Thursday, May 28, 2020

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Quality analysis and valid conclusions necessary in an era of Trump fodder


All sides of the political playing field and most of those spanning the space between crease their brows in bewilderment at each other.

The faces of Fox News and CNN reporters mirror one another: confused, baffled, condescending and indignant.

A presidential tweet hits the Internet highway and cocks crow and hens squawk. Everyone shares some level of pure disdain and disbelief about a particular event or situation. The justifications they give for the reactions and conclusions to said event or situation differ greatly from one person to the next. Such is the case with the latest tweet: when someone does not draw the same analysis and conclusions as onesself — well, the person with the opposing view can be only one thing — stupid.

Even though we do all say that we want to just get along, the truth of the matter is that we will not all get along. That means we will have heated disagreements and debates.

The tendency of many people is to stomp off in a huff, name call or say “let’s agree to disagree” when there is a failure to obtain agreement.

In truth, not everyone can be correct. Someone has to be wrong. Someone has to have the more accurate analysis, the correct conclusion. How can a country be run on unresolved disagreements? Why do we have a culture of people who say we should not talk about religion or politics in polite conversation, on Facebook or anything else?

Every time we turn from an unresolved conflict, we have a country dead in the water.

So, how can we stop this consistent and persistent stagnation from destroying us?

Perhaps the answer lies before we even get into the heat of the fray. Too often we engage in arguments with information we either choose to believe or not believe, but we have no clue whether or not that information is valid or accurate.

We can blame journalists for providing quotes and facts and statistics that make someone look good or bad, but are the journalists to blame for what we choose to believe?

No. Most of the information journalists share is available to the public, but many people will claim that the information provided is either shady and untrustworthy for some reason, or the analysis of that information and the conclusions drawn differs.

What does quality analysis require? What constitutes a valid conclusion?

The validity of a conclusion lies in the details, definitions, reasoning and facts presented. Too often, we allow information to be malleable in our minds, as if opinions and beliefs have become the sole criteria for quality analysis and valid conclusions. 

Quality analysis consists of a careful reading of, or listening to a document or speech. One must understand the syntax (the construction of sentences); the denotative (dictionary definitions) and connotative (the emotions and associations connected to a word) meanings of the words; the context in which the information is presented; and the history and background connected to the information.

Only with quality analysis can a conclusion be valid.

Much of this can be acquired through research, some must be acquired through experience, all of it takes time and mental energy. For all of us, reading information that meets us at our own level of comprehension requires less work, and in our day to day lives, many people are not interested in having to work to understand what is going on in the political realm of this country.

We want the information delivered on a silver platter from the mouths and thinking that most aligns with our own so that we can easily digest it. That tendency is destructive in democracy, because we have too many people who are blindly trusting in oversimplified and misinformed information.

We have no idea who to trust, and rather than acknowledge there may be fault in our beliefs, reasoning and integrity, we accept our own hypocrisy and defend it with a ferocious fervor.

An example of a quality analysis can be made with the tweet President Donald Trump posted last week. Trump wrote:

So interesting to see “Progressive” Deomcratic Congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, the most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world (if they even have a functioning government at all), now loudly and viciously telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful Nation on earth, how our government is to be run. Why don’t they go back and fix the totally broken and infested places from where they came. Then come back and show us how it is done. These places need your help badly, you can’t leave fast enough. I’m sure that Nancy Pelosi will be happy to quickly work out free travel arrangements!

So, the background we need to know to analyze this tweet series, which showed up in three tweets, follows:

All four Deomcrat lawmakers – Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan – are U.S. citizens. Three were born in the United States. Omar came to the US at the age of 12 from Somalia.

In a Vox article by Anna North, North explains that the evolution of these four women as “The Squad” evolved from a photo Ocasio-Cortez posted on social media after her election win.

The New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd referred to the women as the squad in which Dowd interviewed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, “in which Pelosi took the four to task for voting against a border funding bill.” 

The term “the Squad” is used with a unifying connotation by people who support the women and pejoratively by those who do not support the women.

“The women — all of whom are US citizens — have clashed repeatedly with Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House of Representatives, in recent weeks over their outspoken criticism of fellow Democrats,” wrote Lauren Fedor for the Financial Times. This clash in part relates to the treatment of asylum seekers along the Southern Border.

The political thinking and approach “The Squad” promotes on most issues (if not all), contradict the thinking and approach Trump and other republicans promote. The disagreements both across the isle and within the right on border policies have created considerable frustration and animosity between contrary parties.

Washington Post media reporter Paul Farhi explained that the media’s decision to brand the Tweets Trump posted as racist came from the use of the “go back” trope. A trope is a figurative or metaphorical expression, and the meaning of a trope is shaped by its use in the culture. In American culture, the use of “go back” is typical when referring to minorities from freed slaves who were told to go back to their countries of origin (even though finding those origins would be nearly impossible since their ancestors were taken against their will from those countries, christianized and dehumanized). “Go back” has also been used in reference to immigrants, and each wave of immigrants seem to bare the brunt of discrimination from the main stream culture, from people who have black skin to people from Ireland, Asia, South America or the Middle East.

Making an argument and drawing conclusions:

Here is an example of reasoning to support the conclusion that the tweet is an insult to not only these women, but to their constituents:

These freshmen congresswomen are taxpaying, freely-elected people who represent their constituents. So telling them to go back to where they came from is also telling every person who voted for them to also go back to where they came from. If the sitting president is telling the women to go back, because they disagree with him, then all of their constituents would then need to follow, right, since they also disagree with him?

How is it American to tell an American citizen to leave the country if they don’t like the policies they were elected to push for?

An analogy may help to provide a more personal context: If you own a home, and a person says he does not like what you do in his home, you can tell said person to leave. But if the home ownership is shared by many, no single person can tell another to leave, because they all own equal shares in the home.

The point? All US citizens are stakeholders in the nation, and while we may not agree, none of us should ever tell another to leave if they don’t like it. We have a responsibility to work together or lose it all to one of us, or someone outside of us.

The argument that the tweet is racist may be downplayed by the right. Unfortunately, racism is deeply rooted in American society, and when people argue that it is present or deny that it even exists, determining what is racist and how to rectify its negative grip on our culture is nearly impossible. Who does one listen to?

Should we listen to the people who were raised by the historically racist oppressors, or should we listen to the people who have been historically oppressed and that the oppression persists in subtle and demeaning ways?

This is like asking, do I believe the bully or the bullied? I would argue that one should listen to the one being bullied, and determine what freedoms are stripped of that person as a result of the bullying.

Some freedoms are taken for granted. The freedom to be a US citizen without being told you do not belong comes to white people without question. Unless you have a strong “alien” accent as a white person, people do not typically ask you what you are or where you come from.

They rarely tell you to go back to where you came from unless they have attached you to a culture they believe has a homeland elsewhere.

Graham Smith, an Air Force veteran, makes this point:

There is a talking point being repeated by Republicans in an attempt to spin Donald Trump’s July 14th tweets as not racist. The thrust of it is as follows: it is not racist to tell someone, American or otherwise, to leave if they dislike the United States.

Indeed that is not racist. It is merely rude. However, that is not what Trump wrote. He told four women, all American citizens, three born in the U.S. to go “BACK” as in return, to “COUNTRIES” that he made clear are NOT the UNITED STATES.

One might retort, “he was only referring to Ilhan Omar.” If so, perhaps (a very big perhaps) you could argue that he was merely stating the fact that Congresswoman Omar was born in Somalia. Again however, no. He referred to SEVERAL people who should RETURN to a country that is NOT the UNITED STATES.

Specifically, “congresswoMEN” vs congresswoMAN, and “THEY” as opposed to SHE twice. In other words, you cannot even blame Trump’s questionable grasp of the English language. Trump’s July 14th Tweets were the musings of a bigot who assumed that three people were from another country due to their skin tone or affiliation with a particular religion. It was not only a display of textbook racism (literally, look up the definition), but white supremacy.

Just as a reminder, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, one of the women to whom he was referring, was quite literally born in the same country, same state, and same city as Donald Trump. What made him think she was born somewhere he was not, somewhere inferior? No one attempting to defend Donald Trump can answer that question directly. The reason? He’s indefensible.”

Among social scientists, “‘race’ is generally understood as a social construct. Although biologically meaningless when applied to humans – physical differences such as skin color have no natural association with group differences in ability or behavior – race nevertheless has tremendous significance in structuring social reality. Indeed, historical variation in the definition and use of the term provides a case in point,” according to Matthew Claire, Harvard University and Jeffrey S. Denis, McMaster University in the “Sociology of Racism” published in 2015.

“‘Races are distinguished by perceived common physical characteristics, which are thought to be fixed, whereas ethnicities are defined by perceived common ancestry, history, and cultural practices, which are seen as more fluid and self-asserted rather than assigned by others’ (Cornell and Hartmann, 2006)” Claire and Denis explain.

Essentially, race, ethnicity and nationality are all social constructs that have no foundation in biological truths. At one time, the Irish in America were a distinct ethnic group and now they are just consider white — a race. Changes in cultural situations lead to changes in how people define race, ethnicity and nationality.

“The defi-national boundaries of race and ethnicity are shaped by the tug and pull of state power, group interests, and other social forces,” Claire and Denis write.

Claire and Denis also write, “Bundled up with eighteenth century classifications of various racial groups were assertions of moral, intellectual, spiritual, and other forms of superiority, which were used to justify the domination of Europeans over racialized others. In the North American context, racist ideol- ogy served as justification for land appropriation and colonial violence toward indigenous peoples as well as the enslavement of Africans starting in the sixteenth century. It was later used to justify the state-sanctioned social, economic, and symbolic violence directed at blacks and other minorities under Jim Crow laws. In the mid-twentieth century, the American Civil Rights Movement, global anticolonial movements, and increasing waves of non-European immigration to the West changed how individuals, groups, and nation-states talked about, viewed, understood, and categorized race.”

This trail of history is long and winding, and its impact continues into the words and actions of each one of us today. Willful ignorance of the history of racism as a social construct and how it is felt when tripped upon — even by those who claim not to be racist or have racist intentions — does not change how those who have been historically oppressed feel when people like Trump dig into their bag of words and pull out quick, allegedly forthright and witty statements to sling about without care or apology.

The challenge would be for a reader to take this same tweet series, and argue thoroughly how President Trump’s tweets can be anything less than racist using the same type of careful analysis.

Based on this analysis, my conclusion is that President Trump’s tweets, intended or not, are racist towards “The Squad” because they disagree with his policy, and their ethnic/racial characteristics make them easy targets for biggoted remarks as a means to garner laughter from the audience at how clever Trump is with his put-downs, and how honest he is, given his “like it or leave it” thinking — tapping into a fairly common adage in American society and duping a lot of people into a false dislike for the young and energetic women representing their constituents.