We Don’t Know How to Argue
Terry H. Schwadron
Sept. 21, 2022
The evidence that we don’t know even how to trade political insults effectively is pouring in daily now that we are in high political season.
We’re picking at words and terms, whether intentional or slips, to pin the opponent with being so extreme, so out of touch with reality that we can’t even get to the issue.
This week, it has been the act of sending unsuspecting migrants from red states — asylum seekers in the country legally, remember — to blue areas by promising non-existent jobs and housing. The move is either a “stunt” or a “brilliant strategy,” depending on which inadequate label you choose.
The important thing is that the label is not solving the problem as we got confirmation from the Customs and Border police that arrests of undocumented immigrants along the southwestern border exceeded two million in one year.
On 60 Minutes Joe Biden’s description that the worst effects of covid have passed, meaning that “the pandemic is over” is seen either as misstatement or a long-awaited recognition that Americans have lost interest in masking or vaccination against illness. In any case, people are still getting the Omicom version of the virus and hundreds Americans are still being hospitalized and dying each day. In any case, there seemed no rush at the local CVS when we showed up for the latest booster shot.
“Inflation” has been weaponized as a political term, with none of the candidates for Congress, Republican or Democrat, coming up with effective, practical plans for how to right the ship other than by issuing challenging bromides aimed at calling the other guy a louse.
Somehow amid the seriousness of focus on the bravery of Ukrainians fighting for their lives, repelling the worst of our climate effects in spreading forest fires, drought and flooding, even over the elongated denouement of British royalty, it is discouraging to listen to the daily patter of our too-idiotic name-calling and constant spin.
A Plethora of Idiotic Remarks
One of the political shows featured results of a poll in the issue which voters were asked about was separated from a person or party affiliation. When seen alone, it turned out that Republicans actually favored policies normally associated with Democrats, the flip result of when the same policy was tied to a personality.
Maybe we would just rather enjoy sorting the insults than address the problem at hand.
Or maybe it’s because it’s just so much easier to make an ad showing the other guy looking idiotic for making some remark, even if by accident, than it is to come up with a way for government to agree on a plan that works and that gets by the now-inevitable court challenge.
On the days where we can avoid worrying about whether we’re remaking democracy itself through sustained attacks on how we vote and how we count ballots, we could be stewing about why we can’t even hold an intelligent debate. We’re having a national tantrum of stupid fights over immaterial fluff, over what label we use rather than on what is at issue.
We’re holding our partisan breaths on all sides that our guy won’t blurt out something dumb or even unintelligible. “Another Kamala Harris word salad goes viral,” Fox headlined in showing in text an answer to an interview question. Fortune Magazine used the same word salad phrase to describe how Biden’s covid remark shows how life will never go back to pre-covid times. A former federal prosecutor on MSNBCreported that the latest Donald Trump responses in the classified document case is “word salad.”
Skip the fact that we’re stuck with trite phrases and focus instead on the idea that our speeches and arguments are awkward because our thinking is awkward. It’s all for the image, not the substance.
Good Politics But Bad News
The emphasis on slips, gaffes and the stranger aspects of campaigns is making the nightly political news developments painful to hear.
Meanwhile, the more difficult aspects of finding solutions and the attacks on the mechanics of voting and counting elections is getting harder to nail down and stop. States have had to adopt emergency procedures to protect election site workers, as the attacks on election rules by the army of those claiming institutional fraud are metastasizing.
About Biden, we’re hearing daily questions about his age and durability as if anyone simultaneously keeping a global anti-Russia coalition, dealing with policies that will govern approaches to climate, health, immigration, education, and a rail strike would not be burdened.
Amazingly, Donald Trump somehow remains in the news every day, even for saying or doing more and more questionably extreme things, from vaguely warning about the storm of violence on its way should he be indicted to the claim that he would have had a better seat in Westminster Abbey for the Queen’s funeral had he still been president.
At the same time, we’re learning yet more about Trump’s failures to pay attention to business, even while trying to “trade” Puerto Rico for Greenland, give away a West Bank he didn’t own to Jordanians, or get far more serious about ruining NATO than even he let on.
Why are we still paying such attention to Trump’s every utterance? If you want to do so, join his financially struggling Truth Social and get it directly. But what makes Trump “news” every day?
Even his legal issues from the growing number of civil and criminal complaints are running into the deep-legal depths that can result in yet more appeals, more court machinations, more talk about the bad lawyering that Trump is bringing about while spending anyone else’s money but his own.
As Trump faces more hurdles, it is unleashing the would-be Trump heirs to outdo one another with publicity-seeking declarations. That’s what is leading to the “stunts” labels. Now that Biden acknowledges that he is not fully ready to declare he will be running again at age 82, it will bring out the same among his would-be replacements.
Meanwhile we’re hearing Herschel Walker, the Republican Senate candidate in Georgia, apologizing ahead of a pending debate to discount his appearance because “I’m not that smart,” as if we are supposed to be buoyed by that thought. It’s just one of the many dumb remarks we’re hearing from this year’s statewide candidates, again not limited to a single party.
We can do better.