There is a phenomenon occurring with disturbing regularity in the American political scene. More and more often we are seeing political leaders using ad hominem attacks on people and groups with whom they disagree. Ad hominem is a Latin expression translated "against the man". It is defined as:
Because it deflects the attention from rational, reasoned argument, ad hominem is a form of logical fallacy. Those who employ it either use a label to directly disparage someone rather than focusing on the reasons for their differences on policy or philosophy, or they will use language to subtly cast doubt on a person's character or personal attributes as a way to try to take away from the validity of that person's arguments.
In far too many cases the American voter is confronted with policy-makers and office holders as well as media reporters using labels to disparage and cast aspersions on individuals or groups with whom they disagree.
A case in point: I recently invited a state senator (I will withhold that person's name) to address a group of adults to whom I am engaged in teaching a civics class. This individual, who is an extreme veteran of the state's political process, mentioned, by name, a former elected office-holder and then proceeded to say of this person, and I quote, "____, was a real loose canon." In addition to that comment, this elected representative, in describing a bill of his that was defeated said that those who voted against his bill were, and again I quote, "The extreme right-wing element."
We hear this kind of disparagement thrown about at members of different parties. But, we have reached a new low. For now members of the same party are tossing such jibberish at each other.
Furthermore, the media use such labels regularly in the introducing and reporting of their stories. Not only are these labels subjective, but they steer people's thinking rather than promoting an atmosphere of open-minded debate and rational discussion about ideas. This obsession with ad hominem comments shuts down any meaningful and respectful openness to looking at ideas for their intrinsic value and it further truncates the public discourse, entrenching mindless polarization and exacerbating the prevailing bigotries that exist on all sides of the political spectrum. People and institutions that practice the ad hominem approach and citizens who swallow such discourse without demanding objectivity and civility are the reason for the devolution of our national socio-political climate; and unless or until the public begins to demand objectivity and reason, rather than personal attack and prejudice, we will continue to devolve as a nation and a society.