The 2020 presidential election has been one of the most politically charged elections in our nation’s recent history. Both candidates have been exceptionally vocal, especially with the recent Democratic and Republican National Conventions. More than focusing on specific issues, though, both candidates have engaged in a pattern of ad hominem arguments designed to demean their opponent. Trump has claimed that Biden is “against God” and on the “wrong side of history,” and he’s attacked Democrats for viewing America as “a wicked nation that must be punished for its sins.” On the other side of the spectrum, Biden’s campaign, and the Democratic convention, have focused more on attacking Trump and his presidency than on tangible issues. Both candidates can be seen berating each other on Twitter.
An ad hominem argument is a direct attack against an opponent’s character rather than their position. This type of argument often ignores facts by appealing to prejudices and emotions, and it allows one to undermine an opponent’s case without refuting the position directly. This means that important issues often don’t get addressed, derailing debates entirely.
It is important to remember to dissect the arguments that are being presented to us in the context of the election. If we are to make informed judgments about the candidates, we must identify baseless accusations when we see them and realize that they may not always be based in reality. Ad hominem arguments come up in politics because we want to elect politicians that we can trust, but it’s essential to think critically about the arguments we hear. A person’s character does matter. After all, we want to elect candidates we feel will act with honesty and integrity in their positions. But we must try to distinguish between legitimate discussion of character and baseless ad hominem arguments. Pay attention to claims which address a candidate’s past actions or decisions and not those which seek to arbitrarily demean. Above all, remember that you can’t always trust what opponents say about each other.
With the 2020 election, this is particularly crucial. Politics are more charged than ever, and personal attacks have dominated discussions. Trump is especially prone to using ad hominem arguments, and vague attacks against Biden, the Democrats, and the media dominate his Twitter feed. These baseless accusations have been the focus of the political climate recently, and this pushes essential policy issues into the background. It’s important to note that these attacks are seldom based in fact—many of the Tweets have been flagged by Twitter for containing misleading or manipulated information. While Biden has made arguments targeted at the president’s character, these more often attack Trump’s specific actions as president and are less often vague and unsupported. In this election cycle, it is more important than ever before to weed through the ad hominem arguments muddying the field and to focus on the vital issues at stake.