When it comes to persuasion, logic is one of the weaker tools. This is because the end of logic is truth, not making people believe something—that is the end of persuasion. While the land of logic is a foreign realm to Trump, he seems to have an instinct for using fallacies and rhetoric to persuade people. This has served him well—rhetoric makes the masses clap, logic makes them nap.
While Trump enjoys the classic fallacies, such as the scare tactic and the general ad hominen attack, he recently made use of a subclass of the ad hominem known to some as the “ergo decedo” (“therefore leave”) and called by Copi the “traitorous critic fallacy.” Since there is no international bureau of fallacy naming, I will call it the “leave it” fallacy.
The Leave It fallacy is a type of ad hominem because it involves rejecting a person’s claim because the “evidence” against a person’s claim is an irrelevant attack on the person. There are two things that distinguish the Leave It fallacy. First, the person is attacked because they are being critical of something. This attack typically takes the form of asserting that the critic is motivated by a secret association or agreement with a disliked group. Second, rather than refuting the criticism, the attacker only tells the target to “leave.” As such, the fallacy has the following general form:
Premise 1. Person A makes critical claim X about Y.
Premise 2. Person B attacks A (usually for an alleged association/agreement with a disliked group G) and says that if A does not like X about Y, then they should leave Y (usually for G).
Conclusion: Therefore, X is false.
This argument is a fallacy because simply attacking a person and telling them to leave does not prove that their criticism is false. The fallacy draws much of its psychological power from the cognitive bias of groupthink (the tendency to try to minimize conflict and form a consensus by suppressing dissent and avoiding outside influences) and the ingroup bias (the tendency to see one’s own group as superior and outsiders as inferior). Someone who is critical of a group can easily be cast as a threat and hence people in that group can be motivated to reject that criticism out of anger and dislike. These biases do not, of course, have any logical weight.
The defense against this fallacy is to try to reason through any negative feelings one might have and ask if any relevant refutation of the criticism has been offered. If it has not, then the “argument” gives no reason to reject that criticism. This does not mean that the criticism is therefore true—it just means the fallacy does not provide any reason to reject it.
Care should be taken to not confuse the Leave It fallacy with the False Dilemma “love it or leave it.” The idea in this false dilemma is that one has just two options: to love something (typically a country) utterly and never criticize it or leave it. There are obviously many other options. The difference between the two is that the Leave It fallacy involves using an attack on the person to “argue” that their criticism is false while the False Dilemma “love it or leave it” is intended to silence criticism by wrongly asserting that one has only the two choices. It can often be hard to distinguish the two because people often combine them and those attempting these fallacies often do not know what they are doing themselves. Now back to Trump.
Trump recently attacked Democratic Congresswomen with this fallacy, “arguing” that their criticisms of America are wrong “because” they are “from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world” and they should go back to these countries. Trump’s “logic” seems to be this:
Premise 1: The Democratic Congresswomen criticized the United States.
Premise 2: The women are from “from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world” and they should go back where they came from.
Conclusion: The Democratic Congresswomen criticisms are not true.
Presented in this manner, the fallacy is even more evident: there is no connection between the premises and the conclusion; Trump is merely attacking the Congresswomen and telling them to leave. While having nothing to do with the fallacy, it is worth noting that all four of the Congresswomen Trump attacks are American citizens and three of them were born in the United States. Some might thus say that Trump is not wrong when he says that they come from a country with a government that is “a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world”—that is, the Trump administration.
In closing, it must be noted that the fact that Trump’s attack on the Congresswomen was fallacious does not prove that their critical claims about the United States are true—that does not follow. Their claims must stand or fall on their own merits.