Sunday, June 5, 2016

Civility Watchdog Digest: June 5, 2016

A few examples of rhetoric worth looking at from the past week:
Hillary Clinton went there.

“We are trying to elect a president, not a dictator,” she said of presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump at a campaign rally here on Friday, just days before the California Democratic primary.

And at the last rally in the scorching San Bernardino evening, she once again let loose on Trump, questioning not only his qualifications, but his sincerity.

“I don’t understand Donald Trump running a whole campaign based on nothing but denigrating immigrants,” she said, pointing out that Trump, whose mother was Scottish and whose wife is Slovenian, has family that came over to the United States from abroad. “Is this nothing but a political stunt?"
-- Democratic presidential contender former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, June 3, 2016, as related in a story by Gabriel Debenedetti of Politico.

Comment: This is demonizing. Whatever Trump has done wrong, at no point has he called for, say, eliminating elections (as a dictator would). Also, though he has undoubtedly made unfair statements against illegal immigrants from Mexico, he hasn’t denigrated all immigrants, nor is his entire campaign based on doing so.

"But unfortunately, graduates, despite the lessons of our history and the truth of your experience here at City College, some folks out there today seem to have a very different perspective. They seem to view our diversity as a threat to be contained rather than as a resource to be tapped. They tell us to be afraid of those who are different, to be suspicious of those with whom we disagree. They act as if name-calling is an acceptable substitute for thoughtful debate, as if anger and intolerance should be our default state rather than the optimism and openness that have always been the engine of our progress."
-- First Lady Michelle Obama, June 3, 2016, speaking at City College of New York Commencement.

Comment: Obama is accusing some people – she does not name who – of being opposed to diversity, of inciting fear and suspicion, and resorting to name-calling. It’s impossible to know if these accusations are true until she identifies who they are about (Republicans are the likely target). This seems like the “only my opponent” caricature, as Obama’s fellow Democrats often behave in many of the same ways.

Jen Psaki, the witless Pippi Longstocking of the American diplomatic project, admitted under questioning from James Rosen of Fox News that the State Department had lied — flat-out — about the fact that secret talks had been under way between the United States and Iran over the Islamic terror state’s nuclear-weapons program.
-- Kevin D. Williamson, June 3, 2016.

Comment: Williamson can criticize Psaki without using the term “witless”, which is essentially “stupid” name-calling.

Advice: If Trump comes to your town, start a riot.
-- Pundit Emmett Rensin, June 3, 2016, referring to Republican presidential contender Donald Trump.

Comment: This is violent rhetoric, though it’s not clear if it’s meant comically, metaphorically, or literally.

Donald Trump said in an interview published Thursday that that a federal judge's Mexican heritage presents a "absolute conflict" in his fitness to hear lawsuits against Trump University because of the mogul's hard-line stance on immigration.

While Trump has assailed the judge before with racially imbued language, his comments marked the first time he explicitly said the judge's ethnicity should have disqualified him for presiding over the cases.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Trump said that U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel had a conflict in the cases because the judge is “of Mexican heritage" and the mogul is espousing polarizing views on immigration.

“I’m building a wall. It’s an inherent conflict of interest,” Trump told the Journal, referencing his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border that his supporters have cheered but opponents have sharply criticized.
-- Republican presidential contender Donald Trump, as related in a June 2, 2016, story by Sean Sullivan of The Washington Post.

Comment: This is a very poor (even bigoted) grounds for expecting a judge to recuse themselves. Can the only judge ruling on the case be one who has no opinion about Trump and his policies, and no heritage in common with anyone who would be affected by Trump’s policies? By the same reasoning, should any white, male judge recuse themselves from the case, because they would be biased in favor of Trump?

"A longtime opponent like me knows there is an ocean of difference between her record and her rhetoric. … So why should we believe Hillary Clinton about Donald Trump when we can't believe her about her own assessment of her record, the facts of that record and her service?"
-- Pundit Hugh Hewitt, June 2, 2016, referring to a speech made by Democratic presidential contender former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that criticized the foreign policy of Republican presidential contender Donald Trump.

Comment: Even if it’s true that Clinton’s assessment of her own record is flawed, that doesn’t mean Clinton’s criticisms of Trump are flawed. To reason from the former to the latter is ad hominem.

True, as Garry Wills has observed, Republicans may have renounced virtually the entire Enlightenment—and with it, “reason, facts, science, open-mindedness, tolerance, secularity, modernity.”
-- Pundit Eric Alterman, June 2, 2016.

Comment: This is “they don’t care about facts” rhetoric.

"Donald Trump will peel her skin off in a debate setting, and actually, he’ll peel it off this evening out in San Jose as well."
-- Former Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX), June 2, 2016, referring to the prospect of a debate between Republican presidential contender Donald Trump and Democratic presidential contender former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Comment: This is violent rhetoric, though Perry is clearly using it metaphorically.

Recalling Rep. Joe Wilson’s 2009 outburst during President Barack Obama’s address to a joint session of Congress, former Attorney General Eric Holder didn’t mince words regarding the South Carolina congressman.

“Somebody should have smacked his a--,” Holder told ESPN's The Undefeated in an interview. “They should have ... told him to sit the f--- down.”
-- Former Attorney General Eric Holder, as related in a June 2, 2016, story by Louis Nelson of Politico.

Comment: This is violent rhetoric, as well as vulgar.

"A lot of times it's easy for somebody to come up and say you know what, if we deport all the immigrants and build a wall or if we cut off trade with China, or if we do X or Y or Z, that there's some simple answer and suddenly everything is going to feel secure."
-- President Barack Obama, June 1, 2016, referring to economic circumstances and remarks by Republican presidential contender Donald Trump.

Comment: Obama is demonizing Trump. At no point has Trump called for all immigrants to be deported or to cut off trade with China.

"By almost every economic measure, America is better off than when I came here at the beginning of my presidency."
-- President Barack Obama, June 1, 2016.

Comment: The question, however, is whether the economy got better because of Obama’s presidency, rather than just during his presidency. We can’t simply conclude the former from the latter, that would be propter hoc reasoning. And, of course, there’s no control group economy (i.e., an economy without Obama as president) that we can compare the current one to in order to prove what difference Obama’s presidency made.

"And instead of telling you what they’re for, they’ve defined their economic agenda by what they’re against -- and that's mainly being against me. And their basic message is anti-government, anti-immigrant, anti-trade, and, let’s face it, it's anti-change. … And the one thing I can promise you is if we turn against each other based on divisions of race or religion, if we fall for a bunch of okie-doke just because it sounds funny or the tweets are provocative, then we’re not going to build on the progress that we’ve started. If we get cynical and just vote our fears, or if we don’t vote at all, we won’t build on the progress that we started."
-- President Barack Obama, June 1, 2016, referring to his conservative and Republican critics, and Republican presidential contender Donald Trump in particular.

Comment: Obama is demonizing his opponents on several fronts. First, Republicans and conservatives certainly want smaller government, but it’s an exaggeration to say they are “anti-government” if that means they want no government at all. Second, while many of Obama’s opponents want illegal immigrants deported, that is not the same as being opposed to all immigrants and immigration whatsoever (i.e., being “anti-immigrant”). Third, some Republicans (though by no means all of them) have called for trade tariffs, but not for a suspension of trade. So how is the Republican position “anti-trade”? Fourth, it’s simply hyperbole to say Republicans are “anti-change.” They propose all sorts of change; just change that Obama tends to disagree with. Lastly, Obama seems to be saying Republicans are appealing to fear. But all candidates do this, Obama included. They point out bad things on the horizon – things that we fear – and pledge to lead us away from them. There’s nothing wrong with appealing to fear, per se; the point is, which fears are rational, and what are the best policies do deal with them?

TAPPER: Historically speaking throughout your decades in public life you and your husband have had occasionally contentious relationships with journalists, though, it certainly never went as far publicly as it did today with Donald Trump calling journalists sleazy and dishonest and unfair. So what went through your mind watching his press conference today?

CLINTON: Well, I have to say, Jake, I had my team check. I have done nearly 300 interviews just in 2016 and I believe that it's important to continue to, you know, speak to the press as I'm doing right now. And to understand that his attacking everybody, fellow Republicans, Democrats, the press, you just name it. He attacks everybody, is a recipe for gridlock in Washington. And that's what we've got to break and get away with. You know, he seems to believe, or at least is demonstrating that insulting and attacks is his mode of operations. And you know, I just don't think that's going to cut it. If you want to actually produce results for the American people and not only lead it home, but lead the world.
-- Democratic presidential contender former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, May 31, 2016, during an interview with Jake Tapper of CNN.

Comment: This is the “only my opponent” caricature. Granted, Trump has often resorted to name-calling, but so have Clinton and many other Democrats.

As Executive Producer of “Under the Gun,” a documentary film that explores the epidemic of gun violence, I take responsibility for a decision that misrepresented an exchange I had with members of the Virginia Citizens Defense League (VCDL). My question to the VCDL regarding the ability of convicted felons and those on the terror watch list to legally obtain a gun, was followed by an extended pause, making the participants appear to be speechless. When I screened an early version of the film with the director, Stephanie Soechtig, I questioned her and the editor about the pause and was told that a "beat" was added for, as she described it, “dramatic effect," to give the audience a moment to consider the question. When VCDL members recently pointed out that they had in fact immediately answered this question, I went back and reviewed it and agree that those eight seconds do not accurately represent their response. VCDL members have a right for their answers to be shared and so we have posted a transcript of their responses here. I regret that those eight seconds were misleading and that I did not raise my initial concerns more vigorously.
-- News anchor Katie Couric, May 31, 2016.

Comment: This is “I take responsibility” rhetoric, in which Couric seems to confess to going along with someone else’s editing decision. Is this the same as admitting that she is the cause of the mistake? What is different, or what will change, now that Couric has taken responsibility for what happened?

TRUMP: I'm not looking for credit. But what I don't want is when I raise millions of dollars, to have people say – like this sleazy guy right over here from ABC. He's a sleaze in my book.

LLAMAS: Why am I sleaze?

TRUMP: You're a sleaze, because you know the facts, and you know the facts well.
-- Republican presidential contender Donald Trump, May 31, 2016, referring to Tom Llamas of ABC News. Trump accused Llamas of misreporting the amount of money Trump raised for veterans.

Comment: “Sleaze” is an example of “disgusting” rhetoric. If misreporting facts about Trump is grounds for Trump to use this kind of language against them, does the same standard apply to Trump himself? If Trump makes a false statement about somebody, are we justified in referring to Trump as “sleaze”?

KRAUZE [translated from Spanish]: I am sure that you know about this topic: various leftist governments, especially the populists, are in serious trouble in Latin America. The socialist model in Venezuela has the country near collapse. Argentina, also Brazil, how do you explain that failure?

SANDERS: You are asking me questions –

KRAUZE [translated from Spanish]: I am sure you’re interested in that.

SANDERS: I am very interested, but right now I’m running for President of the United States.

KRAUZE [translated from Spanish]: So you don’t have an opinion about the crisis in Venezuela?

SANDERS: Of course I have an opinion, but as I said, I’m focused on my campaign.
-- Democratic presidential contender Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), posted May 26, 2016, being interviewed by León Krauze of Univision.

Comment: This is an evasion. Presidential candidates routinely discuss what’s going on in other countries, either as a matter of foreign policy or economic policy. There’s no good reason Sanders can’t weigh in on the economic situation in Venezuela.

No comments: