Sometimes a statement or argument sounds plausible only because of how vague it is. But when asked “what does it really mean?” and elaborated on, it crumbles quickly to the ground.
A few weeks ago during the Republican debate, Donald Trump defended his desire to kill the innocent family members of terrorists – their mothers, fathers, grandparents, siblings, children, and babies. I tore down some of those arguments previously and pointed out how evil and twisted Trump’s view on this issue was, but there was one exchange during the debate I did not mention:
In the clip, Rand Paul stated that in order to kill the innocent family members of terrorists, we would have to violate the Geneva Conventions and “defy every norm that is America.”
Trump responded concisely, saying “So . . . they can kill us, but we can’t kill them?”
On its face, the one liner sounds plausible. If someone is trying to kill you, of course you can kill them. That’s what the right to self defense is about after all. All Trump is saying is that we can defend ourselves by killing those intending to do us harm.
But what does the statement really mean? The pronouns and the vagueness they maintain are the only reasons this example sounds persuasive at all.
“So . . . they can kill us, but we can’t kill them?”
Let’s fill in the pronouns with their antecedents.
“they” refers to the terrorists
“us” likely refers to Americans in general (military and civilians; for those that think it’s just civilians, such as our innocent family members, I’ll include this as a 2nd possibility below)
“we” refers to Americans again
“them” refers to innocent family members of terrorists
Re-stated now, the one-liner appears as:
“So . . . the terrorists can kill us Americans, but we Americans can’t kill the innocent family members of terrorists?”
To which the appropriate response now becomes “Uhh . . . of course not. Why would we want to kill the innocent family members of terrorists? The terrorists are the ones we should punish.”
The second possibility appears as:
“So . . . the terrorists can kill American civilians, but we Americans can’t kill the innocent family members of terrorists?”
One more time, of course not. We classify the act by terrorists of killing innocent civilians as immoral. If we do the exact same thing, how are we any better? Punish the crime-doers. Don’t punish their children.
Again, the initial plausibility vanishes frighteningly quickly. It’s as if a blindfold was over the reader’s eyes, and one simple request for elaboration was enough to remove it.
It’s Not a Lack of Seriousness That Disqualifies Trump – It’s a Lack of Moral Character and Judgment
I posted the following on Facebook two nights ago:
Trump’s statement during the debate tonight that we should intentionally kill the families of terrorists was one of the most immoral things I’ve ever heard a politician say. Just imagine for a second, that your sibling or one of your offspring happened to be a terrorist – does that at all justify killing you or your other innocent family members? Of course not. We don’t purposefully kill parents, or grandparents, or brothers, or sisters, or children, simply because they had the misfortune of being related to someone guilty of a crime.
Trump’s response in the debate centered around the family members knowing something was up in certain terrorist incidents, the fact of which I haven’t confirmed. But even if it was true in one or some cases does not mean it will be true in every case (and thus justify a forward policy of killing the families of terrorists). Some relatives of known ISIS members oppose them so much that they even wish they would die; if there exist family members like this, we can surely expect there to exist family members that would report on their relative if they knew what was happening. Now, even if it was true that family members thought there was a plot and didn’t say anything, it’s still irrelevant. Not speaking out about the dangers of your relatives is not the same thing as actively participating in terrorist crimes, and the former certainly does not justify death. On top of that, why not extend this reasoning to all the friends of the San Bernardino shooters who didn’t report their radical statements on social media? Should we just kill them too?
Trump’s second defense had to do with efficacy: terrorists might not care about their own lives, but they do care about their family’s lives. This is not entirely true, as some terrorists have threatened their own families. However, even it it was true, it is still a despicable way to bring about justice. It shows we’re willing to give up our values when we’re fearful and stoop to the levels of barbarism that the terrorists themselves exhibit when they purposefully kill innocents all over the world.
Sometimes, certain consequences of a belief system are so clearly absurd and depraved that they should invalidate that belief system. Likewise, sometimes certain statements are so clearly absurd and depraved that they should invalidate the person making those statements as someone we put our trust into. This is because it shows a lack of judgment and moral character. If you’re a Trump supporter, ask yourself “is this something I really agree with?” And if not, does it not frighten you about a potential president’s lack of judgment?