If you identify as a liberal, you probably looked at the headline to this article and thought “all of them,” or “how do you pick?” Well, the points you’re about to read clearly aren’t for you. The point of this exercise is to examine the points constantly made by conservatives (both pundits and average Joes alike) that do not accomplish their goals. It is my hope that these arguments will stop being used in debates.
Before we jump into the arguments themselves, we need to understand what a good argument is meant to do. Here, I am not discussing if the argument itself is correct; I will not be going into statistics or facts. Those are beyond the basic ask of a good argument. I am instead going to be outlining the conceptual understanding before an argument can even be made. For this, we need to understand that there are two basic options for a relevant argument: Either it proves a point, or it refutes a point. If it fails on both, it is a bad argument. The facts and data behind the argument are what come next, but if you do not have one of those two factors, the facts literally do not matter because the argument isn’t proving anything. With that being said, let us jump into…
#1 – Black people are better off in America than they are in any other country.
This argument is usually used to combat the notion that black people are not earning as much as white people in America. “What do you mean?” a conservative will try to answer. “There is no place on earth where black people are earning more financially than right here in the good old U.S. of A.” Now, statistically, this may be true. All we would need to do is tabulate the average income for black Americans and compare them to average salaries of black people in other countries. And you know what? It is probably correct. So, what’s the problem?
Remember, for an argument to be good, it should refute a claim. The problem is the conservatives tend to think that the claim is that “America is bad for black people.” That’s not the claim. The claim is that “America discriminates against black people in favor of white people.” To refute that, you would need to show that black people are doing relatively well when compared to white people in America, not black people in other countries. It never mattered that black Americans are outperforming black Europeans or Africans. It matters that they are being trounced by white Americans.
The added problem to this argument is the inevitability of it leading to…
#2 – Why don’t you just leave?
It should stand to reason: If you think America is such a terrible place, then why are you still here? Nobody is forcing you to stay. If you think other countries are so great, go there. This is not only an argument based in race; it works for any issue. Gender pay gap? Go to a country that you think has more equal pay. Don’t like how America is treating the environment? Just go somewhere that meets your standards. The argument is used across the board.
There are two reasons why this is a terrible argument. Firstly, the vast majority of people cannot just pick up and leave. There are often familial obligations and/or financial considerations. It is not free to move, and even more costly if you want to move an entire family. People can’t just afford to immigrate to the country of their choice, even if they wanted to. Many of us in the New York area are longing to move away, even within the country, but cannot do so simply because of the financial implications or the familial obligations.
But leaving that aside, let us say cost was not an issue. The basis of the argument entirely misses the point of the issue to begin with. The assumption here is that the person wants to live in a place where any given particular issue is dealt with to his or her specifications. That is not the case. The point is that they see this issue as a necessary method of making any area into the best that it can be. “The gender wage gap needs to diminish because it will make the country better,” or “environmental issues are important to prolong our existence and leave the country and indeed the planet better for our children.” They don’t want to move to a place that already has the things they want; they want to improve the areas that do not have the policies they want implemented. Telling them to move only has basis if you believe…
#3 – The Left hates America.
This one is a little more complicated. There are thought leaders on the left who have explicitly stated their disdain for America. Author and journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates comes to mind as one. However, the vast, vast majority of those on the left do not hate America. They have a vision of what America should look like, which is noticeably different from the America we have today. But this does not mean that they hate America. It means they are striving to make America better in their minds.
Whenever this argument comes up, I am brought back to a discussion I had with my friend Josh while I was learning in Israel. This was around the time of the Gush Katif situation. Josh asked me to start from the assumption that then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon did not hate the country, and in fact, had done more for Israel than I will ever do for it. Sharon was doing what he thought was in the country’s best interest. This does not mean that what he did was correct. But you must start on the basis of: “Just because your opponent is looking to fundamentally change something, that doesn’t mean that the hates the whole concept; he just wants to make it better.” Arguing that your political opponent hates the country does not refute any argument. It just further polarizes the sides, and makes it less likely to find common ground.
Having said all this, I want to make it clear that the ideas these points attempt to refute may be incorrect, but using these talking points do not help. They will not convince anyone to come to your side; they ignore the underlying issue at hand, and they are often false. If you would like to refute an argument, or convince someone of your point, these concepts are not the way to do it. Talk about the merits of the case, not inconsequential opinions surrounding them. Conservatives have plenty of strong arguments to use, but must stop using these bad ones.
Izzo Zwiren is the host of The Jewish Living Podcast, where he and his guests delve into any and all areas of Orthodox Judaism.