democratic presidential contender former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, June 7, 2016, referring to Republican presidential contender Donald Trump.

Comment: Much of this is platitudes: who doesn't believe that cooperation is better than conflict? The question is, how best to bring about cooperation rather than conflict? Also, Clinton is using "unify the country" rhetoric – and in parallel, accusing Trump of being divisive. Lastly, she is accusing Trump of using code words, but do people really want America to go backwards? Isn't that just demonizing? Don't they really just disagree about what's the best way to go forwards?

***
"Our next president has to be ready to face three big tasks: first, can you make positive differences in people's lives; second, can you keep us safe; third, can you bring our country together again?"
-- Democratic presidential contender former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, March 15, 2016.

Comment: First, Clinton's tasks sound largely like platitudes: when has it not been the job of the president to make life better and more safe? Second, Clinton is using "unify the country" rhetoric, but she doesn't spell out what that means or how she would accomplish it (nor does she say when we were "together" in the past such that we need to be brought back there "again").

***
"Barack Obama's a world class demagogue. That language there is designed to divide us."
-- Republican presidential contender Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), March 13, 2016, responding to remarks made the previous day by President Barack Obama.

Comment: Cruz is accusing Obama of being divisive and being a demagogue.

***
"But the truth of the matter is America is pretty darn great right now. … And what the folks who are running for office should be focused on is how we can make it even better. Not insults and schoolyard taunts, and manufacturing facts. Not divisiveness along the lines of race or faith. Certainly not violence against other Americans or excluding them. … And what’s been happening in our politics lately is not an accident. For years, we’ve been told we should be angry about America, and that the economy is a disaster, and that we’re weak and that compromise is weakness, and that you can ignore science and you can ignore facts, and say whatever you want about the President, and feed suspicion about immigrants and Muslims and poor people, and people who aren’t like “us,” and say that the reason that America is in decline is because of “those” people. That didn’t just happen last week. That narrative has been promoted now for years. It didn’t just spring out of nowhere. And of course, none of it has been true. It just ignores reality -- the reality that America is the most powerful nation on Earth. The reality that our economy is not only stronger than it was eight years ago, that it’s, right now, the bright spot in the world. … We can have political debates without turning on one another. We can have political debates without thinking that the people who disagree with us are all motivated by malice. We can support candidates without treating their opponents as unpatriotic, or treasonous, or somehow deliberately trying to weaken America. That's not just one candidate who’s been saying that; some of the so-called more responsible candidates, including a gentleman from this state -- no, no, you read what he says, it's not -- it's no more rooted in reality than some of these other statements. We can point out bad policies without describing them as a “government takeover” or “an assault on freedom.” And by the way, when I say this, this is not about “political correctness.” It’s about not having to explain to our kids why our politics sounds like a schoolyard fight. We shouldn’t be afraid to take them to rallies, or let them watch debates. They watch the way we conduct ourselves. They learn from us. And we should be teaching them something about this democracy is a vibrant and precious thing. It's going to be theirs someday, and we should be teaching them how to disagree without being disagreeable, and how to engage, and how to analyze facts, and how to be honest and truthful, and admit if you make a mistake, and teach them that politics at its best is about a battle of ideas, and resolving our differences without encouraging or resorting to violence. … As Democrats, we believe in things like science. It has resulted in great improvements in our lives. Science -- that's why we have things like penicillin and airplanes."
-- President Barack Obama, March 12, 2016, commenting on the Republican presidential nomination contest.

Comment: First, Obama is calling for setting a higher standard of debate, and accusing Republicans of being "divisive". Second, Obama is accusing Republicans of being bigots who ignore facts, science, and reality. Third, he is saying that Republicans – but not Democrats? – are guilty of questioning the patriotism of their opponents.

***
QUESTIONER [unidentified]: Some of your critics have pointed to the incredibly polarized political climate under your administration as contributing to the rise of someone as provocative as Donald Trump. Do you feel responsibility for that, or even some of the protectionist rhetoric from some Democratic candidates? Do you have a timeline for when you might make a presidential endorsement? And to follow on my colleague’s question here, do you feel political heat is constraining your pool of viable Supreme Court nominees? Thank you.

OBAMA: It’s a three-fer. I think it’s important for me to nominate a Supreme Court nominee quickly because I think it’s important for the Supreme Court to have its full complement of justices. … With respect to your first question, I’ve actually heard this argument a number of times. I have been blamed by Republicans for a lot of things, but being blamed for their primaries and who they’re selecting for their party is novel. Look, I’ve said -- I said it at the State of the Union that one of my regrets is the degree to which polarization and the nasty tone of our politics has accelerated rather than waned over the course of the last seven and a half years. And I do all kinds of soul-searching in terms of are there things I can do better to make sure that we’re unifying the country. But I also have to say, Margaret, that, objectively, it’s fair to say that the Republican political elites and many of the information outlets -- social media, news outlets, talk radio, television stations -- have been feeding the Republican base for the last seven years a notion that everything I do is to be opposed; that cooperation or compromise somehow is a betrayal; that maximalist, absolutist positions on issues are politically advantageous; that there is a “them” out there and an “us,” and “them” are the folks who are causing whatever problems you’re experiencing. And the tone of that politics -- which I certainly have not contributed to -- I don’t think that I was the one to prompt questions about my birth certificate, for example. I don’t remember saying, hey, why don’t you ask me about that. Or why don’t you question whether I’m American, or whether I’m loyal, or whether I have America’s best interests at heart -- those aren’t things that were prompted by any actions of mine. … And what’s interesting -- I’ll just say one last thing about this -- there are thoughtful conservatives who are troubled by this, who are troubled by the direction of their party. I think it is very important for them to reflect on what it is about the politics they’ve engaged in that allows the circus we’ve been seeing to transpire, and to do some introspection.
-- President Barack Obama, March 10, 2016, during a press conference, referring to Republican presidential contender Donald Trump.

Comment: First, this is the "only my opponent" caricature. Obama has routinely resorted to derisive name-calling against his opponents. In particular, he has often questioned the patriotism of Republicans, accusing them of putting party ahead of country. Second, this is "unify the country" rhetoric.

***
"I say let's come together folks. We're going to win. I say let's come together. Carl, the answer is not 100 percent but largely I would say yes. Some people you are just not going to get along with. It's okay. But largely I would like to do that and believe it or not, I am a unifier. I unify. You look at all of the things I built all over the world. I'm a unifier. I get along with people. I have great relations. I even start getting along with you, right? Campaign Carl. But, no, I get along with people. And I really say this, Carl, I think it's time to unify."
-- Republican presidential contender Donald Trump, March 8, 2016, responding to a question by Carl Cameron of FOX News' Campaign.

Comment: This is "unify" rhetoric.

***
Riding high off a string of Super Tuesday victories, Donald Trump warned the GOP about the consequences of propping up another candidate to run against him.

"They’ll just lose everything, that would be the work of a loser," Trump said about criticism over his candidacy from within his party.

"We’ve actually expanded the party," Trump said. “I am a unifier."
-- Republican presidential contender Donald Trump, March 1, 2016, as related in a story by Eliza Collins of Politico.

Comment: This is "unify the country" rhetoric.

***
"We’ve had seven years of President Obama dividing us on racial and ethnic lines. The last thing we need is a president who tries to inflame those."
-- Republican presidential contender Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), February 29, 2016, referring to President Barack Obama and Republican presidential contender Donald Trump.

Comment: This is "unify the country" rhetoric.

***
"Our next president has to be someone that can bring this country together, some level of unity. Not unanimity, we're not going to agree on every issue, but someone that will seek to unite Americans, not pit us against each other".
-- Republican presidential contender Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), February 20, 2016.

Comment: This is "unify the country" rhetoric.

***
"I'm running for president of the United States. And the reason I'm running is this. Our country is facing big challenges. And we have deep divisions in our country. And we need a candidate who can actually pull us together, who can heal these divisions, who can get things done. That's what I've done all my life. I'm not a divider. If I were, I would not have been able to accomplish the things we accomplished in a very troubled city or in our state through a recession."
-- Democratic presidential contender former Gov. Martin O'Malley (D-MD), January 25, 2016, during the Democratic Presidential Candidates Town Hall Meeting, hosted by Chris Cuomo of CNN.

Comment: This is "unify the country" rhetoric.

***
"So, the Republicans can do what they do best: they distract, divide, and demonize. Leave no smear behind."
-- President Bill Clinton, January 19, 2016, during a campaign event for his wife, Democratic presidential contender former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Comment: Clinton is accusing Republicans of resorting to distractions, divisive rhetoric, and of demonizing. He is potentially leaving the impression that this something that Republicans (but not Democrats) normally do, which is the "only my opponent" caricature.

***
"I think that the more than the American people understand what Trump stands for, which among other things is his assertion that wages in America are too high. He wants to, quote/unquote, "make America great." And here's a guy who's a billionaire who thinks that wages in America are too high. He thinks that we should not raise the minimum wage. He wants to give hundreds of billions of dollars in tax breaks to his millionaire and billionaire friends. But I think creating and playing off the anxiety and the fears that the American people have, the fears about terrorism, the fears about our economy, and becoming a demagogue about that, and then trying to get us to hate Mexicans, or to hate Muslims, I think that is a strategy that is not what America is supposed to be about. What I believe, in contrast to Mr. Trump, is that we bring our people together to focus on the real issues, which is the disappearing middle class, massive income and wealth inequality. A corrupt campaign finance system. The fact that we're not effectively addressing the international crisis of climate change. The fact that our kids can't afford to go to college. And moms and dads can't afford child care. Those are the issues that we have to focus on. And we have to look at the greed. The greed of corporate America. The greed of Wall Street, which has had such a terrible impact on our economy and on millions of people. So, I'm trying to bring people together to take on the wealthy and powerful who have done so much to hurt the middle class. Trump is trying to play on fears and divide us up."
-- Democratic presidential contender Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), from an interview on CNN, aired December 24, 2015. His remarks concerned Republican presidential contender Donald Trump.

Comment: Sanders is accusing Trump of exploiting fear, of being a demagogue, of inciting bigotry, and dividing the country.

***
"Just last weekend, just last week, a friend asked one of my daughters, "Do you like politics?" And my daughter said, "No, I don't. And the reason I don't like it is because there's too much fighting, too much yelling. It's so loud, I don't like it." You know, I turned to my friend and I said, "You know, she's really on to something." And when we think about our country and the big issues that we face in this country; creating jobs, making sure people can keep their jobs, the need for rising wages, whether our children when they graduate from college can find a job, protecting the homeland, destroying ISIS, rebuilding defense. These are all the things that we need to focus on but we'll never get there if we're divided. We'll never get there if Republicans and Democrats just fight with one another. Frankly, we are Republicans and they're Democrats but before all of that, we're Americans. And I believe we need to unify in so many ways to rebuild our country, to strengthen our country, to rebuild our defense, and for America to secure it's place it world; for us, for our children, and for the next generation."
-- Republican presidential contender Gov. John Kasich (R-OH), December 15, 2015.

Comment: This is "unify the country" rhetoric.

***
"He’s an unbelievable divider. I thought he’d be a great cheerleader for the country. That’s one thing I thought. I said, he’ll unify the country, and he’s really divided the country, he really has. And we’re going to unify the country."
-- Republican presidential contender Donald Trump, December 2, 2015, referring to President Barack Obama.

Comment: This is "unify the country" rhetoric.

***
Now look at Trump's behavior over the past few days. He has displayed a level of irresponsibility that borders on recklessness. This is a time when the essence of leadership is clarity and restraint -- when even politicians should put aside their usual braggadocio and self-aggrandizement for the good of the country. Trump has done the opposite. He appears to be inflaming the situation deliberately, to advance his presidential campaign. It's rare that we see this level of demagoguery in U.S. politics, but it's frightening. His divisive comments play so directly into the polarizing strategies of our terrorist adversaries -- who want to foment Western-Muslim hatred -- that a case can be made that he has put the country at greater risk.
-- Pundit David Ignatius, November 25, 2015, referring to Republican presidential contender Donald Trump.

Comment: This is "demagogue" and "divisive" rhetoric.

***
""The rise of new media outlets in the Internet age has allowed regular Americans to get access to information that the mainstream press," conceals. You know, it's just as important what isn't reported as what is. It is my contention that busting up the Democrat Party monopoly and the mainstream media -- I do believe it's led to divisiveness, but it's not because of us. The divisiveness and the reason there is so much partisanship and mean-spirited, extreme rancor is all on the Democrats, if you ask me, and the media. They're the ones who have the monopoly. They're the ones that had their way. They're the ones that were in charge of everything the people of this country learned, and they were in charge of everything that was hidden from the American people."
-- Pundit Rush Limbaugh, October 26, 2015, reading from an October 20, 2015, Breitbart story on former Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA).

Comment: Limbaugh is citing divisiveness and partisanship, explaining that they are bad because they amount to "mean-spirited, extreme rancor". He is resorting to the "only my opponent" caricature by saying that only Democrats – and not Republicans – are responsible for that rancor.

***
Donald Trump believes he will "absolutely" be a force for bipartisanship, but in an interview this weekend neither Republicans nor Democrats escaped a barrage of attacks from the GOP presidential candidate.

Trump flung criticism at politicians spanning the spectrum from presidential primary opponents Jeb Bush and Ben Carson to the Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton and the man he hopes to succeed, President Barack Obama, in an interview with CNN's Jake Tapper that aired Sunday on "State of the Union."

And he lamented the House Select Committee on Benghazi's questioning of Clinton, a hearing he called "very partisan" that "hurts both parties" and "hurts the country."

"The level of hatred between Republicans and Democrats was unbelievable. The level of -- I've never seen anything like it," Trump said. "I'm going to unify. This country is totally divided. Barack Obama has divided this country unbelievably. And it's all, it's all hatred, what can I tell you. I've never seen anything like it...I've gotten along with Democrats and I've gotten along with Republicans. And I said, that's a good thing."

Tapper asked Trump if his presidency would result in an era of bipartisanship.

"I absolutely think so," he said, adding, "I will be a great unifier for our country."
-- Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, October 25, 2015, during interview with CNN's Jake Tapper, as related in a CNN story by Jeremy Diamond.

Comment: This is "bipartisan" and "unify the country" rhetoric.

***
"A lot of times it seems like our politics don’t reflect the common sense and decency that we see in our neighbors and our communities and our friends, and it gets frustrating. We’ve got a system that too often rewards division and polarization and short-term thinking, and rewards people for saying the most outrageous things, even though everybody knows they’re not true, but we think of it as entertainment somehow. And so attention-grabbing and controversy is rewarded rather than folks who are rolling up their sleeves and dealing with sometimes really complicated issues that don’t lend themselves to a sound bite. And so people get cynical. And sometimes people just throw up their hands and say “Washington doesn’t work, a plague on both your houses, everybody’s dysfunctional.” Your job is to not succumb to that."
-- President Barack Obama, October 23, 2015.

Comment: Obama is calling for us to set a higher standard of debate. He is lamenting divisive rhetoric that is not factual and how it yields cynicism. However, he doesn't acknowledge how he and his party have contributed to these problems.

***
"You’ve heard from some of our outstanding candidates. I’m going to be supporting whoever the nominee is and I’m confident … We’ve got some great candidates. But when you watch the debate between the Democrats, it was logical, and civil, and people didn’t agree with everything but they weren’t just saying crazy stuff. And they weren’t dividing the country into us and them and tapping into people’s worst impulses. It made me proud, because it said that we’ve got a party that’s inclusive and that wants everybody to join and get involved and showed that we can disagree without being disagreeable."
-- President Barack Obama, October 23, 2015.

Comment: Obama is indulging in the "only my opponent" caricature, saying that Democrats are logical and civil while Republicans say "crazy stuff" (an example of "out of touch" or "don't care about facts" rhetoric) and divide Americans (an example of "unify the country" rhetoric) and appeal to people's worst impulses (which is demonizing Republicans).

***
"Overall, though, we’re making enormous progress, and it does make you wonder, why is it that Republican politicians are so down on America. Have you noticed that? I mean, they are gloomy. They’re like Grumpy Cat. Everything is terrible according to them. We’re doomed. I mean, I know it’s political season, but you listen to them and they’ve constructed this entire separate reality. It’s like the Twilight Zone. And according to their story, their narrative, everything was terrific back in 2008 when unemployment was skyrocketing and uninsured rates were rising and folks were losing their homes and their jobs, we were engaged in two wars, bin Laden was still at large. If you were listening to them, those were like the good old days. The golden years. And then I came in and the Democrats came in, but according to them that’s when everything all went to heck. Which is strange. I mean, it’s a hard argument to make. There was an article, I think, in The New York Times today, or maybe it was yesterday, where they pointed out that it’s very hard for them to make the arguments they make about tax cuts for the wealthy and doing the same stuff that they’ve been promoting, and trying to eliminate regulations on the big banks and all that, when the empirical evidence shows that when Democrats control the White House and we’ve got a Democratic Congress the economy does better and when they’re in charge, it does worse. Just look at the facts. Don’t take my word for it, go back, take a look at – all right, here’s Bill Clinton’s presidency, and then there’s Bush presidency and then there’s my presidency and, take a look. And you’ve gotta feel bad for the fact-checkers, for the Republicans, because they’ve gotta spend hours trying to keep up with some of the crazy stuff that their candidates are claiming. And the reason they have to make up stuff is because they don’t have a record to run on. They’re offering the same policies that caused so many problems in the first place. They ran on them in 2008, they ran on them in 2012, they’re running on them now. … And it's a shame when politicians spend all their time trying to make people feel bad, or more typically, trying to make them feel scared. Talking down the country all the time because it serves your politics. … We [Democrats] have got an optimistic vision about where this country can go if the politics of obstruction and fear-mongering are set aside and we start working together as a country."
-- President Barack Obama, October 23, 2015.

Comment: First, Obama seems to be accusing Republicans of rooting for failure, obstruction, divisiveness and fear-mongering, and saying they are doing so for "political" motives. This is unfair. Obama, when he ran for office in 2004 and 2008, was frequently critical of the country's state of affairs; does this mean he was "down on America"? Second, Obama is distorting Republicans' position: what Republican has ever said that everything was terrific back in 2008? Third, Obama is making a "correlation is causation" argument when it comes to the economy and Democrats, which is additionally flawed because Democrats and Republicans aren't monolithic when it comes to policies (some Republicans have raised taxes, like Ronald Reagan, and some Democrats have lowered them, like JFK), and because Republicans were in control of Congress during the boom years of Clinton's presidency, Democrats were in control of Congress when the Great Recession happened, and Congress is in control of Republicans now that we're making "enormous progress". Of course, sometimes good or bad things happen when a party is in power that were set in motion earlier by a different party, or that are out of anyone's political control altogether.

***
"My friends, we beat fear with hope. We beat cynicism with hard work. We beat negative, divisive politics with a positive vision that brings Canadians together," Trudeau, 43, told a crowd of cheering supporters in Montreal.

"This is what positive politics can do."
-- Liberal Party leader and Prime Minister-elect Justin Trudeau, October 19, 2015, as related by a Reuters story by Randall Palmer and Rod Nickel.

Comment: Trudeau is accusing his political opponents of resorting to fear, cynicism, and negative politics, while crediting himself with unifying the country.

***
RITTIMAN: Your closest opponent in the Democratic primary is making some pretty good inroads describing himself as a "democratic socialist", is there anything wrong with democratic socialism?

CLINTON: Well, I'm a progressive Democrat, so I'm not going to comment on labels other people apply to themselves. I want to talk about what I will do and what I've done during the course of my public life to try to bring people together, to try to solve problems, to try to come up with new solutions, something that I believe strongly is in the best interests of America. So, I'm gonna leave the labels to others, I'm gonna talk about what my approaches are, and what my solutions are.

RITTIMAN: Alright, not a brand you would identify yourself with, though?

CLINTON: No.

RITTIMAN: OK.
-- Democratic presidential candidate former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, October 14, 2015, during interview with Brandon Rittiman of KUSA 9News.

Comment: This is an evasion. Clinton states clearly that the label doesn't describe her own political views, so there must be something she finds bad or rejects about democratic socialism. Why can't she spell out what that is? If someone applied the label "communist" or "white supremacist" or "Republican" or "tea party" to themselves, Clinton wouldn't have any comment? Also, Clinton says that she's brought people together, which sounds like "unify the country" rhetoric. What did she do to bring people together in what way?

***
"In the spirit of problem-solving, I'm wondering if you're at all concerned that some of your divisive language you use on the campaign trail undermines your ability to solve problems," a questioner said, to raucous applause.

"I went to Ivy League schools, I know what's divisive, I know what's not divisive," Trump replied. "I don't want to be politically correct all the way down the line. ... I see politicians, they're afraid to say anything because it's not politically correct."



"I am going to have to be who I am," Trump said. "At the same time, I'm running against a lot of people, many are going to be dropping out, I think very soon, if they're smart, they're going to be dropping out. Too many people! Too many people. When it becomes a different kind of situation, you'll see, I'm going to be much less divisive. But always remember this: I never start anything ... I simply counterpunch. They start. They get very nasty."

He continued, "I don't think anybody in this room wants to have somebody who's not going to fight back. We have people now who don't fight back, the country has been hurt tremendously."
-- Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, October 12, 2015, at the No Labels conference, as related in a Politico story by Katie Glueck.

Comment: The questioner and Trump are discussing "divisive" language without specifying exactly what counts as divisive. Also, Trump is using "get tough and hit back" language. Finally, if "divisive" language means name-calling, then it's false for Trump to say that he's never instigated it: that's the "only my opponent" caricature. Besides, even if it were true that Trump wasn't the instigator, responding to name-calling with name-calling is still unacceptable. Civility doesn't require being quiet in the face of unfair rhetoric; there are ways of responding that don't indulge in more of the same.

***
U.S. foreign policy, once defined by a bipartisan spirit, has devolved into a game whose rules are plagued with loopholes and asterisks and the mistaken idea that political parties can "win" it. Today, on the anniversary of 9/11, Congress continues to play this winner-less game, more concerned with the political consequences of their Thursday vote (or non-vote, as it may be) than with national security itself. And this is where Sen. Arthur Vandenberg, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1947 and creator of the now famous phrase that "party politics must stop at the water's edge," would be so severely disappointed. The Iran nuclear deal is being used as a divisive political tool instead of grounds to unite these bitterly divided political parties.
-- Former Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. (R-UT) and former Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), September 11, 2015, from an article they co-wrote together.

Comment: Huntsman and Lieberman are faulting people for being partisan, divisive, and for politicizing foreign policy, suggesting they don't care about national security (a suggestion which amounts to demonizing). The quote from Vandenberg is often noted, but why shouldn't people disagree about foreign policy? How is everyone supposed to unite on foreign policy if they legitimately have different ideas about how to secure the country's security and interests?

***
COLBERT: Do you think that you could bring people together? Because everybody says –

BUSH: Yeah.

COLBERT: – they want to bring people together. But when you get down to the campaigning, or get down to what passes for governing now, it often ends up being a – just a game of blood sport.

BUSH: It is.

COLBERT: Where you attack the other person, and the other side can’t possibly do, say, or have planned for anything good.

BUSH: So, I’m going to say something that’s heretic, I guess. I don’t think Barack Obama has bad motives. I just think he’s wrong on a lot of issues. … If you start with the premise that people have good motives, you can find common ground. … You can be friends with people that you don’t agree with on everything. I mean, we have to restore a degree of civility.
-- Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush, September 8, 2015, during a debate with Stephen Colbert on The Late Show.

Comment: Colbert is asking whether Bush (or anyone else) can “unify the country.” Bush is using “hate the policies, not the person” rhetoric, and calling for setting a higher standard of debate.

***
Normally, when your main geopolitical rivals are shooting themselves in both feet, the military manual says step back and enjoy the show. But I take little comfort in watching China burning money and Russia burning food, because in today’s interdependent world we’re all affected. I also find no joy in it because we Americans, too, have started burning our most important source of competitive advantage — our pluralism. One of our two political parties has gone nuts and started following a pied piper of intolerance, named Donald Trump. … America’s greatest advantage is its pluralism: It can govern itself horizontally by its people of all colors and creeds forging social contracts to live together as equal citizens. But right now we’re messing around with that incredible asset. Yes, we must control our borders; it is the essence of sovereignty. It has been a failure of both our political parties that the Mexican-American border has been so porous. So I am for a high wall, but with a very big gate — one that legally lets in energetic low-skilled workers and the high-I.Q. risk-takers who have made our economy the envy of the world — and for legislation that provides a pathway for the millions of illegal immigrants already here to gain legal status and eventually citizenship. In June 2013, the Senate, including 14 Republicans, passed a bill that would do all that. But the extremists in the G.O.P. House refused to follow, so the bill stalled. And now we have Trump shamelessly exploiting this issue even more. He’s calling for an end to the 14th Amendment’s birthright principle, which guarantees citizenship to anyone born here, and also for a government program to round up all 11 million illegal immigrants and send them home — an utterly lunatic idea that Trump dismisses as a mere “management” problem. Like lemmings, many of the other G.O.P. presidential hopefuls just followed Trump over that cliff. This is not funny anymore. This is not entertaining. Donald Trump is not cute. His ugly nativism shamefully plays on people’s fears and ignorance. It ignores bipartisan solutions already on the table, undermines the civic ideals that make our melting pot work in ways no European or Asian country can match (try to become a Japanese) and tampers with the very secret of our sauce — pluralism, that out of many we make one. Every era spews up a Joe McCarthy type who tries to thrive by dividing and frightening us, and today his name is Donald Trump.
-- Pundit Thomas Friedman, August 26, 2016.

Comment: "Gone nuts" is "stupid" rhetoric. Friedman also engages in "extremists" and "exploiting" rhetoric. Friedman demonizes Trump's immigration plan as being racist (i.e., "nativism"), which is a distortion, given that it doesn't end legal immigration. Friedman also engages in "fear-mongering", "bipartisan", and "divisive" rhetoric.

***
WALLACE: Question: Barack Obama, “anti-Semitic”?

CARSON: Well, all you have to do, Chris, is – like I have – go to Israel, and talk to average people, you know, on all ends of that spectrum. And I couldn’t find a single person there who didn’t feel that this administration had turned their back on Israel. And I think, you know, the position of President of the United States should be one where you begin to draw people together behind a vision, not one where you castigate those who believe differently from you. I think it’s a possibility for great healing, if it used in a correct way.

WALLACE: But, you know, it’s one thing, one could argue, your policy difference from Israel, but you say in your article – and you’re talking about his domestic critics here in this country – that there is anti-Semitic themes there. What, specifically anti-Semitic in what the President is saying?

CARSON: I think anything is anti-Semitic that is against the survival of a state that is surrounded by enemies and by people who want to destroy them. And to sort of ignore that, and to act like, you know, everything is normal there, and that these people are paranoid, I think that’s anti-Semitic.
-- Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson, August 16, 2015, during an interview with Fox News’ Chris Wallace. Carson questioned about his August 13, 2015, accusation that President Barack Obama had issued a “diatribe … replete with coded innuendos employing standard anti-Semitic themes.”

Comment: First, Carson evades Wallace’s question about Carson’s accusation that Obama engaged in bigoted behavior. When Carson does answer, he makes it sound as if Obama is unconcerned with the survival of Israel, rather than having a legitimate disagreement about what steps (for instance, the nuclear deal with Iran) are best for securing Israel’s security. Second, where has Obama said that everything is normal in the Middle East or Israel, and that Israeli opponents of the Iran deal are needlessly paranoid? It seems like Carson is knocking over a straw man. Third, Carson accuses Obama of “dividing” the nation. Finally, Carson calls for us to set a higher standard of debate and not to castigate those with different beliefs, but it seems he is doing precisely that: he is demonizing Obama as being anti-Semitic on the basis of having a different view about the merits of the Iran nuclear deal.

***
But just as shocking as the decision to actually agree to such a flawed deal are the lengths to which the administration is going today to tar and feather those who dare speak out against it. By playing politics with a critical national security issue, President Obama is cementing his well-earned legacy as the Divider in Chief. In a speech at American University defending the deal Obama stooped to new lows far beneath the dignity of the office of the presidency, savaging deal opponents as warmongers and saying that “those hardliners chanting ‘Death to America’” in Iran were “making common cause with the Republican caucus.” Shockingly, his diatribe also was replete with coded innuendos employing standard anti-Semitic themes involving implied disloyalty and nefarious influences related to money and power. One can only imagine the sting of his words on members of his own Democratic party, especially those Jewish Members of Congress who have publicly stated their opposition to this deal based on its merits or lack thereof. … It is clear that the president and his team are in full campaign mode, demonstrating a steely resolve to jam through this misguided Iran deal at all costs. They are smearing those who dare to raise questions and employing a take no prisoners approach complete with bigoted dog whistles and malicious whisper campaigns that cynically divide our country.
-- Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson, August 13, 2015.

Comment: Carson is accusing Obama of using “code words” to express bigotry. He is also accusing Obama of “playing politics” and “dividing the country”.

***
GOP presidential candidate Jeb Bush lumped together Donald Trump and President Barack Obama Monday while lamenting that some Republicans prey on others' fears and angst.

"Whether it's Donald Trump or Barack Obama, their rhetoric of divisiveness is wrong," Bush said in Council Bluffs, Iowa, according to a statement issued by his campaign Tuesday.



"That Bush is willing to equate Trump to Obama, the most consequential president of my lifetime, is disgusting. How can we take anything Bush has to say seriously when he says hogwash like this," said Pablo Manriquez, a Democratic Party spokesman.
-- From a July 14, 2015, NBC News story by Suzanne Gamboa.

Comment: Manriquez is accusing Bush of "comparing" Trump and Obama. But Bush was not equating the two or their rhetoric. Bush was simply saying that divisive rhetoric should be protested, regardless of who it comes from: when Trump says something divisive, it should be criticized, and when Obama says something divisive, it should also be criticized. (It's not clear what Bush counts as "divisive" rhetoric, and whether both Obama and Bush are guilty of it.)

***
"We need to focus on the things that tie us together, and whether it's Donald Trump or Barack Obama, their rhetoric of divisiveness is wrong. … I campaign embracing diversity. Come join us - come join the team that is creating hope and opportunity. … A Republican will never win by striking fear into people's hearts. … on our side, there are people that prey on people's fears and their angst as well. … I don't know about you, but I think it is wrong. I believe we need to unify our country. We need to stop tearing, separating ourselves by race and ethnicity and income. We need to focus on what ties us together".
-- Former Gov. Jeb Bush (R-FL), July 13, 2015. This is a compilation of his remarks, and may not accurately reflect the order in which he said them.

Comment: This is "unify the country" and "fear-mongering" rhetoric.

***
"Charlotte [sic, meaning Charleston] and the people of SC have just put a giant win in the good-guy column. Now, today, I was on the radio, and I started feeling like, geez man, we’re up against the wall again, because they immediately shifted the argument and went to something else. They're doing everything they can to divide us. That's going to get worse and worse as time goes on, we are going to feel more and more divided. We have to stick together and we have to recognize where we win. We just – the good guys won last week, we won in Charlotte [sic, meaning Charleston], now lets stick together. Because some big decisions are being made at the Supreme Court this week and it could divide us strongly."
-- Pundit Glenn Beck, posted June 25, 2015.

Comment: This is "unify the country" rhetoric.

***
"I know I'm getting all preachy, or religious, but our country has no choice. We can either look to man, and I'll tell you who is going to be there. Al Sharpton is going to be there. He's on a plane now. He's landing and he'll be at a prayer vigil today at noon. And do you think he is going to say 'let's all come together.' Do you think all the people who went into political mode last night when thy first heard about this shooting. Do you think they are going to bring us together? Or do you think they are going to use this community to drive a wedge? Let's hold the arms up of this community and let them show us how to heal."
-- Pundit Glenn Beck, June 19, 2015.

Comment: This is "politicizing" and "unify the country" rhetoric.

***
Ohio Governor John Kasich lambasted Clinton after a campaign stop in Concord, New Hampshire. “For her to say that there are Republicans who are deliberately trying to keep people from voting is just pure demagoguery,” he told reporters

Kasich added that he doesn't “know who put her up to this,'' but said the election should be focused on “who's going to improve America, not who's going to divide America better than somebody else.”
-- Governor John Kasich, June 5, 2015, as reported in a story on Bloomberg by Emily Greenhouse and Mark Niquette.

Comment: Kasich is using "demagogue" and "unify the country" rhetoric.

***
On immigration, Hillary Clinton is a work in progress – and has been since she entered politics more than a dozen years ago. Depending on which audience she is trying to please, she assumes one of two conflicting personas: Restrictionist Hillary or Reform Hillary. In 2003, Restrictionist Hillary told conservative radio host John Grambling that she was “adamantly against illegal immigrants” and that “we’ve got to do more at our borders.” … Then there is Reform Hillary, who has emerged recently now that Clinton is once again running for president and needs the support of Latino voters who favor a more honest and more common-sense approach to the problem. … Reform Hillary celebrated Cinco de Mayo by speaking at a mostly Latino high school in Las Vegas, where she called for illegal immigrants to be given “a path to full and equal citizenship.” She also accused Republicans who support legal status for the undocumented but not citizenship of pushing “second-class status.” But what was Clinton pushing? A poison pill. “Full and equal citizenship” will never get through Congress. So by setting the bar impossibly high, Reform Hillary all but ensures nothing will be done. This suits her fine because she doesn’t want to be known as a pro-amnesty Democrat any more than Obama did, and she’d rather have a wedge issue than a workable solution.
-- Pundit Ruben Navarrette, May 24, 2015.

Comment: First, Navarrette is accusing Clinton of flip-flopping. Second, he is engaging in "common sense" rhetoric. Third, he seems to be demonizing those who are "restrictionists" as not being in favor of honesty and common sense. Lastly, he resorts to "wedge issue" rhetoric.

***
‪Jeb Bush warned Thursday that President Obama and Democrats would rather keep immigration reform as a political wedge issue than solve the problem — and that Republicans will always lose the political argument on immigration if the dynamic persists. ‬

‪“By doing nothing, you have two things that happen, at least in the age of Obama,” the former Florida governor said during a National Review event in Washington, D.C. “You have a president who uses this ... as a wedge issue, and we always lose.‬

‪“Delaying this is what [Obama] wants,” Bush added. “He doesn’t want immigration reform.”‬
-- Article by Rebecca Berg, May 1, 2015, relating comments made by former Gov. Jeb Bush (R-FL) on April 30, 2015.

Comment: Bush is accusing Obama of using wedge issues, which is "unify the country" rhetoric.

***
"Because I want this chamber, I want this city to reflect the truth -- that for all our blind spots and shortcomings, we are a people with the strength and generosity of spirit to bridge divides, to unite in common effort, to help our neighbors, whether down the street or on the other side of the world."
-- President Barack Obama, January 20, 2015, during the 2015 State of the Union address.

Comment: This is a call to unify the country and end divisiveness.

***
"You know, just over a decade ago, I gave a speech in Boston where I said there wasn’t a liberal America or a conservative America; a black America or a white America -- but a United States of America. I said this because I had seen it in my own life, in a nation that gave someone like me a chance; because I grew up in Hawaii, a melting pot of races and customs; because I made Illinois my home -- a state of small towns, rich farmland, one of the world’s great cities; a microcosm of the country where Democrats and Republicans and Independents, good people of every ethnicity and every faith, share certain bedrock values. Over the past six years, the pundits have pointed out more than once that my presidency hasn’t delivered on this vision. How ironic, they say, that our politics seems more divided than ever. It’s held up as proof not just of my own flaws -- of which there are many -- but also as proof that the vision itself is misguided, na├»ve, that there are too many people in this town who actually benefit from partisanship and gridlock for us to ever do anything about it. I know how tempting such cynicism may be. But I still think the cynics are wrong. I still believe that we are one people. I still believe that together, we can do great things, even when the odds are long."
-- President Barack Obama, January 20, 2015, during the 2015 State of the Union address.

Comment: Obama is accusing his critics of being cynical, and indulging in "unify the country" rhetoric. He is also calling for a higher standard of debate. But, as is typical with such calls, he isn't admitting to any specific mistakes he has made, any particular acts of incivility. An important part of teaching people how to engage in civil debate is to point out failures in civil debate so people know to avoid them. But Obama is leaving listeners with the impression that he hasn't made any mistakes, or, at least, he isn't detailing any of his mistakes as a way of teaching others how to do a better job at civility and civil debate.

***
"You know what Tom Wolf won't do? He will never support a law forcing women to undergo an invasive ultrasound procedure. He will never tell PA women stop complaining, you just have to close your eyes. He will never compare the marriage of two loving and committed partners to incest. I love Pennsylvania, and I believe Pennsylvania has had enough of shame and blame, enough of divisive politics, enough of dismissive politicians. It is time for the kind of fresh start Tom Wolf offers."
-- Former Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (D-NY), posted on October 10, 2014.

Comment: Clinton was apparently referring to statements by Wolf's competitor in the 2014 Pennsylvania gubernatorial election, Gov. Tom Corbett, and declaring that Corbett was saying incest is no different from same-sex marriage. Clinton is also using "unify the country" rhetoric.

***
This is a part of the war on whites that’s being launched by the Democratic Party. And the way in which they’re launching this war is by claiming that whites hate everybody else. It's part of the strategy that Barack Obama implemented in 2008, continued in 2012, where he divides us all on race, on sex, greed, envy, class warfare, all those kinds of things. … So the Democrats, they have to demagogue on this and try and turn it into a racial issue, which is an emotional issue, rather than a thoughtful issue.
-- Rep. Mo Brooks, (R-LA), posted August 4, 2014.

Comment: This is an example of "war" rhetoric, "divisive" rhetoric, and "demagogue" rhetoric.

***

Examples from 2012.

***

Examples from 2008.

***
"[Rudy Giuliani, former mayor of New York City] was probably one of the more divisive mayors the city has ever seen. People in this country should be very frightened of Rudy because he is not going to bring the country together ... Who knows who he'd pick wars with?"
-- Jerome Hauer, former head of NYC's Office of Emergency Management, reported November 19, 2007, by Reuters.

Comment: Divisive how? And what sort of unity could another candidate bring about that Giuliani couldn't? Neither of these claims is spelled out.

***
"I think there's no doubt that we [that is, younger leaders] represent the kind of change that Senator [Hillary] Clinton can't deliver on and part of it is generational. Senator Clinton and others, they've been fighting some of the same fights since the '60's and it makes it very difficult for them to bring the country together to get things done."
-- Illinois senator and Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, November 7, 2007.


(The list above is not intended to be a comprehensive record of all relevant examples.)

No comments: