Uncharitable interpretations contribute to the polarization of our country. Instead of convincing others, uncharitable interpretations will only strengthen support of loyal supporters while pushing away others.
One example of where the charity principle was not used was during the final presidential debate in 2016 between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. This was a clear case of an unproductive argument without any refutation of the actual points each side was making.
The moderator first introduced the topic of abortion by questioning the candidates on the controversial Roe v. Wade decision, which made abortion legal up until the third trimester of pregnancy. Once the two had provided their opinions, the moderator questioned Clinton on a previous stance on late-term abortions, to which she replied with the argument that is mapped below. Clinton is trying to argue that late-term abortions shouldn’t be regulated because no one purposely goes through such an operation unless the mother’s health is in danger. Clinton emphasizes the unfortunate nature of late-term abortions with pathos and descriptions such as “heartbreaking” and “painful.” She also justifies not having a ban by suggesting that abortion is sometimes a medically necessary procedure to save the mother.
Trump responded with a very uncharitable interpretation of Clinton’s argument: “Well, I think it’s terrible. If you go with what Hillary is saying, in the ninth month, you can take the baby and rip the baby out of the womb of the mother just prior to the birth of the baby.” Technically, with a broad generalization, Clinton does believe that late-term abortions, what Trump refers to as “ripping the baby out of the womb,” should be not be regulated by the government. However, instead of refuting Clinton’s argument and its premises, Trump tries to undermine her claim by misrepresenting it with forceful and violent verbs like “take” and “rip.”
By the end of the exchange, both candidates’ opinions were voiced but instead of a healthy argument, an uncharitable interpretation of one of the arguments was presented which led to an unproductive conversation.
WALLACE: I’m going to give you a chance to respond, but I want to ask you, Secretary Clinton, I want to explore how far you believe the right to abortion goes. You have been quoted as saying that the fetus has no constitutional rights. You also voted against a ban on late-term, partial-birth abortions. Why?
CLINTON: Because Roe v. Wade very clearly sets out that there can be regulations on abortion so long as the life and the health of the mother are taken into account. And when I voted as a senator, I did not think that that was the case.
The kinds of cases that fall at the end of pregnancy are often the most heartbreaking, painful decisions for families to make. I have met with women who toward the end of their pregnancy get the worst news one could get, that their health is in jeopardy if they continue to carry to term or that something terrible has happened or just been discovered about the pregnancy. I do not think the United States government should be stepping in and making those most personal of decisions. So you can regulate if you are doing so with the life and the health of the mother taken into account.
WALLACE: Mr. Trump, your reaction? And particularly on this issue of late-term, partial-birth abortions.
TRUMP: Well, I think it’s terrible. If you go with what Hillary is saying, in the ninth month, you can take the baby and rip the baby out of the womb of the mother just prior to the birth of the baby.
Now, you can say that that’s OK and Hillary can say that that’s OK. But it’s not OK with me, because based on what she’s saying, and based on where she’s going, and where she’s been, you can take the baby and rip the baby out of the womb in the ninth month on the final day. And that’s not acceptable.