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Straw man? 稻草人

中国日报网 2020-09-29 13:20

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Reader question:

Please explain “straw man” in this passage:

During his presidential campaign, Donald Trump strategically chose Mexico and Latin America as his straw men, characterizing Mexican immigrants as rapists and drug dealers, threatening to build a border wall and capping off his win by confirming plans to deport up to three million undocumented Latino migrants.


My comments:

Donald Trump has been blaming America’s problems on Mexican and Latin American immigrants, saying, for example, Mexican immigrants are rapists and drug dealers.

But are all Mexican immigrants rapists and drug dealers? Obviously not.

Why does Trump keep saying this, then?

Well, he’s playing a trick. He’s using Mexican (as well as Latin American) immigrants as his straw men to attract attention.

Straw man, literally, refers to the human-like figures made from straw, dry stems of wheat or rice. The straw man is erected in a crop field to scare off crows (hence its other name scarecrow) and other birds.

Thing is, a straw man may look strong and fierce, it is not. After all it’s made of straw. It has no substance inside and is therefore easily knocked down. It’s not reliable.

Likewise, in Trump’s case, his using Mexicans and Latin Americans as straw men is just a decoy, a cover, a distraction. He uses Mexican and Latin American immigrants to argue a point, a point for the necessity to erect a wall along the borders between the United States and Mexico.

This point of argument is easily refuted because, for starters, Mexican immigrants are not rapists and drug dealer or “bad hombres”, as he also calls them, hombre being the Spanish word for man.

Instead of further tearing apart Trump’s straw-man argument, though, let’s move straight to reading a few media examples of straw man or, in British English, man of straw, a weak person or figuratively speaking a weak, faulty, distracting proposition or argument:


1. Let us be realistic. Over here nothing is going to happen except what we are seeing: the steady descent into chaos and disorder, our troubles proving too much for us…all this and our helplessness. This seems to be our fate.

The tradition of mushairas is no longer that strong. Otherwise we could be writing ghazals and reciting them to acclaim even as everything around us collapsed…just like Bahadur Shah Zafar and his shrunken court.

What can the gods do? They can’t fight our battles for us. Through signs and omens they can only point the way. The courage of Chaudhry Aslam, the sacrifice rendered by that young schoolboy, Aitizaz Hasan, are such signs from above, telling us, the citizens of the Islamic Republic, this so-called Fortress of Islam, to wake up and bestir ourselves. But, no, hollow words are all that escape our fearful lips because of anything more, anything remotely resembling bravery and resolution, we seem incapable. The power has been drained from our limbs.

Chaudhry Aslam was battling terrorists and criminals before the present lot came to power. He awaited the framing of no counterterrorism strategy to do his duty. No metaphysics was required to show him that terrorists were there to be fought against. The lad Aitizaz, all of only 15, suspected that someone approaching his school was up to no good. So acting on his instincts, driven by some spark within, he rushed to grab that person, not caring for his life…and not wondering whether any counterterrorism strategy was in place. For both of them their epitaph the dirge from Cymbeline:

Fear no more the heat o’ the sun

Nor the furious winter’s rages;

Thou thy worldly task hast done,

Home art gone and ta’en thy wages…

What a contrast with our mighty men of straw moving about in their gleaming motorcades, bullet-proof vehicles, hundreds of men for their protection, yet consumed by fear, fear sitting in their hearts, and therefore seeking endless excuses for theirirresolution.

The Taliban are in no doubt. They have virtually declared war against Pakistan, its army and its people. What does it take to see that their aim is not the emirate of Waziristan, or even drawing a line at the Indus but something higher, the whole of Pakistan? Yet far from being goaded into action, the men of straw in command of the republic’s destiny seek endless excuses for not doing anything. Hamlet’s “to be or not to be…” would seem a model of decision compared to their indecision.

- At the mercy of men of straw, TheNews.com.pk, January 14, 2014.


2. With Hunter Biden’s foreign business dealings in the news, Trevor Noah turned his attention to the issue of nepotism Wednesday night.

“The truth is, your name could be a big reason that you get a leg up in life,” The Daily Show host began. “With that said,” he added, “you can’t deny, it’s not a good look that a Ukrainian company hired Hunter Biden just months after Joe Biden became the Obama administration’s point man on Ukraine. Because it looks very much like he got this business because of his father’s position.”

“And I understand why a lot of people would complain about that,” he continued. “What I don’t understand is why these people are complaining about that.”

With that, he cut to a clip of Donald Trump Jr. accusing Hunter Biden of trading on his name and Eric Trump arguing that he and his brother are exempt from criticism because they do not sit on any corporate boards.

“First of all, I’m not surprised nobody has put Beavis and Forehead on any corporate boards,” Noah said. “I don’t even think they’re allowed on diving boards.”

But more importantly, the host said, “If there was ever an example of people who got opportunities because of their names, it’s these two.” For instance, if Donald Trump Jr. was not Donald Trump’s son, Noah asked why anyone would be paying him $50,000 to make a speech. “To share his expertise on bad beards?”

“Also, if Trump’s sons are actually concerned, like truly concerned, about children of politicians doing business overseas,” Noah added, “then can someone please explain to me why they have been doing this?”

He then allowed various news reports to lay out the details of continued foreign projects currently being carried out by Eric and Don Jr. on behalf of the Trump Organization. “Yeah, that’s right, even with their dad in office, the Trumps are still growing their business in places like India, Philippines, Indonesia, Uruguay,” Noah said. “They’re all over the world. It’s like The Amazing Race with no running and no chins.”

But “at least Donald and Eric are one step removed from the Trump presidency,” Noah said before turning his attention to Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, who have official roles in the White House and yet still have entanglements with businesses that benefit from foreign money.

“Now let’s be clear,” Noah concluded. “I’m not defending Hunter Biden. I don’t know him. I don’t know about his business. I’m just saying that the last people who should be talking about the blurred lines of family names and political influence are the people currently running their home office from the White House.”

After the publication of this article, a spokesperson for Donald Trump Jr. reached out with this rebuttal to Noah’s argument: “The claim that Don is being hypocritical for attacking Hunter Biden is nothing more than a straw man argument being used by Democrats and their friends in the media to protect Joe Biden’s failing presidential campaign. Don isn’t attacking Hunter Biden because he has a famous father, he’s attacking him specifically for selling access to his father’s public office to enrich himself. There's a big difference between spending your entire life working your way up in a privately owned family business and leeching off the taxpayers to BECOME a family business based solely off your father’s political office.”

- Trevor Noah Exposes Eric and Don Jr.’s Hunter Biden Nepotism Hypocrisy, TheDailyBeast.com, October 17, 2019.


3. It is possible to make a powerful, riveting political thriller based reality. Think “Z,” “All the President’s Men,” “Argo” and “Spotlight.”

“The Report” is not one of those films. The directorial debut by Scott Burns is a heavy handed, one-dimensional docudrama that may have worthy goals, but is mediocre moviemaking. But perhaps those drawn to a film about the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s 2014 report on the use of torture in the CIA following the 9/11 terrorist attacks won’t be expecting art.

Really, how much artfulness can one expect from a movie that actually features a character carrying a snow globe of the capital to his first D.C. job interview to signify his youthful optimism? No one, of course, would really do that.

Adam Driver does his best as the naively earnest Daniel J.

Jones, the Senate staffer that Sen. Dianne Feinstein (played by Annette Bening) assigned to dig into the use of torture and head up the report. But besides type away at his computer, look tortured, write lots of Post-its and stubbornly argue with his higher-ups, he’s not given much to do.

He’s never fleshed out as a real man with a life outside his secure war room deep inside the CIA. He never stumbles and has no doubts. Perhaps that’s the optimism of youth, but some more nuances would have made his character much more human. What Jones did was dangerous personally and politically, but Burns’ script never makes that feel real.

Benning has a little more to work with as Sen. Feinstein, conveying both her horror at the CIA actions and her weariness at having to walk a realpolitik tightrope to get the report out.

All of the other characters are strawmen or – women. Maura Tierney is a one-dimensional bad gal as Bernadette, a Gina Haspell-ish black site operator. T.R. Ryder and Douglas Hodge are cartoon versions of James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, the psychologist-contractors who devised the “enhanced interrogation” techniques. A little doubt or humanity would have made their certainty in the efficacy of the technique more believable.

Other talented cast members are also wasted in stiff roles, including Jon Hamm as President Obama’s chief of staff Denis McDonough and Michael C. Hall as CIA lawyer Thomas Eastman.

This is not to say “The Report” isn’t a worthy effort, but it would have worked better as a straight documentary. Though the movie doesn’t reveal anything that wasn’t made known in the report or in news coverage of it, it does hammer home the brutal truth of the CIA’s actions. Too bad it does so with such a pedestrian script.

- ‘The Report,’ starring Adam Driver and Annette Bening, is well-meaning, but mediocre movie, Cleveland.com, November 19, 2019.

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About the author:

 

Zhang Xin is Trainer at chinadaily.com.cn. He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at: zhangxin@chinadaily.com.cn, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.

(作者:张欣 编辑:丹妮)

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