Each year sees headlines that capture a wide range of political controversies and shape national discourse. The year drawing to a close, though, has been a banner year for controversy in a nation more divided than it has been in a long time. I have noted before that “the news” on television, radio, and the Internet is largely not the objective reporting expected in the past, but biased commentary on events. It may not be a great time to be an American, but it seems to be a great time to study argument in today’s headlines – or it would, were it not for the fact that some positions are so extreme they provide better examples of poor reasoning than of argumentative discourse. Robert Mueller and his team may be drafting the most compelling arguments here at year’s end, but they are too heavily redacted to read and analyze.
In a year of controversy, here are a few of the many questions that have shaped public discourse:
- Is the Electoral College outdated in modern America?
- How do we eliminate party politics as the basis for selecting Supreme Court justices?
- How do we respect the victims of the #MeToo movement without condemning those falsely accused?
- What should our nation’s response be to the murder in a foreign country of a journalist working for an American newspaper?
- What are the dangers when members of the press are viewed as enemies of the state?
- Is a tweet a formal statement of public policy?
- Should the proposed wall on our southern border be built?
- What is the alternative to separating children from their parents at our border with Mexico?
- Are immigrants guilty of more crimes than other Americans? Are illegal immigrants?
- Can a sitting president be indicted for a crime?
- What changes are needed in the Affordable Care Act?
- What can be done to make our elections fairer?
- What restrictions, if any, should there be on gun ownership?
- What should be done about foreign interference in US elections?
These are large questions. Some of them do not have clear cut answers. They are all argumentative, even those that can be answered yes or no. They won’t be answered this year, or maybe even next year. Some have been around for decades, if not centuries. They are the substance of argument, the type of argument that shapes and shakes our country every day. They are the types of questions that our students need to be able to tackle with more than emotion.
Photo Credit: “Concept of important day” by Marco Verch on Flickr, 12/11/18 via a CC BY 2.0 license.