On July 18, 2013, the city of Detroit filed for what will be the largest municipal bankruptcy in the U.S. due to an estimated debt of $18-$20 billion. Media pundits, analysts, Cable News contributors’ and bloggers have expounded on multiple root causes for the decay of Detroit: political corruption; unwillingness of unions to negotiate—both public and private; gross mismanagement and waste of resources; escalation of crimes of every kind including the vandalizing and defacing of property with graffiti; gangs; drug wars; gunplay; population decline; auto industry decline and racial divide—the list is extensive and without a doubt they are all legitimate factors to be considered in the dynamics of Detroit’s decline.
But on July 19, 2013, Melissa Harris-Perry as a guest panelist on MSNBC’s “Now” program implied that Detroit’s demise was a result, in part, due to too small a government.
“We can talk about the microstory of Detroit, but it seems to me that Detroit, as always, is standing for all kinds of things about America. In the case of Detroit, the reason that the tax base has become so small is because a loss of population, right? So folks move out, they are not there to pay the taxes on the homes and the kind of deterioration is what you see in the numbers you’ve suggested.
But this lack of tax base is also exactly the kind of thing that many Republicans would impose on us, even when our cities have sufficient populations, even when our communities have sufficient populations. This is what it looks like when government is small enough to drown in your bathtub, and it is not a pretty picture.”
Trying to reconcile her argument with what I knew to be true about Detroit was a challenge. The only explanations I could think for developing such a causation of Detroit’s destruction was that she was ill-informed, undereducated or she was being intentionally dishonest.
Harris-Perry has some impressive credentials. She is a professor political science at Tulane University. Previously, she was an associate professor of politics at Princeton University from 2006 to 2010 and taught political science at the University of Chicago from 1999 to 2005. In addition, Harris-Perry is host of MSNBC’s “Melissa Harris-Perry.” So the first two considerations for her irrational argument could be ruled out.
Truth is—or should be—a non-negotiable for leadership and other positions of influence. Without truth to define, guide, protect, and interpret, citizens are not able to recognize, evaluate, or conclude legitimate cause and effect of issues. The public will not have accurate information in making effective decisions to solve problems or to elect competent people. Deception erects a house of cards on sinking sand.
Politicians have been using oratory and debate strategies since the beginning of civilized society. However, when truth and accuracy cease to be the guardians of logic, the premises and facts of an issue are replaced with misleading, misdirecting and falsehoods statement resulting in intellectual dishonesty. The purpose of debate is not only to lead thought through deductive reasoning to a conclusion but ideally to reach the best course of action. This only happens when core values are moral.
John Adams, American founder and our second President, in a speech warned his fellow countrymen saying, “We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion . . . Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
Melissa Harris-Perry used the reframing technique, a perspective shaping strategy. Specifically, she used a meaning or content reframe by inaccurately stating that Detroit has too small a government, drawing the audience into the false conclusion that Republican’s ideology supports small governments like the one Detroit has. This implies a false cause and effect to associate that the decay, decline, and bankruptcy of Detroit was not due to mismanagement, corruption, and waste of a city ruled by Democrats for 50 years.
She misrepresents the Republican tenets of smaller government, which promote free markets and individual achievement as drivers behind economic prosperity rather than big government distributing tax dollars to drive the economy; all the while misleading the audience that Detroit had too small a government when it’s overstaffed in comparison to cities of the same size.
The principles of Journalism lists as its first obligation to tell the truth. The second principle of Journalism emphasizes loyalty toward its citizens as opposed to an ideology or political affiliation. Priorities navigate choices, not only in rhetoric but in life.
Thomas Babington Macaulay, a British historian, essayist, and politician wrote, “History is made up of the bad actions of extraordinary men and woman. All the most noted destroyers and deceivers of our species, all the founders of arbitrary governments and false religions have been extraordinary people; and nine tenths of the calamities that have befallen the human race had no other origin than the union of high intelligence with low desires.”