Short Take: The New Rules of Debate

The topic of the debate was controversial, as well it should be. After all, if there was no controversy, what’s to debate?

Layton High School senior Michael Moreno and his debate partner, whom The Daily Wire will not name, were participating in a round with a topic relating to immigration. The specific topic of the round was “Resolved: The United States Federal Government should substantially reduce restrictions on legal immigration.” Moreno and his partner were arguing in the negative, meaning they were arguing against the other team’s plan to reduce restrictions on legal immigration.

Immigration is one of those fascinatingly trendy issues, flying under the radar for decades despite doing serious harm to many, until Trump issued his Muslim Ban, whereupon it burst onto the consciousness of his detractors and there was suddenly extreme, if deluded, interest.

The problem wasn’t whether they were right or wrong about any particular decision or aspect, but that it was perceived as having been guided with the love of Emma Lazurus right up until Trump was sworn in. That wasn’t quite reality, not that any of the newly unduly passionate had any interest in reality. But I digress.

Instead of arguing in the affirmative, Moreno told The Daily Wire, the other team read a “slam poem” about how terms like “legal” and “illegal” are dehumanizing. In documents provided to The Daily Wire, these students quoted from numerous professors critical of assimilation and the notion that immigrants must act American to live “the good life.”

“Promises of citizenship and the ‘good life’ force non-normative subjects into a slow death, working towards the unbelievable goal of the American dream,” the students said.

In the ordinary course of a debate, the sides dip into facts and logic to muster their positions rather than a “slam poem” to bring a tear to the eyes of the judges. Facing a position grounded in emotion, Moreno faced a dilemma. How does one respond to a non-argument in a debate?

Moreno and his partner responded by arguing the other team did not actually articulate a position.

Perhaps the judge couldn’t hear them because of the sobbing in the room over the unfairness of it all.

The other team, during the cross-examination section of the debate, said Moreno and his partner could not talk about fairness because they were “white males.” Moreno said he then speed-read through quotes from Shapiro and Peterson pertaining to identity politics. He specifically cited comments [Ben] Shapiro made at the University of Connecticut on January 24, 2018, where he said: ‘Evil things are still evil even if I’m a white well-off religious man and good things are still good even if I’m a white well-off religious man …. My identity has nothing to do with what is right or wrong.”

But wait. There’s more!

Moreno also quoted Peterson saying, “It goes along with this idea of class guilt; Because your group membership is the most important thing, if your group at some point in the past did something reprehensible – which of course every group has done – then you’re de facto responsible for that.”

Did this shock the judge into an epiphany about the nature of debating controversial questions? Totally.

The judge, who before the round told each team not to be racist, claimed Moreno and his partner’s “evidence” and “saying things like ‘your identity doesn’t matter’” were actually racist. The judge then joined the opposing team in claiming it was Moreno and his partner who turned the debate into a discussion of “identity politics” and claimed Shapiro and Peterson are “racists.”

After another 10 minutes of this kind of back and forth, the judge said Moreno and his partner lost the round.

As debates are part of the educational experience, this one certainly served its purpose. There are many highly controversial, highly emotional, issues facing society, but they are all resolvable by crying “racism” or “sexism,” thus ending the debate and establishing an undeniable winner. Lesson learned.

27 thoughts on “Short Take: The New Rules of Debate

  1. Joe

    The Radiolab episode “Debatable” covers this phenomenon as it occurred at the 2013 Cross Examination Association and National Debate Tournament. You may find it very interesting, but possibly dismaying. Kids these days.

    1. SHG Post author

      But, but, but I’m writing about it here. Now. In this instance. Perhaps I should delete this post and just direct everyone to listen to a Radiolab 2013 podcast? Was that your purpose in bringing this up, because it can’t possibly serve any other useful purpose but to redirect attention from this post, this instance, to elsewhere?

      1. Joe

        You are writing about it here. I read about it here. It’s an interesting topic. Thought you might enjoy the listen. Sometimes, when I’m driving to BFE for court, I listen to pods. Blog reading while driving is discouraged.

        1. SHG Post author

          You lead a fascinating life. Thank you for sharing the things you do while driving. I was deeply moved. I laughed. I cried. It became a part of me.

          Even so, does your original comment contribute any thought whatsoever to anyone reading this post? For future reference, I like single malt scotch. I never listen to podcasts because I refuse to dedicate any significant part of my life (more than 30 second) to only learn afterward that I can never get that time back, especially when it’s about a black queer kid from a college no one has ever heard of explaining why debating substance is literally Hitler to the marginalized who have nothing to contribute except their sad tears of victimization. Is any of this making sense to you?

          Now that you’ve made my comments a shithole of irrelevance for no apparent reason, do you have any thoughts on the subject or would you like to defend what you “thought I might enjoy listening to” yet further?

          1. Jake

            Would it be in poor form if I were to dust off everyone who gets their rhetorical teeth punched out and then welcome them to the bar? *smiles toothlessly*

            1. SHG Post author

              Both you and Joe are wonderful people whom I appreciate very much, but if your good pal doesn’t tell you your fly is down and pecker is sticking out, who will? I’ll buy the first round.

          2. Joe

            I think the “judge” in that room failed miserably as both a judge and a teacher (plus he’s a moron). When things started to devolve, he should have just cancelled the match and told the kids to take a breather. Since he utterly failed to control the situation, the school admins and parents should help him find a new class or activity to handle… or just put him in a rubber room. The admins should also stomp out any situation in which the debate “winner” is telling her opponent to “shut the fuck up” for trying to debate. If that were my kid’s school, I’d be at the school board meeting demanding that the debate program be overhauled to prevent this kind of stupidity from ever reoccurring.

            I find interesting is that this instance appears to be an afterschool or classroom debate, not an actual competition. Hopefully the “serious” competitions have come up with rules preventing the poetry masterdebaters doing this. It’s an even bigger waste of taxpayer money to send kids to a debate competition when their opponents are just going to poetry masterdebate the whole time.

            I’ve put Mr. Pecker away. It’s too cold for that anyway.

  2. B. McLeod

    Debate “judges” are typically volunteers, so I would expect a significant percentage of them to be politicized nutcases by this point. There is certainly no reason they would ignore the opportunity to impose “truth” in this venue. It is only natural that ambitious programs will be keeping track of the nutcases and supplying their teams with squirrel “cases” to present when they draw a nutcase as their judge for a round.

      1. B. McLeod

        No. It would not surprise me to see them going down the same road. I suppose there is a question as to whether they should be, given that some of our colleagues have turned to making these “arguments” in real courts.

    1. wilbur

      This seems to be the deal offered to these students: Do well in your studies, learn what you’re supposed to, and you too can be a politicized nutcase.

  3. szr

    This is insane. Leaving aside the weird and disrespectful conduct, it is jaw-droppingly stupid to avoid using facts.

    Our current immigration enforcement regime is so asinine that just describing it honestly floors most people. Just last year, the Supreme Court had to explain to the government that a Notice to Appear (the charging document that begins deportation proceedings) which lists the court location and hearing date as “TBA” and “TBA” is not sufficient notice. Pereira v. Sessions, 585 U.S. __ (2018). Anyone seeking to defend and expand the current regime couldn’t dream of a less effective adversary than these kids.

    Oh, and deportation is a civil, not criminal, proceeding. So remember that when discussing Title IX tribunals, and how they too are not criminal proceedings.

      1. Ray Lee

        Next line in the transcript:

        Judge: “You” wins!

        Authorized pedagogy migrates beyond college. Don’t teach how to think / argue, teach what to think.

        1. szr

          I win! Who learned the new debate rules better Mr. SHG, you or me?

          Also, does this mean I have I have to go back to wearing a helmet?

  4. Bryan Burroughs

    Sounds like a letter, preferably on a law firm’s stationary, to the principal is in order, reminding him/her of the school’s responsibility under federal law to prevent racial harassment of students in the classroom.

  5. RedditLaw

    I don’t think that this post is really about the decline in the quality of debate. I cannot directly speak on behalf of Mr. Greenfield, but I can imagine that he is horrified that these students will graduate from law school and take these antics to an actual courtroom, somewhere in America.

    As for me, the next time that I appear for a sentencing argument in the United States District Court for the District of Nebraska, I will have my bongo drums and slam poetry ready for a bravura performance, to wit:

    1. Richard Kopf


      Can’t wait to consider your enhanced sentencing argument. I will be the one wearing the creepy clown mask.

      All the best.


  6. Fubar

    Social Justice, whose warriors don’t blink,
    Write their rules with invisible ink.
    Their new rules for debate
    Prevent bigots and hate:
    Thinking’s racist, because they can’t think!

    1. Elpey P.

      Are tummy rubs for Fubar permitted? Because just about every time I see him/her I so want to rub that tummy.

  7. Matthew Scott Wideman

    It’s as because the new generation of “feelz” teachers are making kids weaker and unable to make a coherent argument. It’s going to make our country and government unworkable in 20 years.

    I am glad I had a generation of teachers who kept their political beliefs to themselves and made us think through our conclusions. Even if it made us sad 😢

    1. SHG Post author

      Some suggest that passion precludes thought, and that emotional appeals may be logical fallacies, but they work.

      Then again, thinking is hard and makes young people cry.

Comments are closed.