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One of the sadder (and worrisome) things I observe is that too many of us do not know how to argue. There are plenty able to go loud, belligerent, judgmental, and accusatory in a flicker. Too often, as well, personality or personal likes, dislikes play an oversize role in argument that for both civility and integrity should be about determining facts and assessing the merit or value of such information. Argument, not arguing, is a serious form of social contest that should benefit both sides by getting to the root of things substantive as general truths rather than individual opinions. Some systems of thought (Western tradition is an example) encourage healthy debate while some other systems (notably ones relying on divine or religious law) require following rules rather than questioning them.
I can tell you that as a personal thing I cringe whenever I hear political or social comment begin with a launch based on personality or personal attack. Of course people are entitled to their feelings about others or concerning issues, but when liking someone or not liking an idea are at the base what is there to discuss? Personal likes and dislikes are not apt to change from talk. Say the dislike is of rutabaga. Giving two dozen reasons why a person dislikes rutabaga has no more utility than a counter about why rutabaga is good for you. How likely is it that there is a cancer curing or causing element in rutabaga? Without some form of significant fact a palaver over rutabaga won’t prove terribly useful or constructive. When political and social dialog dwells on personality and personal preference we don’t get a lot from it that I’d term constructive. People will grind on about such stuff, but how useful is it. They must feel good about doing it but not good enough to stop after proving tedium does exist.
Reaching back a ways I can remind you of the visceral dislike of Nancy Reagan or more recently glowing admiration of Michelle Obama. To me revulsion at or glorification of others is beside the point and a waste of time. Save it for an obit. But of course presumed arguments will often begin with a detested or idolized person as a factual point. With such habits in wide use you can see why politics gets so muddled. I have a recent example aimed at me for chiding the public for too readily accepting interfering with wildlife. You know personal attack has replaced debate when a name gets repeated as the poster-person representing insensitivity toward the wild kingdom. It’s true I’d never considered whether I’d want a moose to rescue me if I were in trouble and near drowned. I’d think a moose would have great difficulty operating the controls of a rescue truck. I had not considered rescue by a moose as a possibility, and quite honestly thought then as I do now the possibility of moose to mouth resuscitation one I’d as soon miss experiencing.
In any case, it is interesting to see how we go about being political and addressing social questions. On average I’d say our public lives score less than average. Currently this is much the cause of President Trump who makes it too-too easy for personality and swings of moody perception to distract from any speedball of fact pitched into the game. It’s my suspicion we got a player such as Trump as the logical result or outcome of many years of trying.
I can about hear the outcry from the last sentence; voices challenging that no President has ever been that bad. I disagree. I think we’ve had more questionable than wise leadership for way too long. There were a few flickering exceptions. If you take heart at that and think Obama was one such I’ll disappoint by saying he was hardly any different. Smoother, oh yes he was that, but any less questionable on some very key areas he was not.
I’ll take the southern border wall as an example. We have a border supposedly for a reason. It serves a purpose, and neither Obama nor Trump favored a transparent or porous border. Both Presidents expressed concerns and addressed the border question. The trump view is certainly the more direct and blunt view. The idea of a wall may be stupid and impractical, but as a voiced possibility it say the subject deserves action rather than more words. The wall proposal takes the issue as one serious enough to need action. In other words it is a kick in the rear to move. So which approach might be better? Should we go on talking with little likelihood of anything getting done or do the hornets get stirred and some action gets started? A wall may not be what we want, but its discussion might get us over what we don’t want.
Political smoothness isn’t necessarily a good thing. A reassuring style was used with skill and to great effect by Obama when not long after the Paris cartoon killings our sitting President addressed an international audience where he said soothing things that included “the future must not belong to those who insult the Prophet of Islam.” It doesn’t sound like a nutty Trump tweet but it is equally whacky for an American Leader to imply approval of the killers for having defended their demi-god leader. The President’s words more than suggest the cartoonists got what they had coming for insulting a long dead leader. You might also note a President who’d not build a wall would set aside a fundamental American freedom with no seeming regret. Honoring one particular person was held as more important than Freedom of Expression. You might want to recall what Washington said; words to the effect that without freedom of speech we have nothing. If we look at content isn’t condescension toward violent terrorists as grave a concern as constructing a wall? In stark terms it looks like a choice between surrendering ground and defending liberty, neither of which is free of cost or of risk.