Editorial: The rhetoric of good and evil

  • By simply branding Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia as rich and out of touch for failing to support their spending agenda, progressives did not have to address his concerns about the legislation.

    By simply branding Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia as rich and out of touch for failing to support their spending agenda, progressives did not have to address his concerns about the legislation. Associated Press File Photo

 
The Daily Herald Editorial Board
Posted1/8/2022 2:00 PM

Have you noticed how the word "evil" has seemed to become a common reference in the country's political discussions?

It does not seem to matter which side is doing the talking, far right or far left.

 

It's not just your cynical uncle who talks this way. It's politicians and pundits and activists, people who should know better.

If you surf through much cable news, you see that sort of language pop up with regularity, no matter whether it's left-leaning MSNBC or right-tilted Fox News. CNN interviews aren't above accepting debasing language either.

And certainly, you see it all over social media. Don't count on misinformation monitors to monitor out that tone.

It's not enough in today's debate to argue that the opposition is wrong or misguided. In today's debate, the opposition so often is labeled evil and conspiratorial.

Do people who use this language believe what they say? In some cases, yes; their passions probably get the best of them. In other cases, perhaps not; it is a simple way to manipulate the followers.

Certainly, it is a simple way to rally the base or to raise money. If people can be convinced that adversaries are evil, well, that's going to evoke a visceral response. None of us simply disagree with evil, after all; we are appalled by it.

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But it also is a good way to avoid talking about the substance of debates. If, say, Donald Trump's views on immigration or Joe Biden's positions on police reform can be boiled down to a shorthand choice between good and evil, then no one need bother with a more nuanced discussion of either topic.

When progressives got hot and bothered about Sen. Joe Manchin's opposition to the Democrats' so-called "Build Back Better" plan, it was easy to deride Manchin as a rich guy beholden to special interests.

There is more than one reason for such attacks. Partly, they're spawned by frustration, and partly, they're intended to apply political pressure.

But did you notice also that it meant they did not have to address the concerns Manchin expressed about the impact the legislation could have on inflation? No, didn't have to go there.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

This is true of all the inflammatory labels. Evil, socialist, right-wing, racist, demagogue, all of them.

Labels apparently are good politics -- good techniques to sway the masses.

But they are poor public service.

They do not elevate our discussions or our decision-making.

Worse, they are dangerous.

They dehumanize.

They are the seeds of polarization and alienation. They are the vapors of the gathering storm.

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