Saturday, December 5, 2015

Civility Watchdog Digest: November 29, 2015

A few examples of rhetoric worth looking at from the past week:
Has Donald Trump gone too far this time?

The Republican presidential hopeful is under fire for mocking a New York Times reporter with an 'outrageous' impression of the journalist's physical handicap during a campaign speech on Wednesday.

Not only has the New York Times come to the defense of their reporter, Serge Kovaleski, but the journalist's colleagues and the public at large have taken to social media to register their disgust with the brash candidate.

In a campaign stop in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, Trump laid into the journalist, doing an impression that saw him flail his arms while putting on a strange voice.

Before the distasteful imitation, Trump said the story was 'written by a nice reporter'.

But he continued: 'Now the poor guy, you gotta see this guy: "Uh, I don’t know what I said. I don’t remember." He’s going, "I don’t remember. Maybe that’s what I said."'

Kovaleski, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, was born with arthrogryposis.

The condition can cause sufferers' joints to get stuck in one position and can also see people born with weaker or missing muscles.
-- Republican presidential contender Donald Trump, November 25, 2015, as related in a story by Ollie Gillman and Ashley Collman of the Daily Mail.

Comment: Trump was clearly mocking Kovaleski for being disabled. It's not clear exactly what type of name-calling this would be – "stupid" or "subhuman"? Something else? – but it's certainly derisive and unacceptable. Trump's later claim that he was not mocking Kovaleski's disability is simply dishonest.

"In 1620, a small band of pilgrims came to this continent, refugees who had fled persecution and violence in their native land. Nearly 400 years later, we remember their part in the American story -- and we honor the men and women who helped them in their time of need. … I've been touched by the generosity of the Americans who've written me letters and emails in recent weeks, offering to open their homes to refugees fleeing the brutality of ISIL. … Nearly four centuries after the Mayflower set sail, the world is still full of pilgrims -- men and women who want nothing more than the chance for a safer, better future for themselves and their families. What makes America America is that we offer that chance. We turn Lady Liberty's light to the world, and widen our circle of concern to say that all God's children are worthy of our compassion and care. That's part of what makes this the greatest country on Earth."
-- President Barack Obama, November 25, 2015.

Comment: Obama is comparing Syrian refugees to the Pilgrims in the sense that they left their home country in order to avoid violent religious persecution.

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.

COL. TOM MOE, US AIR FORCE, VIETNAM POW: I would like anyone who is listening to consider some thoughts that I paraphrase from the words of German pastor Martin Niemöller. You might not care if Donald Trump says Muslims must register with the government because you're not one. And you might not care if Donald Trump says he's going to round up all the Hispanic immigrants because you're not one. And you might not care if Donald Trump says it's OK to rough up black protesters because you're not one. And you might not care if Donald Trump wants to suppress journalists because you're not one. But think about this: if he keeps going, and he actually becomes president, he might just get around to you, and you better hope that there's someone left to help you.

TEXT: Paid for by Kasich for America.
-- "Trump's Dangerous Rhetoric", a political ad released November 24, 2015, by Republican presidential contender Gov. John Kasich (R-OH), criticizing fellow Republican presidential contender Donald Trump.

Comment: The paraphrasing of the famous words of Martin Niemöller – opposed the Nazis – was taken by some as "comparing" Trump to Adolf Hitler. The ad contains some distortions. First, Trump never said Muslims should have to register with the government (though he did – unacceptably – fail to reject the idea). Second, Trump never said he would round up all Hispanic immigrants; rather, he said he would deport all illegal immigrants (which means legal Hispanic immigrants would not be "rounded up", while many non-Hispanic immigrants who are here illegally would be "rounded up"). The implication that Trump is anti-Hispanic on this basis is therefore unfair. Third, while Trump did express approval at a protester being "roughed up" (which is unacceptable), he didn't justify this on the basis that the protester was black; the implication of bigotry is again unfair. Finally, Trump did not suppress journalists by – as the ad depicts – removing Jorge Ramos of Univision from a press conference. Ramos was disrupting the press event, not waiting to be called on before he spoke (as the other journalists were doing), and he was ultimately allowed back into the conference to question Trump. This hardly amounts to some sort of effort to stifle freedom of the press.

COSTELLO: Well, he’s an outsider, and that plays into it, right? Because a lot of Republicans don’t like Sen. John McCain.

AVLON: Unfortunately that is true, in terms of someone who has served his country honorably and was a POW.
-- Pundit John Avlon, November 24, 2015, with Carol Costello of CNN. Their remarks concerned the relationship between Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and Republican political contender Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX).

Comment: Why is it unfortunate that Republicans wouldn't like McCain? Just because he served in the military and was a prisoner of war doesn't mean anyone has to agree with McCain on anything politically. Are Avlon's remarks questioning the patriotism of McCain's opponents? As a result of serving in the military and being a POW, does McCain have some sort of political authority that we have to recognize?

Eminent British scientist Richard Dawkins has drawn criticism on social media for what some say is an unfair comparison between Ahmed Mohamed, the Texas teenager whose school project was mistaken for a bomb, and a young ISIS killer.

But Dawkins says he was merely drawing a parallel between their ages.

"HORRIFIED anyone thinks I could POSSIBLY liken Ahmed to a killer," Dawkins said in a tweet Wednesday. "My ONLY point of comparison was their AGES: kids not immune to criticism."

Dawkins, a leading voice in the atheist movement, was reacting to news that the Mohamed family was demanding $15 million in damages and an apology from city and school officials in Irving, Texas, over their treatment of the teen.

In September, the 14-year-old, who is Muslim, was detained, questioned and hauled off in handcuffs after bringing a handmade clock to school, which a teacher thought could have been a bomb.

"Don't call him 'clock boy' since he never made a clock. Hoax Boy, having hoaxed his way into the White House, now wants $15M in addition!" Dawkins tweeted Tuesday.

The evolutionary biologist has been vocal in his belief that the case -- which made Ahmed a cause célèbre, prompted the hashtag #IStandWithAhmed to trend, and led to a personal invitation to the White House from President Barack Obama -- was a "hoax."

He has repeatedly insisted that Ahmed did not make a clock but rather "took a clock out of its case and put it in a box," and has questioned the teen's motives in doing so.

When Twitter users chided the 74-year-old scientist for "picking on a kid," he responded by tweeting a link to a news story about a child ISIS killer.

"'But he's only a kid.' Yes, a 'kid' old enough to sue for $15M those whom he hoaxed. And how old is this 'kid'?" tweeted Dawkins, linking to a story about a young ISIS killer beheading a victim.
-- Responses to pundit Richard Dawkins, November 24, 2015, as related in a November 25, 2015, story by Tim Hume of CNN.

Comment: Dawkins is being accused of "comparing" Ahmed to a young terrorist in the sense of accusing Ahmed of being violent; Dawkins insists he was only comparing them in terms of age (in the spirit of arguing that teenage children should be held responsible for their actions).

TEXT: Republicans keep saying the same thing.

RUBIO: We are at war with radical Islam.

JEB BUSH: Radical Islamic terrorism.

TEXT: Equating Islam, all Muslims, with terrorists…

TRUMP: We do have a problem radical Muslims.

CARSON: Radical Islamic jihadists.

CRUZ: Radical Islamic terrorism.

TEXT: It’s oversimplification. And it’s wrong. But don’t take our word for it.

GEORGE BUSH: We do not fight against Islam, we fight against evil.

GEORGE BUSH: The war against terrorism is not a war against Muslims, nor is it a war against Arabs. It’s a war against evil people who conduct crimes against innocent people.

GEORGE BUSH: That’s not what Islam is all about. Islam is peace.

TEXT: Inciting fear isn’t presidential.
-- Democratic Party political ad, retrieved November 24, 2015. The ad quotes Republican presidential contenders former Gov. Jeb Bush (R-FL), Ben Carson, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), and Donald Trump, as well as former President George W. Bush.

Comment: The ad is accusing Republicans of fear-mongering. It is also falsely accusing Republicans (perhaps via code words?) of equating Islam and Muslims with terrorism and terrorists, thereby demonizing them as bigots. Being opposed to radical Islam doesn't mean being opposed to all Muslims, any more than being opposed to corrupt police officers means being opposed to all police officers. Citing George Bush – a Republican – seems like a faulty appeal to authority, perhaps an argument ad hostes. (Plus, the ad cites George Bush selectively: he denounced Islamic radicalism.) 

Donald Trump suggested Sunday the half-dozen white attendees at his campaign rally on Saturday may have reacted appropriately when they shoved, tackled, punched and kicked a black protester who disrupted his speech.

"Maybe he should have been roughed up because it was absolutely disgusting what he was doing," Trump said Sunday morning on Fox News, less than 24 hours after his campaign said it "does not condone" the physical altercation.
-- Republican presidential contender Donald Trump, November 22, 2015, as related in a CNN story by Jeremy Diamond.

Comment: Trump is endorsing violence. What was the protester doing to justify a violent response?

"I don't think he's got a strategy that deals with ISIS. I think Obama's strategy – best I've been able to learn, and I've looked really hard at this – it seems to me that Obama is linked to Iran and Syria in this. The sectarian violence throughout the Middle East is his excuse for not doing anything about it. Iran capitalizes on all of this chaos and crisis. And Chris, look, I don't like saying any of this, but it's obvious Obama is very sensitive to Iran's needs and is trying to satisfy them. We have lifted the sanctions. They've got $150 billion they didn't have. They are on the way to get a nuclear weapon, all because of Barack Hussein O, and I think his dealing with ISIS is inept, and incompetent, and nonexistent."
-- Pundit Rush Limbaugh, November 22, 2015, on Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace, speaking about President Barack Obama.

Comment: Limbaugh is demonizing Obama – portraying him as seeking to help Iran – by misrepresenting the Iranian nuclear deal. The Iranian nuclear deal lifts many sanctions on Iran and allows them to access its financial assets (estimated between $55 billion - $150 billion in value) that were seized, but it also imposes costs: Iran has to surrender 97% of their stockpile of enriched uranium, as well as two-thirds of their uranium-enriching centrifuges. Plus, Iran must provide international inspectors with access to their known nuclear supply chain. Whether the deal as a whole a good idea is fair to debate, but it's false to portray it as nothing but a boon to Iran.

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