I am trying to decide whether “We are better than this,” the suddenly resurgent short-cut around actual reason and analysis, deserves to be added to the Ethics Alarms Rationalizations List. What do you think?
All of the other sixty have broad, everyday applications, while this one is usually restricted to matters of public policy, which is why I hesitate to include it. On the other hand, it is a particularly insidious rationalization, and cynical too. It attempts to win policy debates by implicitly accusing any opposition of being beneath the advocate on the moral and ethical scales, while never actually offering a reason why the advocate’s position is superior and wiser.
The statement is also especially objectionable when it issues from partisans who normally deny the fact of American exceptionalism. They can’t have it both ways: either the United States is unique in its values, aspirations and accomplishments, and thus is “too good” to engage in certain policies that others nations don’t shrink from at all, or it isn’t. Choose your construct, hypocrites! When the acolytes of Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky and other habitual villifiers of our history, motives and culture—such acolytes encompassing a large chuck of the progressive community—say “We are better than this,” they should be laughed at, in the face, hard. Better than the genocide-mongering, racist, sexist, greedy, exploitative, arrogant colonial power that has impoverished the world? HA! Cannibalism isn’t better than the country you think we are. According to you, we’re not better than anyone or any thing.
There are policies that there is every reason to say the United States is better than. Prime among them is engaging in torture, which not only violates international treaties that we led the way to establishing, but also because it violates our founding principles. There are, in short, tangible and substantive reasons why the United States is “better” than the nations who torture our soldiers, and they can be articulated without resorting to bumper stickers.
When “We are better than this” is followed by “because..’ and more substantive points, I have no objection to it, although “we should be better than this” is fairer. It can begin an analysis, but is not an analysis itself. However, when it is used as a substitute for analysis, it is pure rationalization.
Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley started spouting versions of the Facile Fad Rationalization upon the release of new report that the US Department of Homeland Security plans to raid and deport hundreds of families who illegally entered the U.S. through the southern border. Note, please, that what is being proposed is called “enforcing the law.” Democrats and progressives have somehow managed to get away with arguing that while the United States “of course” should control its own borders, it is somehow inhuman, cruel and wrong to take action against foreign citizens who intentionally violate those laws that are intended to exact such control.
This is irresponsible, I dare say insane, but with the assistance of the news media and the collusion of business interests that love having fearful, low-wage workers they can exploit to keep costs down, the insanity is routinely extolled as compassion. Adults who continued their illegal status in the U.S. long after discovering it and having ample opportunity to abide by the law (and leave) have been anointed with the lovely euphemism, “Dreamers.” (The definition of “Dreamers” is “illegal immigrants from childhood who have continued to defy the law, lie and pose as citizens due to a self-serving belief that they have a right to be here, when they don’t.”) Beautiful Dreamers!
Other than the rationalization, no real, serious arguments came from O’Malley, Sanders and Clinton, who also employed the same rationalization liberally (play on words intended) when the debate over Syrian refugees was in full swing, before the San Bernardino terrorist attack subdued the advocates of putting out the welcome mat.
O’Malley: “Remember: Jesus was a refugee child who fled death gangs.”
Yes, and that’s as cheap a shot as shots get at Christmastime. Martin, you’re better than…no, wait, he isn’t, is he? The reason these illegal immigrants are being deported is because they do not qualify as refugees.
Translation: Let anyone into the country whose native country is a mess, anyone who says they want to come here should be let in, regardless of law, standards and definitions of ‘refugee,” and ” a spirit of humanity” should take precedence over the government’s duty to U.S. citizens, national security, sovereignty and the rule of law.
Clinton’s theory about “a spirit of humanity and generosity” evokes the essence of “We’re better than this” without actually stating it. Is that better, or worse?
Senator Sanders: “Our nation has always been a beacon of hope, a refuge for the oppressed. We cannot turn our backs on that essential element of who we are as a nation. We need to take steps to protect children and families seeking refuge here, not cast them out.”
In other words, anything but opening our borders is to “turn our backs on that essential element of who we are as a nation,” and the law be damned. Bernie further disgraces himself with a Full “Think of the Children!”:
“As we spend time with our families this holiday season, we who are parents should ask ourselves what we would do if our children faced the danger and violence these children do? How far would we go to protect them?”
As far as the law permits, Bernie, as far as the law permits.
32 thoughts on “The Facile Fad Rationalization “We Are Better Than This,” The Democratic Candidates, And The DHS Deportations”
Based on that statement alone, it should be added to the Ethics Alarms Rationalizations List.
This paragraph of yours explains it all…
…just reword that a bit for the list and give a brief example or two to clarify your thoughts to others.
I honestly think that the use of “we are better than this” is likely going to fall into the “pure rationalization” category more often than not.
What a hypocritical, cynical, and insulting statement:
Using a story of little children being killed because the king had a dream, and a family and small boy escaping these “death gangs” to paint conservatives as monsters for wanting to enforce immigration law.
And in another breath when the topic has changed, ignoring the story, and painting conservatives as monsters for opposing the abortion of little unborn children on demand.
Apparently religion matters when it can be manipulated to represent some pet liberal project, and can otherwise go to hell when it can’t.
O’Malley actually had a chance to be a factor in this race, but proved himself to be expedient, light-weight, and none too bright.
The responses of both Clinton and Sanders show the reluctance of politicians to engage the basic issues. From what I could gather from the news, the people who will be deported were recent families from Central America who entered en mass a year or so ago and who were granted temporary asylum while their immigration applications were being adjudicated.
The Buzz Words which seem to have touched off the lamentations were “raids” and “families.” As we know, Buzz Words are often used a substitutes for thinking. There is a real problem which we have failed to address as a nation.
How should we respond when tens of thousands of people come to the United States because conditions in their homelands are so wretched?
The simplistic war of buzz words of “raids,” “families,” “enforcement of the law,” and “sound borders” is not a beneficial response.
This is an interesting one. Except to the extent self-deception is involved, “We are better than this” may not fall into the rationalization category. It seems to be more of a sneaky form of ad hominem to me.
I see an old friend was mentioned – Howard Zinn. Prof. Zinn was my graduate school advisor and I managed a few classes with him. I always admired his open approach in the classroom. Later I had Dan Boskin as an advisor and he was a political opposite who also had a very open classroom. I can imagine both attempting to survive in the academic environment that now exists.
IMO to Hillary a “refugee” is an unregistered democrat.
Is the attorney general that raided and deported Elian Gonzalez better than this?
WOW, talk about an irrational deflection!
That is an interesting twist, though. Elian Gonzalez was deported by the Clinton Administration’s AG Janet Reno, who was arguing that immigration laws should be upheld and enforced, especially after the Miami relatives continually changed the rules and moved the goal posts. Now, Democrat presidential hopefuls are suggesting that immigration laws shouldn’t be upheld or enforced because ‘we are better than that’. Which is it?
O’Malley’s comparing Dreamers to the Holy Family and US immigration law enforce to Herod is worse than a cheap shot. It shows how very little he regards the very nation he wishes to lead. By all accounts, Herod was a genocidal maniac. By invoking imagery of the Massacre of the Innocents, as recounted in the Gospel of Matthew, O’Malley has equated US immigration law with genocide. Shameful.
“We are better than that” deserves its own category. It shuts out reason, argument, point-counterpoint, and accountability.
Yes, that’s my problem. It is more than a rationalization, and worse.
Agreed. It is clearly an ad hominem attack on holders of different viewpoints. It is intended to say that different viewpoints are, by definition, invalid and wrong. It is also an appeal to equity or emotion, which is similar to saying, “It’s the right thing to do”.
The latter is basically the only rationale given for the various “Dream Acts.” Wait…WHY is giving free resources and automatic citizenship to someone who willfully gamed the system all their adult life “the right thing to do”? WHY is creating a genuine incentive for illegals to bring their children into the country illegally right?
Sure I think it can be more than a simple rationalization, can be much worse depending on it’s usage, and could be considered something else like an ad hominem attack, etc; but at the very least, I think we can all reasonably agree that it also fits the definition of a rationalization when used improperly, so it should be added to the list.
Second. Is “being on the right/wrong side of history” on the list yet? Just as moronic and stifling.
Nice post, Jack. Very needed. I particularly appreciate your adequately and accurately describing lunatics like Chom Noamsky. What an irritating bombast he is.
And I bet Bernie Sanders would appoint him Secretary of State.
“Being on the right/wrong side of history” is just another variation on “everybody does it,” as in “everybody will be doing it, so you might as well too.”
Yes, but the “history” line clothes itself in faux nobility. “Everybody does it” reeks of its own shabbiness.
My son always tells me “Change is INEVITABLE!” KInd of like “everybody does it.” To which I respond, “But is change inevitably good or an improvement?” Which seems to have no effect whatsoever.
Oh, NO. That’s close to yet another rationalization, but it’s probably just a variation on “We can’t stop it” or “It is what it is.”
Argh! It is what it is. The worst. Particularly because jocks think it’s profound.
The German nazis and the Japanese militarists claimed to be on the right side of history.
Saying you are “on the right side of history” is just saying “God is with us” without God. Who can argue with either? (Answer: plenty)
Having a high regard for this nation is apparently not a prerequisite for the position among democrats.
Just the opposite.
I’m not sure it DOES belong on the list. “We’re better than this” is essentially a meme (not all memes are captioned photos on Facebook). Memes run their courses.
If this proves to have staying power, then sure. Otherwise, I’m not convinced.
It (“we are better than this”) may be used inappropriately but it can have real power and relevance, so please don’t ban it. It implies for me that the contributors to an outcome (eg being a professional team 3 nil down to the amateurs) can be split between capacity (or ‘talents’) and mobilisation (or ‘effort’). It is intended to provoke useful introspection, sometimes shame, and a resolve to do better. Those who use it with regard to US outcomes (like repairing New Orleans after Katrina or fixing immigration) are acknowledging the very considerable US capacities, even ‘exceptionalism’. If ‘we are better than this’ is considered an admonition I suppose ‘we are worse than this’ should be considered a compliment.
You might consider re-reading Jack’s excellent explication of the phrase, Andrew.
who is “we” ? and “better” is vague one up-ship status game…
as general statements Imply – so words can be less disputed… meant to be swallowed whole …without question… nor any dared dissent.
another set of words = just a sly .Game.
The whole argument assumes the premise that there is some sort of ethical right for everyone in the world to immigrate to America.
Back during World War II, we actually rejected refugees fleeing Nazi terror. As President Roosevelt pointed out , German spies had infiltrated the ranks of refugees. Opening up the country to spies would have placed the war effort at grave risk. A tough choice had to be made. Ultimately, the only way to suspend the Holocaust was to win the war, not to allow this country to be infested with spies and saboteurs.
Oh, yes, this is a nasty rationalization to dismiss anything your opponent might say. And it really isn’t true, or else there’s no criticism. Saying it over and over is more denial of real life than improving the world.