(Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
It started with a tweet about President Trumps decision to pull us out of the Paris Climate Agreement. Professor Chaplin who is the Chair of American Studies Department at Harvard and the James Duncan Phillips Professor, tweeted this:
That tweet somehow got picked up by Senator Ted Cruz, who, in the spirit of curiosity and intellectual inquiry, sought to clarify what Professor Chaplin meant. He asked, Dear Professor Chaplin, your tweet struck me as odd, given that we all usually think of July 4, 1776, as the birth of our nation. Can you clarify what you mean?
Just kidding! He completely dismissed her, and then in the right-wing press, was described as having owned her.
That led to Professor Chaplins clapback:
I jumped in because it was clear that Senator Cruz wasnt looking for intellectual debate, or he wouldnt have started out with the ad hominem and condescension. As one of my colleagues wrote, What did Senator Cruz say that was wrong? My reply was:
And then discussion degenerated. I dont have time to do a thorough statistical analysis, but the vast of majority of replies (at least to me) were insults. There were a few who came to Professor Chaplins defense, seeking to elaborate on her points (if they went to her twitter feed, they would have seen some more discussion). Many came to Senator Cruzs defense. But, at this point, the discussion became partisan, and all hope for any understanding was lost.
So, let me try to sum up the two positions, not doing justice to either side.
A country requires international recognition to exist. I could declare myself the great state of LawProfBlawg, but no one is going to acknowledge my country. I wont be a player on any international arena, and I might very well get invaded. Throughout history there were many nations that lacked international recognition, such as the Republic of Lakotah, the Principality of the Hutt River, or other micronations. Some countries have varying degrees of international recognition, which makes the notion murkier, but it is still a necessary condition for statehood. Professor Chaplin takes a more eloquent position here.
A country begins at conception. Perhaps Orin Kerr said it best in his tweet:
In other words, the Declaration of Independence created the United Colonies, which then undertook a name change on September 9, 1776, to the United States of America. The only trouble here is that the founders spoke of free and independent states, so perhaps then we should be talking about multiple countries. Regardless, by the time of the Articles of Confederation and later the Constitution, it was very clear they were a single country, the good ol US of A.
Blog length makes my summary of both arguments incomplete, with many unanswered questions. For example, was the Confederate States of America a country? It did declare independence, and under the second standard, would have to be historically recognized as a country. Under the first standard, the Confederacy was not a country because it received no international recognition. But there are countries that exist without full international recognition. In short, its murky.
While the answer may be murky a few things about the great debate are clear:
I wondered about the gender implications of the debate. I wondered if this is what it is like to be a female faculty member at a University.
I wonder why Im even calling it a debate. Professor Chaplin was doing what most of us do on Twitter. She wasnt expecting a Cruzian call-out. She was expressing outrage at the United States, a member of the international community since birth, pulling out of that community. Even as other tweeters got involved, it was never a debate. It had all the trappings of the famous Monty Python Argument Clinic.
Thats not the fault of Twitter. Those with differing viewpoints refuse to seek common understanding, as traditional debate becomes an increasingly lost art. The loss will eventually destroy us, if it hasnt already.
UPDATE (2:45 p.m.): After hearing from Senator Cruzs staff members, I must add that I was remiss in not pointing out that Senator Cruz did lay out his argument in two subsequent tweets:
I would characterize this more along the lines of the conception argument, but might eliminate the problem of what to call the Confederacy (because they lost). Ill incorporate my previous assertions to apply to these tweets as well.
LawProfBlawg is an anonymous professor at a top 100 law school. You can see more of his musingshereand onTwitter. Email him firstname.lastname@example.org.
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