I can’t figure out whether Tucker Carlson is really bad at making sound, non-fallacious arguments, or whether he intentionally uses fallacious reasoning to score points with his audience (while hoping they don’t catch what he is doing). Once again Carlson has shown that he’s the master manipulator of poor reasoning in a recent commentary on what he describes as the “Immigration Crisis” at the border. Here is the video of the commentary:“http://markvopat.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/ScreenFlow.mp4”
In the interests of defending good reasoning and calling out the very bad, here is a section by section breakdown of his poorly thought out commentary.
Do you think any of these people1 really care about family separation? If they did then they would be worried about the collapse of the American family which is measurable and real. But they are not worried about that in fact they welcome that collapse, because strong families are an impediment to their political power. That is why they are always lecturing you about the patriarchy and the evil of the nuclear family.
The argument Carlson makes can be summarized as follows:
- If [liberals] cared about family separation, then they would be worried about the collapse of the American family.
- [Liberals] welcome the collapse of the American family.
- If liberals welcome the collapse of the American family, then they are not worried about the collapse of the American family.
- Liberals are not worried about the collapse of the American family [2, 3]
- Therefore, liberals do not care about family separation [1, 4]
As logical argument go, what Carlson says is valid, which is to say that if the premises are true, then the conclusion necessarily follows (is true as well). While validity is important, soundness is also important. A sound argument is a valid argument where the premises are in fact true. So, has Carlson provided proof of his premises?
Premise one asserts that in order to care about family separation (presumably at the border) you have to also care about the collapse of the American family—though it’s not clear why one needs to care about both. If I don’t believe (or it isn’t a fact that) the American family is collapsing, then there might not be anything to care about.
Similarly, premise two is presented by Carlson as a factual claim, which seems dubious at best. It is in fact a straw-man argument—one of Carlson’s favourite strategies: make up a ridiculous argument that no one actually holds, and then knock that argument down. How many liberals implicitly or explicitly welcome the collapse of the family as a means to political power? Can Carlson cite statements that indicate this desire on the part of liberals? Off the top of my head I can think of at lease a half a dozen liberal academic philosophers who write on children and the family who don’t hold this view. So, which liberals is he talking about?
If the two premises above are not in fact true (or there is good reason to doubt their truth), then it follows that Carlson hasn’t made the case that liberals don’t really care about family separation. Now to be fairer to Carlson than he often is to reason, the next section of his commentary is supposed to support his contention of the lack of liberal care.
Millions and millions of American kids are growing up with one parent at home families separated thanks to their policies and that is fine with them. Many of those kids, by the way, have a parent behind bars. It is not just illegal immigrants that are separated from their children, the majority of American citizens in prison have minor kids they have left behind. Their families have been separated by force by our justice system because they committed a crime; so in that way these kids are just like the kids you have been watching on television today. The difference of course is they’re Americans, so nobody is spending $35,000 a piece to make sure they are okay. Democratic politicians and cable news anchors don’t visit their foster homes to highlight their plight—they’re ignored.
There are numerous problems with this part of Carlson’s argument. First, it is clear that he is using an argument by analogy. He is equating a child being separated at the border with a child being separated from a parent that has committed a crime. Why isn’t this a fair comparison? There are several obvious problems:
- The U.S. government was separating children from their parents before the parents were afforded due process. Parents seeking asylum are not convicted criminals, they are in fact innocent until proven guilty (or in this case ineligible for asylum). Unlike a child at the border, an American child whose parent(s) is charged with a crime isn’t immediately taken to a holding facility. Generally those children are placed with the other parent, family member, or friend.
- Even if a parent is imprisoned while awaiting trial, the child is not locked up; can visit his/her parent in prison, and is likely living with a family member.
- Carlson is right that we don’t spend $35,000 to make sure U.S. children are okay, but we do spend on average $25,782 per year on children who have been removed from their parents and placed in foster care.
So, here we have two basic problems with Carlson’s argument: 1) the situations are not analogous, and 2) we do in fact spend money on those children that are separated from family. The amount we pay for kids in foster care may be less than those being held near the border, but that could be an efficiency issue as much as anything else.
Once again, Carlson’s big finish is to throw out a number of straw man arguments. He is fond of referring to “they” by which I assume he means “liberals”. He also equates liberal with the ruling elite, that are attempting to make some ambiguous albeit bad change to our country:
This is one of those moments that tells you everything about our ruling class: they care far more about foreigners than their own people (you probably suspected that already). The other thing you may have noticed is they are not especially interested in solutions to anything. They’re great at yelling and at preening; not so good at fixing and building. We could strengthen our borders to keep illegals out. We could fund more immigration courts to process those who sneak through anyway. We could even build more housing facilities at the border holding facilities to allow families to stay together while their asylum claims are processed. But the left is not interested in any of that; there only solution is immediate amnesty for anyone who crosses our border with a minor in tow, and of course that’s the same as no borders at all—not to mention a powerful incentive for child smuggling. They don’t care, because no matter what they tell you this is not about helping children. A lot of people yelling at you on TV don’t even have children, so don’t for a second let them take the moral high ground. Their goal is to change your country forever, and they are succeeding by the way.
Here again there are a number of unsubstantiated claims made about non-identified persons who:
- Don’t want to solve the immigration problem;
- Are not if favour of providing adequate housing for detainees;
- Don’t want to more immigration courts to respec the due process rights of asylum seekers;
- Want to grant immediate asylum without proof it is warranted;
- Want open borders for all people with children.
Who are the people that want this? As far as I can tell, they are don’t actually exist.2 Finally, Carlson makes the final absurd claim that people without children are not allowed to be concerned, outraged, or otherwise morally offended at the way the U.S. government has treated these children. By this reasoning, a person cannot care about cruelty to animals if they don’t own a pet; can’t care about the treatment of the elderly if they don’t have an elderly relative; can’t care about the treatment of any minority if they are not a minority themselves—all claims that are clearly false.
While is fairly easy to pick apart Carlson’s arguments by paragraph by paragraph, doing so may risk missing the forest for the trees. This entire commentary seems to be a red herring3. Rather than address the issue of the treatment of children at the border, Carlson wants to divert your attention to a different issue. In this case it’s the supposed lack of concern for American children by “liberals” or the “ruling class”. Notice that even though Republicans currently control the House, Senate, and White House, they are somehow not the “ruling class”. Referring to the ruling class is a deliberate attempt to direct attention way from the government’s immigration policies.
It appear to me that Tucker Carlson doesn’t have a good response to what has been happening to immigrant families at the border. Rather than address the very real injustice that is being done, he instead chooses to obfuscate the issue with fallacious reasoning. If anyone has failed to take the moral high road on this issue, it is Carlson himself.
Carlson is referring to liberal politicians, commentators, activists, protesters etc., that had recently made comments about the immoral and un-Christian behaviour occurring at the border.↩︎
At no point does Carlson refer to a political party platform or policy proposal, a speech by an elected representative, an editorial in a newspaper, or even proposed legislation.↩︎