Hmmm. I have now, in a single day, heard two Congressional Democrats, in the course of discussing the so-called government shut down, describe the Trump border wall as “immoral and ineffective.” Does this mean that the phrase is an official, focus group tested Democratic talking point now, issued to the troops to be relentlessly repeated over and over again to end debates rather than illuminate them? I assume so, and thus it joins “comprehensive immigration reform,” “sensible gun laws,” and others. If I am right, it is a remarkably dishonest catch phrase. It’s also internally hypocritical.
Simply put, if the wall is ineffective, why is it immoral? And if the wall is immoral, why is being ineffective an indictment of it?
Arguing in the alternative like this is a red flag that signals that the advocate just wants to defeat the proposition, and doesn’t care how he or she does it. The device originated in the legal profession, as a strategy to advance several competing and often mutually exclusive arguments with the goal of showing that regardless of interpretation there is no viable conclusion other than the advocate’s. Most often, the trick is used in criminal law: My client didn’t know the victim, and if he did, he was too far away that night to kill him, and even if he was the last one to see the victim alive, the evidence against him is circumstantial. In criminal law, the approach is justifiable, for the accused must be convicted beyond a reasonable doubt, and any doubt will do. The criminal defense lawyer isn’t seeking justice, or the best result for the community, just the best result for his client, as his (or her) clients defines it. It’s a better device to use in court briefs to other lawyers and judges than to a jury, who are likely to think, “Wait, does this lawyer care what the truth is?” The answer to that question is, of course, “no,” as long as the end result serves the interests of the lawyer’s client. If the client is Jack the Ripper, and the lawyer arguing in the alternative allows him to escape conviction to kill again, the lawyer did the job required by his or her profession. The consequences of freeing the client literally is not the lawyer’s concern: if it is, then he or she is in the wrong profession. Continue reading