Incompetence Saturday’s Unethical Quote Of The Day: NBC News Reporter Daniel Arkin
“President Donald Trump returned to one of his most derogatory insults Friday, referring to Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren as “Pocahontas” — a jab at her Native American ancestry.”
—-NBC reporter Daniel Arkin, reporting on the President’s speech to the NRA in Atlanta this week.
Now, you might argue that this is very competent smearing by Arkin, abetted by NBC. But let’s assume, just to be nice, or naive, that Arkin wasn’t intentionally falsely suggesting that the President was engaging in racial denigration of Warren’s ancestry. This would mean that he either has done no research on his subject or that he credulously accepts whatever Democrats say.
Now, I will stipulate that calling the Senator playground-level names is unprofessional, uncivil, obnoxious, un-presidential and an ad hominem attack by President Trump. This is one of his many terrible and apparently unalterable habits. Nevertheless, calling Warren “Pocahontas” is not Trump denigrating her “Native American ancestry,” but rather a reference to Warren’s well-documented false claims of having Native American ancestry, claims that she used to get the benefit of affirmative action when she was seeking a position in academia. Warren has no actual Native American ancestry to mock. What is worthy of mockery—though not by the President of the United States–is her fake assumption of a minority personal to benefit her career at the expense of others.
Arkin misrepresented the facts—Warren can produce no evidence that she is even a smidgen Cherokee, as she maintained for years—either to make the President appear to be racist, or because Arkin is a completely incompetent journalist, influenced by confirmation bias to the detriment of his readers.
Dishonest or incompetent? The result is unethical journalism and fake news either way.
Ugh. Well, I Guess That Answers The Question About Whether Being President Would Make Trump More Civil…
Apparently during a meeting with Democratic Senators, President Trump repeatedly referred to Senator Elizabeth Warren as “Pocahontas,” the mocking nickname (which didn’t originate with him) often used by her detractors to refer to Warren’s unsubstantiated claims of Native American heritage. Warren once exploited what she later asserted was oral family lore to benefit from a university’s affirmative action hiring policy.
No, she was not at the meeting. From George Washington’s 11o rules of civility:
Rule 89: Speak not evil of the absent, for it is unjust.
Ugh. To say that Presidents Trump’s mockery was uncivil and unpresidential is insufficient. Using playground name-calling to denigrate any elected official is boorish, juvenile and really, really stupid as well. Continue reading
Ethics Dunce: Jeb Bush
I do sympathize. It must be so humiliating to enter a race for President as a presumed frontrunner, after both your father and brother have won the office, only to fail spectacularly. These people thrive on admiration; rejection is death to them. “Please applaud,” Jeb had to plead with a recent sluggish crowd. To make it worse, there is Donald Trump, someone Jeb has no respect for at all (nor should he), insulting him, mocking him, denigrating him like a schoolyard bully. It has to hurt. It has to make him furious.
Sinking to Trump’s level, however, is not the answer. Trump may get away with it because his supporters are cretins, but name-calling and twitter pissing-matches are not suddenly civil, ethical, responsible or right. It degrades the process and coursens the culture. “He started it” and “He deserves it” are rationalizations for emotional retaliation that shows weakness, not strength. I assumed that Jeb Bush understood this, and if he was going to lose, and he is, then at least he could hold his head up high at the end knowing that he didn’t violate his principles just because a boor like Donald Trump goaded him into it.
Then today, Jeb tweeted this:
Now THIS Is An Ad Hominem Attack! or “Boy, Is Howard Dean An Ass, or What?”
People commenting on Ethics Alarms constantly accuse me of making ad hominem attacks, when what they mean to say is “You’re name-calling.” I’ll cop to name-calling. It’s can be a bad habit, but it has its uses, best illustrated when President Ronald Reagan referred to the Soviet Union as an “evil empire.” The description was true, and it immediately focused values-based criticism on a government and culture that needed it and deserved it.
Ad hominem, in contrast, is a logical fallacy in which one attempts to counter a substantive argument by attacking the character or other aspects of the advocate that can’t possibly have any bearing on the argument’s validity. For example, “you’re uglier than a pug” does nothing to disprove the substance of your adversary’s position, even if he is. Similarly, Bill Cosby has argued, even before 34 women accused him of raping them, that his advocacy of black community responsibility should not be undermined because of questions about his own rectitude.
There is nothing inherently fallacious, however, about diagnosing the conduct or statements of someone as proof that he or she is a fool, or a liar, or a jerk. It may not be civil, and it may be unfair, but it is not an ad hominem attack. As I have explained it before, if I say you are an idiot because I think your comments are idiotic, that is a legitimate, if rebuttable assumption. (I may also be using “you are an idiot” as shorthand for “you are talking/sounding/acting like an idiot, and should avoid that.”) If I say you are an idiot, and therefor everything you say must be dismissed and ignored as the rantings of an idiot, that’s an unethical debating technique, ducking the argument by impugning the advocate.
Distinguishing between these very different but similar-appearing phenomenon can be a problem when trying to be fair to someone whose prior statements and conduct have already generated a negative diagnosis, and thus a bias. I have concluded, for example, that Joe Biden is a dolt, that Michele Bachmann is not playing with a full deck; that Sarah Palin is intellectually lazy and irresponsible, that Newt Gingrich is manipulative and untrustworthy, that Bill Maher is a pompous, none-too-bright blowhard and that Howard Dean is a vicious and unscrupulous ideologue. Nonetheless, I have to fight to assess what they say on the basis of merit, not my well-considered assumptions. It’s hard. When an idiot asserts something, is it unreasonable to be more skeptical of the statement than one would if, say, a brilliant, credentialed, unbiased observer said the same thing? (Wow—I can’t think of a single one!) No. And this is why ad hominem attacks, especially coy, subtle, clever ad hominem attacks, work so well in politics.
This brings us to that vicious and unscrupulous ideologue, Howard Dean. Continue reading
A Disappointing and Damaging Ethics Dunce: The Obama Campaign
No matter who wins the Presidency on November 6, one thing is for certain. We now can be sure that the day will come when a future Presidential campaign runs an ad that concludes, “Don’t vote for him: he’s an asshole!” For that, we will be able to place the blame on, of all people, Barack Obama, and his 2012 campaign. This is the same Barack Obama who promised, the first time he was running for President, to change the tone in Washington; the same President Obama who told a group in 2010…
“But there is a sense that something is different now, that something is broken, that those of us in Washington are not serving the people as well as we should,” Mr. Obama said. “At times, it seems like we are unable to listen to one another, to have at once a serious and civil debate. This erosion of civility in the public square sows division and cynicism among our citizens. It poisons the well of public opinion….Civility is not a sign of weakness.”
Yet his 2012 campaign’s embrace of gutter-level name calling and divisive rhetoric, with the full participation of both the President and the Vice-President, has guaranteed that the tone Obama promised to change will change for the worse, and that the well of public opinion will be more toxic than ever. Continue reading
Ethics Dunce, Ethics Hero: Name Calling and One-Way Civility On the Left
The popular Democratic, progressive, liberal and news media (I know I’m being redundant here) slur for the Republican House and its Tea Party warriors during and after the budget ceiling debate was “terrorists,” suggesting an analogy between the GOP insisting on major expenditure cuts in the budget as a condition for raising the debt ceiling, and political and religious extremists who threaten to kill people if they don’t get their way. Needless to say, it’s a disgraceful, dishonest, illogical and slanderous comparison. Whether the GOP’s negotiating stance was fair, reasonable or right can be debated; that the intent of the strategy was to strengthen the nation’s financial health is not.
To many of the Republicans involved, incurring more debt without a guarantee of serious deficit and debt reduction in the future was more dangerous than allowing the nation to default on its obligations. Add to that the fact that many in the Tea Party leadership believe that the consequences of not raising the debt ceiling was overblown, and it is clear: the Republicans were using their control over the immediate fate of something progressives wanted more than conservatives as a bargaining chip in a political disagreement. It may have been irresponsible; it may have been a risk; it may have been a bluff. But it was not terrorism. It was politics. Hardball politics no doubt, but well within accepted standards
Oh, I forgot: there is another reason the Republicans weren’t acting like terrorists. They weren’t threatening to kill anybody, and they didn’t kill anybody. Continue reading
Ethics Dunce: Daily Kos Blogger “bal”
I sometimes comfort myself with the fantasy that the extreme left websites like The Daily Kos are written and read solely by 15-year-olds. While this adds to my anxieties about the public schools’ incompetence at teaching basic skills like logic, analysis and argument, it soothes my fears that our nation’s policies and political discourse are being dangerously warped by millions of addled adults whose passion is untempered by even a modicum of fairness and common sense. In this spirit, I am hoping that bal is a teenager, which would explain, though not justify, his absurd post on Kos. I fear he is not.
He writes, “I guess it’s only when social programs help other people that they’re bad, because I haven’t seen Paul Ryan acknowledging how Social Security benefits helped him and his family in trying times. Continue reading
I am drowning, once again, in deserving Comments of the Day. This is a good thing in many respects, including the special circumstances that I am sick and have the energy of a spent battery. It is perplexing because it threatens to transform EA into an ethics version of Medium and put me out of a job.
One benefit of having such a diverse and erudite crowd here is that people who actually know what they are talking about have a tendency to interject when the discussion gets sloppy. John Billingsley just did this on the topic of dementia, which was much on everyone’s mind as a result of the embarrassing outbreak of the anti-Trump coup plot known here as Plan E in the news media and among “the resistance.” (Here’s an especially revolting effort from yesterday by old Cross-Fire from the Left veteran Bill Press. When a opinion piece begins by calling a professor of psychiatry who has been rebuked by her own association “a leading psychiatrist” and asserts convincing authority in her announcing that the President’s mental health is “unraveling” based on a substantially debunked book, objective people can tell what’s going on, and it isn’t fair, dispassionate analysis.)
This is John’s Comment of the Day on the post, Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 1/7/2018: Lies, Dunces, Fools, Villains, Hypocrites And Big Liars In The Resistance’s Plan E, “The President Is Disabled!” [Part I]: