Fallacies and rhetoric are common tools in political debates for the same reason hammers and saws are common tools in carpentry: because they work. In the case of politics, “working” means that they enable one to “win.” And “winning” in this context means persuading someone to believe, whether the claim is true or not. Philosophy, in the true sense, has a rather different victory condition: you “win” by having plausible premises and good logic—which tends to lose when it comes to persuasion. Unfortunately, people tend to believe what they are persuaded to believe rather than what has been proven, so it is no surprise that the standard counters to criticisms of Trump (or any politician) tend to be fallacies and rhetoric. I will go through a few of these fallacies to show how they do not refute the claim that Trump is a tyrant.
One common way to reply to this sort of criticism is to make use of a false equivalency. The usual method of this fallacy is to treat a shared quality between two things as showing they are equivalent. This fallacy is very commonly used to argue that because of this shared quality, two things are equal in terms of their degree or magnitude (and this is usually in terms of badness). This fallacy is somewhat like a false/weak analogy in that an inference is made based on an alleged similarity that fails to hold. One way to formalize this fallacy is as follows:
Premise 1: A is X (to degree D) because it has qualities A, B, and C.
Premise 2: B has quality C.
Conclusion: A and B are equivalent, so B is X (to degree D).
This reasoning is defective because it does not follow that because two things have something in common that they are equivalent. To use an extreme example, while it is true that both Hitler and Trump were elected officials, this obviously does not entail that they are equivalent. It also does not follow that they are not equivalent.
What is wanting is a proper comparison of A and B to determine if they are adequately similar to warrant the inference that they are equivalent—which would be a matter of making an argument by analogy. If a strong argument by analogy can be made, then the equivalence would be a true one and the fallacy would be avoided. As such, the logical defense against an accusation that you have made a false equivalence is to present just such a strong argument.
While people often make use of false equivalency for nefarious reasons, people also fall into it due to good intentions. For example, the American press tends to want to include both sides of an issue. This is laudable when both sides are worthy of consideration and roughly on par. To illustrate, giving pro-tax increase and anti-tax increase proponents a chance to present their arguments is reasonable. But when one side is clearly not like the other to treat them as equivalent is to fall into an error. For example, treating the climate change “debate” as if both sides are equal is absurd: the science is solidly on the side of climate change. So, what about Trump?
In the previous essay I contended that one significant piece of evidence that Trump is a tyrant is that he used his office to try to extort foreign leaders to get them to interfere in the 2020 presidential election. Trump and his defenders followed the usual pattern. They denied anything had occurred. When it became evident that things had occurred, it was claimed that the activity was not illegal or impeachable. Trump’s defenders also tried to use the above-described fallacy: the false equivalence.
As noted above, Trump has been accused of using his office to extort foreign powers to interfere in the 2020 presidential election. In response, his defenders are asserting that Joe Biden is just as bad (or worse) because when he was Vice President he used his office to pressure Ukraine to remove a prosecutor who was investigating his son’s business deals.
As is common with Trump and his defenders, this attack is based on lies and exaggerations. While it is true that Hunter Biden cashed in on the family name to secure a lucrative deal in Ukraine and it is true that this common practice is morally corrupt, all available evidence shows that the prosecutor was removed for being corrupt and this removal enjoyed wide bipartisan and international support at the time. The prosecutor was also not investigating Hunter Biden and there is no evidence that Hunter Biden was ever investigated. As such, the Hunter Biden story is the usual story of how the well-connected elites exploit their elite status to give advantages to their friends and family (essentially the backstory for Trump and his children). As such, the only similarities between Trump and Biden here are that Ukraine was involved in both cases and the power of an office was used. One could also add that both parents have children who are riding their family names. Looking at these similarities, they clearly do not show that Joe Biden’s actions were even close to Trump’s actions.
But a Trump defender might say, what if the conspiracy is true and Joe Biden pressured Ukraine to fire a prosecutor who was investigating his son? Surely, they would say, this makes Biden as bad as Trump. They would, of course, be wrong.
Let us suppose, contrary to all the credible evidence, that Joe used his office to quash an investigation into Hunter’s corrupt dealings in Ukraine. That would obviously be an act of tyranny and corruption. But it would still not be equivalent to what Trump did—Biden would, at worse, have used his office to protect his son and give him a significant financial advantage. But Trump engaged in extortion to get foreign powers to interfere in the upcoming election. Biden’s alleged crime is on par with business as usual in the Trump Whitehouse, such as how he and his children are exploiting the office for their financial gain. But even in the worst case scenario, Biden did not act to corrupt the very foundation of the office and the American democratic process. They are not even close, and Trump’s defenders have nothing to offer but lies, exaggerations and the fallacy of false equivalence here.
I think Americans have a right to know exactly what the Bidens were doing in Ukraine. For a philosopher, Mike seems to have a rather ambiguous attitude toward the truth. Apparently the truth becomes a problem when it might reflect poorly on Dems.
“For a philosopher…”
I know I’m a broken record on this but again…has what that has transpired here over the last ten…or even one or two…years still failed to convince you that this series of dog’s breakfasts has as much in common with philosophy as puppies have with Korean food? As for truth being a problem, here’s some real philosophy for you…
Michael LaBossiere says
We do know exactly what they were doing.
1. Hunter Biden got a job with a company trying to improve its image; he got the job solely because of his last name. While not illegal and business as usual around the world, this is morally problematic for anyone who believes that jobs should be earned on merit. I, as you would probably suspect, see such cashing in on the family name as morally wrong and I would favor laws limiting how relatives and friends of office holders can exploit their connection for personal gain.
2. Joe Biden, along with Republicans and world leaders, pushed Ukraine to fire a corrupt prosecutor who had nothing to do with Hunter Biden.
If you have evidence of anything more, please share it.
The oldest trick in the book is to pay a bribe to a family member.
Mike is often wrong, but never in doubt.
At the time, Shokin’s office was investigating Burisma. Shokin told me he was making plans to question Hunter Biden about $3 million in fees that Biden and his partner, Archer, collected from Burisma through their American firm. Documents seized by the FBI in an unrelated case confirm the payments, which in many months totaled more than $166,000.
Some media outlets have reported that, at the time Joe Biden forced the firing in March 2016, there were no open investigations. Those reports are wrong. A British-based investigation of Burisma’s owner was closed down in early 2015 on a technicality when a deadline for documents was not met. But the Ukraine Prosecutor General’s office still had two open inquiries in March 2016, according to the official case file provided me. One of those cases involved taxes; the other, allegations of corruption. Burisma announced the cases against it were not closed and settled until January 2017.
After I first reported it in a column, the New York Times and ABC News published similar stories confirming my reporting.
Joe Biden has since responded that he forced Shokin’s firing over concerns about corruption and ineptitude, which he claims were widely shared by Western allies, and that it had nothing to do with the Burisma investigation.
Some of the new documents I obtained call that claim into question.
In a newly sworn affidavit prepared for a European court, Shokin testified that when he was fired in March 2016, he was told the reason was that Biden was unhappy about the Burisma investigation. “The truth is that I was forced out because I was leading a wide-ranging corruption probe into Burisma Holdings, a natural gas firm active in Ukraine and Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, was a member of the Board of Directors,” Shokin testified.
I “understand” that this series of posts was about Trump and what a terrible, terrible tyrant he is by the weakest definition of tyranny. Meanwhile actual fascism goes on outside his rallies. And the media and their fellow clowns in academia say nothing and the “police” do nothing. Cry me a fucking river about Trump and his “tyranny”.
The reason I know Trump is not a tyrant is that no one is afraid of him. People were far more afraid of crossing Obama.
Contrast that with Xi Jinping.
Even this soft definition of tyrant, consider “We can’t wait for Congress to do its job, so where they won’t act, I will.” And
Yet Obama still failed but Trump accomplished more in that area without going to those lengths. Contrast that.
Michael LaBossiere says
1. There are people who are very afraid of Trump and his administration. See https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-news/americans-are-absolutely-terrified-of-trump-861686/
2. While the stereotypical tyrant is scary, this is not included in Locke’s account. A tyrant could be charming and feared by none, yet still be exploiting their office.
3. Xi Jinping is a top-tier tyrant.