Straw Man Arguments from Dennis Prager Offer False Choices Between Extremes

I have asked some of my conservative friends who rail frequently against “liberals” to define what a liberal is. They have trouble doing so, aside from a silly “good/bad” dichotomy, or to repeat memes such as “liberalism is a mental disorder” — certainly not something that could ever be used in a classroom to try to explain to the young or to foreigners the political differences that divide America. One of them posted this piece of propaganda, “How Do You Judge America?” by Dennis Prager, full of “straw man” arguments, projections and distortions about what liberals believe.

“Is the United States an exceptional country that has played a uniquely good role in history?” he asks.

Though Prager hates Barack Obama, attacking him frequently and judging, projecting that Obama’s religion is leftism and his trinity is “race, gender, class,” President Obama has repeatedly given speeches saying he believes strongly in American exceptionalism.

Prager declares that conservatives, unlike liberals, venerate Abraham Lincoln, though Obama himself called Lincoln his model and drew inspiration from him more than perhaps any other president.

Prager declares that “America is the best country ever created,” which is fine as an emotional, chest-thumping statement of blind patriotism but falls flat as a persuasive argument because Prager fails to back it up with objective studies from people from whatever country who have a deep-seeded knowledge of world history and experience of the vast and diverse cultures of the world and have conducted surveys. Prager doesn’t even mention how he arrived at this conclusion. How many countries has he traveled to? What does he even know of the world? We aren’t told.

Then comes a grand generalization that isn’t documented. “The Left,” he says, “sees America as having been, and continuing to be, a very flawed country, morally no better than many, and morally inferior to many.” Who is “the left?” The only person he mentions is historian Howard Zinn, who wrote A People’s History of the United States to quite admittedly offer a non-traditional, non-mainstream history from the point of view of dispossessed or discontented peoples because he felt that mainstream history texts glossed over or ignored important truths.

Any fair reading of commentary on the right also sees America as a “very flawed country.” Prager himself constantly rails against America’s moral failings and “speeding decay.” The further left (or right, I might add to his critique) one goes, “the more negative assessment of America.”

In the 2016 election, Trump and the Republicans were far more negative and critical of America than Hillary Clinton, who insisted that America is already great, while Trump attacked traditional values and said so many things about America are terrible.

He cites South Korea as a place “the left” disdains, when in fact Obama and Kerry were very supportive of South Korea, and it is Trump who has threatened to withdraw American troops and close military bases in South Korea and suggested S.K. might need to develop a nuclear bomb to defend themselves.

Though Prager and other conservatives are harshly critical of America to the point of predicting doomsday, they stir up fake resentment that “the left” hates America while they love America. Then they go on to feed on fears that if America changes (change is inevitable), America is doomed. This is just ridiculous, reactionary, incoherent BS.

This is the same Prager who insists the Middle East conflict is “simple.” Prager is selling snake oil or a bill of goods to people with very shallow knowledge of history and the world today. Don’t waste your time watching his videos.

To use Prager’s video characterizations of the left as a tool to teach students about American politics would be the same as declaring that “the right” in America is made up mostly of white supremacists, religious fundamentalists, the wealthy, know-nothing populists, big corporations, monopolists and greedy capitalists.  In short, it’s offensive reductionism that makes no effort to understand or explain America politics through studied empathy for different points of view.




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