Hillary Clinton recently called half of Trump’s voters a “basket of deplorables”. Many people objected to this characterization, however, their reasoning was very weak. They simply pointed out that this means that Clinton has called a large number of people “deplorable” — racists, homophobic, sexist, etc. And then…. nothing. It’s the underpants gnome of bad reasoning:
- You called millions of people a bad thing
- That’s wrong!
It’s funny how none of those people arguing against Clinton felt any need to disprove her in any way, to cite any numbers, or to deal with it in a substantial manner. For example, John Cassidy of the New Yorker simply says this when calling Clinton’s assertion a “gaffe”:
It is one thing to claim that some of Trump’s backers are racist, xenophobic nitwits: a Google search of the fringe white nationalist groups who have hailed his candidacy would confirm as much. But Clinton appeared to be suggesting—or, at least, she opened herself up to the accusation that she was suggesting—that tens of millions of Americans fall into the same lamentable category. That was what is known in politics as a gaffe.
Did you see how he managed to fail to give a single reason why it’s wrong to put tens of millions of Americans into such categories? Of course, he’s not alone. Ta-Nehisi Coates provides a summary of such arguments:
The comment was “a self-inflicted wound” claimed the Washington Post reporter Dan Balz. “It was very close to the dictionary definition of bigoted,” asserted John Heilemann. My colleague Ron Fournier and the Post’s Aaron Blake were both taken aback by the implicit math of Clinton’s statement. “Clinton appeared to be slapping the ‘racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic’ label on about 20 percent of the country,” wrote Blake in a post whose headline echoed that of the Trump campaign manager’s website. “That’s no small thing.” Whether or not it was a false thing remained uninvestigated.
Of course, in the same article, and in another, Coates proves, using statistics, facts, and evidence, that Clinton was right. Shocking, isn’t it? Racism is not a rare thing, and claiming it applies to millions of people doesn’t disprove the claim automatically. Shocked, amazed, I am!
But this is not the only instance this asinine argument is used. I encounter this line of thinking as an ex-Muslim whenever I criticize the global Muslim community, and to a lesser extent when I criticize abstract Islamic thought. Again, we are assured, that millions of Muslims cannot be violent and theocratic, they cannot support ideas such as death penalty for apostates. Again, this is only a claim and never a proof.
I’m not sure what makes people inclined to such way of speaking. Is it an unwise optimism about humans in general? Is it an avoidance of hasty generalizations gone wild? Is it political correctness? I have no idea.
But stop it. Just stop it. People suck. Millions of people suck. Stop ignoring the reality. Stop claiming that the mere fact that the claim is big makes it untrue. You only make yourself look foolish.