Scrolling through social media since the Senate passed the 1.7 trillion-dollar omnibus spending bill, one sees a frequent talking point. It goes something like “Democrats are spending billions on Ukraine’s border and ignoring the crisis at our border!” After politicians or news personalities say some variation of this it quickly gets picked up and dutifully repeated by their followers.
One of the things we do in philosophy is to know how to do things like make proper distinctions, frame sound arguments, and spot things such as false equivalencies. This is important because language has immense power. How language is used matters. I am sure some readers might immediately think, “We have these gravely serious issues such as the Russian aggression in Ukraine and a crisis at our own border and you want to talk about sound arguments and language?”
Here’s why. It is precisely because these issues are so serious and have such grave consequences that how we speak about them is important. How we understand them and how we speak about them will have effects on what we do about them. Like I said, language has immense power. Used well, language has the power to enlighten. Yet, it can also be used as a tool to obfuscate and misdirect.
So, here is my point. Regardless of what you think or feel about either what is happening between Russia and Ukraine or at the southern border of the United States, they are two different issues. Pitting one against the other is just poor thinking.
Here are a few observations.
First, Russia invading a country with its immense military might, destroying the country, killing civilians, committing atrocities, and terrorizing is not remotely the same as people crossing our border, whether legally, illegally, as asylum seekers, and so forth. Even the alleged worst of immigrants crossing our border does not compare to a murderous military invasion. To contend that the spending bill is going for one while denying the other fails to understand the differences between them. They shouldn’t be conflated. Further, the implication is that we shouldn’t be doing the one. Just say you think the United States should not be helping our ally. A few do so. But, again, these are different issues with different particulars to talk about.
Secondly, it is not as if doing the one is the reason we are (allegedly) doing nothing about the other. We could actually do both. Again, just say you don’t want the U.S. to help a sovereign nation that is our ally against a brutal dictator and his war crimes.
Conflating these two issues diminishes both. And any political leader of any rank who would do so demonstrates their utter lack of ability to think clearly and critically about things over which they exercise power and are thus unfit to be in those positions. It’d be best if they would just resign.
Lastly, I was around during the Reagan years and the Cold War (in fact, Reagan was the first president I ever voted for after coming of voting age). I’m baffled. When did (ostensible) conservatives become devotees to murderous Russian dictators? To stand against Russia used to be a conservative badge proudly worn. I feel like I unknowingly have slipped into an alternate universe.
My view? Neither border tale is simple. Answers to each are highly complex and anyone who thinks otherwise understands neither. We can address them both. In each case, let us strive to be humane. Didn’t Reagan say that the United States should be a shining city on the hill? Rather than shining brightly, most of what I am seeing these days is a bunch of dim wits. And too many of them have power. That’s dangerous.