Sunday, December 27, 2015

Civility Watchdog Digest: December 27, 2015

A few examples of rhetoric worth looking at from the past week:
"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.

Putin slyly stirred America’s politics by saying Trump is “very talented,” adding that he welcomed Trump’s promise of “closer, deeper relations,” whatever that might mean, with Russia. Trump announced himself flattered to be “so nicely complimented” by a “highly respected” man: “When people call you brilliant, it’s always good.” When MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough said Putin “kills journalists and political opponents and invades countries,” Trump replied that “at least he’s a leader.” Besides, Trump breezily asserted, “I think our country does plenty of killing also.” Two days later, Trump, who rarely feigns judiciousness, said: “It has not been proven that he’s killed reporters.” Well. Perhaps the 56 journalists murdered were coincidental victims of amazingly random violence that the former KGB operative’s police state is powerless to stop. It has, however, been “proven,” perhaps even to Trump’s exacting standards, that Putin has dismembered Ukraine. … Until now, Trump’s ever-more-exotic effusions have had an almost numbing effect. Almost. But by his embrace of Putin, and by postulating a slanderous moral equivalence — Putin kills journalists, the United States kills terrorists, what’s the big deal, or the difference? — Trump has forced conservatives to recognize their immediate priority.
-- Pundit George Will, December 23, 2015, referring to Republican presidential contender Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Comment: Will is accusing Trump of making a false equivalence between the U.S. and Putin's Russia.

Washington Post depicts Ted Cruz’s children as monkeys. And won’t apologize for it.
-- Pundit Moe Lane, December 23rd, 2015, referring to a Washington Post cartoon created by Ann Telnaes and published the previous day. The cartoon accused Republican presidential contender Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) of using his two daughters (aged 5 and 7) as "political props" by putting them in his campaign commercials. It did so with a drawing of Cruz as an organ grinder, and the children as monkeys held on leashes.

Comment: There are legitimate questions about whether children of politicians should be the target of political debate, or whether children should be involved in political campaigns; I leave those issues aside for now. Lane (and others, like Cruz himself) have accused Telnaes of denigrating Cruz's children, but I don't think that's correct. I think this is a case of mistaken "comparing" language. Telnaes wasn't saying that Cruz's children were literally monkeys – that would be a case of "subhuman" name-calling – rather, she said they were being used to garner attention for his political campaign, analogous (I imagine, "comically" exaggerated, as cartoonists' satire goes) to the way organ grinders would use monkeys to collect money.

"For Trump to get out there and call her a liar and get on his high horse about that is a little ridiculous, given that this is a guy who said he predicted [Osama] Bin Laden when he didn’t, that he saw thousands of American Muslims on video celebrating 9/11 when that didn’t happen, and when he said he made friends with [Russian President Vladimir] Putin in the green room at “60 Minutes” when he was in New York and Putin was in Moscow. So, when it comes to lying, Trump is really not in a strong position to make an that accusation against anybody else in this race."
-- Pundit David Corn, December 22, 2015, referring to Republican presidential contender Donald Trump. Trump had accused Democratic presidential contender former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of lying when she said that the Islamic State was using Trump's rhetoric against Muslims to recruit fighters.

Comment: Corn is using ad hominem reasoning to dismiss Trump's accusation against Clinton. Just because Trump himself has made falsehood statements in no way proves that he is wrong when he claims that Clinton has done the same.

We are not responding to Trump but everyone who understands the humiliation this degrading language inflicts on all women should.
-- Jennifer Palmieri, a spokesperson for the campaign of Democratic presidential contender former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, December 22, 2015. Palmieri was referring to Republican presidential contender Donald Trump's remarks that Clinton had been "schlonged".

Comment: Palmieri is saying Clinton's campaign won't comment on Trump's language, while at the same time doing the opposite: pointing out that it's degrading language. This is sort of the reverse of an evasion: saying that you won't comment on something, but then doing it.

"She was favored to win and she got schlonged, she lost."
-- Republican presidential contender Donald Trump, December 21, 2015, referring to Democratic presidential contender former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her failure to win the Democratic nomination in 2008.

Comment: I'm not sure what kind of name-calling this would amount to, though it's clear Trump's language ("schlong" is Yiddish for "penis") has a vulgar sexual connotation.

Five years ago, I was fired by NPR for telling Bill O’Reilly that, since the September 11th attacks, I get nervous when I see people dressed in Muslim garb getting on an airplane. By admitting the truth of my own fears, I was pointing out the need to avoid politically correctness and acknowledge the legitimate link between radical Islam and terrorism. I also said once the PC muzzles are off the American people— and after all the fears are expressed — it is paramount to keep in mind that the U.S.A. is a country founded on the ideal of religious liberty. I believed then, as I believe now, that we can’t stereotype any group on the basis of the behavior of extreme, violent or criminal behavior from extreme elements. I don’t want anyone blaming me, a Christian, for the Colorado man who cited his faith as the reason he shot and killed three people at a Planned Parenthood facility last month. My point five years ago was that if our leaders pander to public fears they will see political gain in the short-term. But in a nation of many faiths, the political impulse to exploit anti-Muslim passions amounts to bigotry. And in the long run, it undermines our common American identity, a bond across religious beliefs, place of birth, skin color, and political beliefs. In other words, it is contrary to basic American values and undermines American unity — out of many, one people. The Trump Muslim ban is exactly the type of bigoted overreaction I was warning against. Clearly, most Republicans do not see it the same way. … Right-wing politicians get tons of media attention and fundraising boosts when they call for mass deportation of millions of Mexicans, building a wall along the Southern border, barring visitors from Africa over Ebola paranoia, and banning widows and orphans fleeing from Syria over ISIS paranoia. The American right needs a bogeyman and more often than not, that bogeyman is dark-skinned and a foreigner. The Trump solution is to pull up the drawbridge, wall off the United States and abandon the country’s tradition of inclusion and acceptance. Making American great seems to mean taking the country back to a time of more white people, fewer immigrants and certainly fewer Muslims. It is safe to say the odds of it happening are slim. But Trump is selling fear and even his GOP political opponents are buying it.
-- Pundit Juan Williams, December 21, 2015, referring to Republican presidential contender Donald Trump.

Comment: Williams is accusing Trump of fear-mongering, and accusing much of the right-wing of bigotry.

"She's always been – whether it was Whitewater or the email scandal, she always lies. And now to be saying that we're just right in the perfect spot with respect to ISIS, I don't think that's a lie, I really don't think she knows what she's doing."
-- Republican presidential contender Donald Trump, December 21, 2015, referring to Democratic presidential contender former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Comment: Trump is accusing Clinton of distortion – more, that she always lies, which could also involve the "they'll say anything" caricature – but he then immediately contradicts himself and says that Clinton is not lying in her assessment of ISIS. Rather, he says, she's made a false assessment of the Islamic State based on being "out of touch with reality".

"Yes, there have been times where you start seeing on college campuses students protesting somebody like the director of the IMF or Condi Rice speaking on a campus because they don't like what they stand for. Well, feel free to disagree with somebody, but don't try to just shut them up. If somebody doesn't believe in affirmative action, they may disagree — you may disagree with them. I disagree with them, but have an argument with them. It is possible for somebody not to be racist and want a just society but believe that that is something that is inconsistent with the Constitution."
-- President Barack Obama, from an interview released December 21, 2015.

Comment: Obama is calling for setting a higher standard of debate (in particular, not shouting people down or falsely accusing them of bigotry).

INSKEEP: Let me follow up on a couple of things you mentioned. You mentioned slavery. Among the many protests this year are two small but symbolically interesting ones at Ivy League universities. At your alma mater, Harvard Law, there is a seal for the school that is based on the family crest of a slave owner. At Yale there is a school named after John C. Calhoun, who was a great defender of slavery. The call is to get rid of those symbols. What would you have the universities do?

OBAMA: You know, as president of the United States I probably don't need to wade into every specific controversy at a –

INSKEEP: But you can do it. We're here.

OBAMA: But here's what I will say generally. I think it's a healthy thing for young people to be engaged and to question authority and to ask why this instead of that, to ask tough questions about social justice. So I don't want to discourage kids from doing that.
-- President Barack Obama, from an interview released December 21, 2015, with Steve Inskeep of NPR.

Comment: This is an evasion. Like most presidents, Obama has commented on many controversies (including ones related to the one at Harvard Law, such as changing the name of the Washington Redskins), so why not this one as well?

"But what I would say to my successor is that it is important not just to shoot but to aim, and it is important in this seat to make sure that you are making your best judgments based on data, intelligence, the information that's coming from your commanders and folks on the ground, and you're not being swayed by politics."
-- President Barack Obama, from an interview released December 21, 2015.

Comment: This is a platitude: who supports "shooting without aiming", or "being swayed by politics" (whatever that means)?

STEPHANOPOULOS: You just heard Donald Trump call you out. He said you lied. He doubled down on that embrace from Vladimir Putin.

SANDERS: I tell you, it really is rather extraordinary. I think -- and I say this straightforwardly -- I think you have a pathological liar there.


SANDERS: Pathological, I really do. I mean, I think much of what he says are lies or gross distortion of reality. Here's the fact. I mean, he's been saying over and over again that he saw on television, as I understand it, thousands of people in New Jersey celebrating 9/11 right the destruction of the Twin Towers. Either that's true or it's not true. And what I understand, there have been a lot of research, they archive what goes on television. You're a TV guy, right? Everything was saying that was going to be archived. Either it is true, it is not true. Nobody has seen a tape of thousands of people celebrating the destruction of the Twin Towers in New Jersey. It doesn't exist. And he keeps claiming it. That's called pathological lying. Yes, he just (INAUDIBLE) a few moments ago accused me of lying when I said last night is that he has suggested that Mexicans who were coming to this country are criminals and rapists. That is exactly what he said. What somebody like a Donald Trump is doing is playing on the fears and anxieties of the American people. And people are afraid.
-- Democratic presidential contender Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), December 20, 2015, appearing on ABC News' "This Week" with George Stephanopoulos. Sanders was responding to remarks made earlier on the show by Republican presidential contender Donald Trump.

Comment: Sanders is accusing Trump of distortion – perhaps to the point of not caring about truth – as well as exploiting fear.

SANDERS: And somebody like with Trump comes along and says I know the answers. The answer is that all of the Mexicans, they're criminals and rapists. We hate all the Muslims, because all of the Muslims are terrorists.

CLINTON: He is becoming ISIS' best recruiter. They are going to people showing videos of Donald Trump insulting Islam and Muslims in order to recruit more radical jihadists.

[End video clips]

KARL: As you heard, an explosive allegation from Hillary Clinton against Donald Trump, saying that ISIS is showing videos of Trump to recruit potential new jihadists. We asked the Clinton camp where they got that from. They have not offered, George, any direct evidence that had happened. Donald Trump, for his part, overnight, Tweeted simply, "Hillary Clinton lied."

STEPHANOPOULOS: OK, Jon Karl, thanks very much. Let's talk to Mr. Trump right now. We saw that Tweet, Mr. Trump. Are you going to stand by it?

TRUMP: Well, of course I'm standing by it. It was vetted. They went to "The Washington Post." Fox News went out in great detail and looked for it and there's no such video. And they may make one up, knowing the Clintons and knowing Hillary, but there's no -- there's nobody -- she just made it up. I mean she made it up. It was a sound bite. Just like Bernie Sanders lied.
-- Republican presidential contender Donald Trump, December 20, 2015, appearing on ABC News' "This Week" with Jon Karl and George Stephanopoulos. Trump was responding to video clips of statements made by Democratic presidential contenders former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) during the previous week's Democratic presidential debate.

Comment: Trump is accusing Clinton and Sanders of distortion (in the case of Clinton, she has not been able to show that video of Trump is being used to recruit jihadists).

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