When kids on a playground run out of other arguments they often resort to taunts and name calling.
Adults are supposed to know better. But we live in an era in which otherwise responsible people seem to be reverting to a second childhood.
Donald Trump is probably the most consequential president of our lifetime. Yet in the four years of his presidency, I can recall very few instances where one of his major policy changes was rationally discussed on the editorial pages of the New York Times.
Instead, it’s been four years of diatribe. Four years of invective. Four years of ….. well ….. of a steady stream of name calling.
For the first two years, Trump was regularly called a “traitor,” as an agent of Russia. Then when that was shown to be baseless, writers for the Times routinely called Trump racist, misogynistic, xenophobic, homophobic and occasionally even anti-Semitic. All this is false as well.
Donald Trump challenged local prejudices when he opened Mar-a-Lago to Jews and blacks in Palm Beach – rebuffing decades of overt discrimination. I believe he has placed more women in positions of power in the White House than any other president ever has. Two of his wives were immigrants. He appointed the first openly gay ambassador. And, of course, a significant part of his family is Jewish.
As with so many other cultural trends, the fountainhead of this abuse was the Times’ editorial pages – from which it easily flowed into the news sections. From there the practice oozed first into opinion segments and then into the news segments of CNN, MSNBC, TV network news, and the Washington Post – until it became standard fare for what we call the mainstream media.
The most important economic policy change of the Trump administration was the Republican tax reform, passed in early 2017. What did Trump and the Republicans say was its purpose? You would never learn that from reading the Times’ editorial pages. Why did President Obama favor some of the same reforms? You would never learn that either.
Instead, we were told over and over by Paul Krugman and other writers that tax reform was a giveaway to the rich and that was its purpose. This charge is false. There are, however, differences among economists about the distributional effects of tax reform. Shouldn’t readers know about them? Apparently not. When the news section of the paper did delve into this issue, the coverage was so biased readers might be inclined to think Krugman was right.
The second most important domestic policy change was deregulation. University of Chicago economist Casey Mulligan estimates that economic deregulation was worth about $4,000 per household – with the greatest percentage gains accruing to the lowest-income families. If your only source of news is the New York Times, you would never learn any of this.
Then there is health care. While continually berating the president for not having a health care plan, the Times and the rest of the mainstream media have completely ignored the most significant health care changes since the passage of Obamacare, ten years ago.
By April 2020, almost one-third of seniors in urban areas had had at least one communication with their doctors by phone, email or Skype. In rural areas, the number was one in five. And this is the least computer-literate segment of our population. Younger patients have also been liberated. They now routinely communicate with doctors by means of Zoom, Facebook and similar devices.
As of January 1, 2020, employers are now allowed to buy personal and portable health insurance for their employees. This is insurance that workers can take with them from job to job and in and out of the labor market. This practice was not only outlawed under the Obama administration, employers could be subject to huge fines if they were caught doing it.
Also, employers are now able to put money into accounts so that employees can pay for a “direct primary care” doctor of their choosing – one who provides patients with her cell phone number and offers all primary care 24/7. For many, that will be an important alternative to emergency room visits at nights and on weekends.
To the extent that these developments have been covered at all in the mainstream media, there is never any mention that the Trump administration made them possible.
On foreign policy, surely Donald Trump deserves a Nobel Peace Prize for doing what all other modern presidents have failed to do: Cut the Gordian knot and achieve some remarkable peace agreements in the Middle East. Yet how many Americans even know this has happened?
Back to name calling. The New York Times reported in a news story the other day that Donald Trump has “weaponized identity politics.” This is at the same time that Joe Biden is bragging that he is making appointments based on skin color, ethnic origins, gender, sexual preference, etc., including people who have virtually no other qualifications for their posts. So just who is using identity as a political weapon?
Have you ever heard Donald Trump complain that white people are being mistreated? Has he ever said that whites have legitimate grievances? Has he ever said that public policies should be fair to whites? Has he ever even used the word “white” when referring to voters?
This is what he would be doing if he campaigned the way Democrats typically campaign for votes with various constituencies. The worst you can say about Donald Trump is that he is not politically correct. But what’s wrong with that?
When I was young, our parents taught us to respond to name-calling by reminding ourselves that “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Of course, words really do hurt, but not because they are objectively true. It’s because we tend to internalize them.
When I was older, learned there is a Latin phrase for the fallacy of arguing by attacking the opponent rather than responding to his ideas. It’s called argument ad hominem.
On TV, on the radio and in newspapers you can find this fallacy being committed – almost every day.