I’ve had several years to observe and analyze the 2016 election cycle, its aftermath and the responses of the general populace. Here is a non-exhaustive, comprehensive guide of major discursive blind spots that permeate discussions of current events and how to deal with them. 

The Big Tent

Paragraphs four through six of Donald Trump’s response to the Orlando nightclub shooting in June 2016 highlight a clever forensic strategy — condemning fundamentalist views in radical Islam out of solidarity with the rights and freedoms of the LGBT community. 

The Koran and Hadith explicitly hold the belief that homosexuality is a sin deserving of punishment, while a core tenet of the gay movement is a cultural push for tolerance of and support for the community’s chosen lifestyle. 

On an ideological level, these values seemingly sit in tension. This is not to say that Muslims cannot be gay. I simply challenge the extent to which these two belief systems are compatible in theory and practice. 

Such contradictions symbolize a wider issue that Trump continues to skillfully exploit through artificial dichotomies. In becoming the party of inclusion, diversity and instinctive support of American minorities, the Democrats have a tent so large that it cannot adequately reconcile the inconsistencies between the political aims of feminists, blacks, Latinos, gays, Muslims, transgender people, atheists and so on. 

Unless painful efforts are made to develop a platform that supports ideas rather than resists intolerance, real or perceived, this will continue to be at best an Achilles’ heel for Democrats, at worst a cause of eventual fragmentation. 

No True Scotsman

Chances are, you’ve heard these arguments before:

If you don’t support a women’s choice to terminate a pregnancy, you just don’t care about women’s issues.

Muslims committing acts of violence in the name of Islam aren’t real Muslims — Islam is a religion of peace and has nothing to do with terrorism.

China/the Soviet Union/Vietnam/Kampuchea/North Korea/Venezuela weren’t practicing “real socialism.”

These statements all reflect a logical fallacy called “No True Scotsman.” It attempts to silence criticism and debate of a general claim or belief by altering the definition to dismiss or reject inconvenient counterexamples. 

Unfortunately, arbitrarily representing an idea’s legitimacy depends on taking whim-based assertions for granted without empirical support. With this in tandem with the strategy’s evasiveness, it is little wonder that these catchphrases are so widely ridiculed as vacuously robotic by pundits and netizens alike.

Luckily, the solution is simple: Acknowledge outright that these ideologies have faults and excesses, then proceed to explain context and reason that render these cases unrepresentative of the whole.

Religious Belief in Sociology

Scholars and academics are highly intelligent people who challenge ideas and create new ones. 

Even so, some theories play an outsized, and sometimes intellectually erroneous, role in progressive politics. Nowhere is this more apparent than in sociology’s usurpation of racial politics and discourse. Within the past several decades, there has been a growing effort to establish an epistemological monopoly on the definition of racism, characterizing it as a system of prejudice perpetuated by a dominant social group’s “institutional power” — its influence in politics, culture, etc. The corollary of this is the belief that only the group with this power can truly be “racist,” and is frequently used to exempt racial minorities from accusations of racist beliefs. 

Certainly, this theory has its place, but it has one gaping flaw: the fact that power can change hands. In the not-so-distant future, white Americans will lose their demographic majority, which could gradually chip away at their influence in politics and society. According to the power-prejudice model, it logically follows that only the new racial majority can be racist, yet to do so would be intellectually dishonest and neglect the well-documented history of white racism in America. This notwithstanding, the dependence on a sociological definition of racism risks conflation with other significant forms of racism — such as individual and situationally racists acts, which can be practiced by anyone. 

The solution: Use qualifiers. If you are specific in the context and scope of your issue with political or societal inequities, you can not only avoid accusations of hypocrisy, but even increase your chances of an open-minded and receptive audience. 

"It's a Social Construct!"

For the love of all that is good, please, do not utter this believing it is a sufficient argument. No. 1, it doesn’t actually tell us anything. Provided something is in fact a social construct, why is it important that we know that? No. 2, social constructs can be very, very real. Our republican democracy was built upon many layers of political negotiation and social contracts, yet that pinch you feel on tax day suggests it is a very real thing. No. 3, not all social constructs are alike. Race and gender are both social constructs, yet we approach the potential for fluidity in both very differently. The responses to Rachel Dolezal and Caitlyn Jenner should tell you as much.

These are by far not the only errors one can make in political discourse, but it is my sincere hope that these brief snippets offer something useful in enriching the quality of conversation.

Contact contributor Michael Robinson at michael.robinson12@richmond.edu.