Crooked Hillary

Not all arguments involve fundamental disagreements. Those that do, however, come along with a couple of challenges. One challenge regards the consequences of the disagreement.  There are many, but I only want to talk about one. When A disagrees with B about some proposition p , then A impugns B’s competence, intelligence, or perhaps morality. That’s why people enter into such discussions in the first place–i.e., to levy these accusations and, hopefully, adjust the behavior or ideas of their interlocutor.

It’s frustrating to me, therefore, that people confuse these necessary concomitants of argument as somehow wrong or out of bounds. It’s especially frustrating when these people ought to know better. Here’s an example I stumbled over in the Chicago Tribune:

If Trump pursued the politics of resentment in courting white, working-class voters and their rural cousins, Democrats succumbed to what I call “the politics of righteousness” in overlooking their concerns and underestimating their power. By righteousness I mean the tendency of the Democratic Party to assume ownership of the moral high ground whenever cultural values and social norms are at issue in American politics — and to presume that those who disagree are, as Hillary Clinton put it, “a basket of deplorables.”

Aside from the false claims about “overlooking their concerns,” the assumption of “ownership of the moral high ground” is just what a debate about moral issues involves for Pete’s sake. What do you call people who call other people “Crooked Hillary”? That’s a moral position if there ever was one. Need we talk about abortion, gay marriage, or any of the other issues that are properly characterized as moral issues?

It’s a waste of time and energy to focus on garbage like this. We all take the moral high ground in moral debates where we hold some definite position. That’s how you play.

2 thoughts on “Crooked Hillary”

  1. Further, I think it is important to point out that this conclusion also holds less obviously moral discussions. We argue about matters of fact AND the epistemic virtue of the the interlocutor in cases where they intransigently hold on to irrational views when evidence of their irrationality is adequately presented within the discourse.

  2. That seems right to me, Jem. Indeed, on a virtue theory of argument, epistemic questions are fundamentally moral questions.

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