As this was being written, it was announced that the G-7 summit would be held at Trump’s Miami golf resort. Once again, his defenders have been tasked with explaining why this obvious exploitation of his office and clear violation of the emoluments clause is actually perfectly normal and fine. This adds yet another example in support of the claim that Trump is a tyrant. Trump will simply enrich himself and his family at the expense of the public while providing nothing for the public good. This is a clear case of tyrannical behavior. Now back to the discussion of fallacious responses to the argument by definition that Trump is a tyrant.
Since the Red Herring fallacy is so common, it is no surprise that Trump’s defenders press it into service. A Red Herring is a fallacy in which an irrelevant topic is presented in order to divert attention from the original issue. The basic idea is to “win” an argument by leading attention away from the argument and to another topic. This sort of “reasoning” has the following form:
1. Topic A is under discussion.
2. Topic B is introduced under the guise of being relevant to topic A (when topic B is not relevant to topic A).
3. Topic A is abandoned.
This sort of “reasoning” is fallacious because merely changing the topic of discussion hardly counts as an argument against a claim. This fallacy is often used in conjunction with the similar Two Bad fallacy. This fallacy has the following form:
1. Premises 1: A has done X, which is bad.
2. Premise 2: A (or a defender of A) points out that B has also done X.
3. Conclusion: A doing X was not bad.
This reasoning is fallacious because the fact that someone else has done the same thing does not make it not bad. This fallacy is like Two Wrongs; in Two Wrongs the “reasoning” is that something wrong is not wrong if someone else would or has done it to you. The difference is that this fallacy does not require that the other person would or has done the action to you. It is also somewhat like Common Practice, which justifies something by asserting it is commonly done. The difference is that Two Bad does not involve saying that the practice is common, just that someone else did it as well.
So, how do Trump and Trump’s defenders use these fallacies to try to defend Trump? To illustrate, I will use the famous Obama Netflix example. Trump is understandably enraged at the Mueller Report—it details his many crimes and misdeeds while carefully asserting that a sitting president cannot be indicted. While the report had but little impact beyond enraging Trump, he has endeavored to distract attention from it to someone else—specifically he has called for an investigation of President Obama for his book deal and Netflix deal. Looked at as a Red Herring, this is simply an effort to switch the subject from Trump’s massive self-enriching corruption to Obama’s profiting from his time in office.
While it is true that Obama has profited nicely from the book deal and will presumably profit from his Netflix deal, these are irrelevant to the issue of whether Trump is engaged in corruptly enriching himself. Trump’s approach can also be seen as a False Equivalence as well: while Obama is profiting from his book deal and will profit from the Netflix deal, both of these are legal and within the moral norms (Bush also signed a book deal). More importantly, while Obama is profiting from being president, he is doing so while he is no longer in office. While there are moral concerns with exploiting past office in this manner, these concerns pale in comparison with corruption while in office. Hence, this is just another attempt at a False Equivalency.
Trump and his defenders can also be seen as attempting a Two Bad here as well; by pointing to Obama’s deals, Trump can try to assert that his financial exploitation of the office for his and his family’s enrichment is not bad. His “logic” would be that his deals are not bad because Obama also did deals that were bad. Even if Obama’s deals were morally wrong, it would obviously not follow that Trump’s corruption is not bad. As such, trying to defend Trump against a charge of tyranny by asserting that other people do bad things as well would commit either a Red Herring or a Two Bad (or both). Thus, this defense has no logical merit. This is not to deny that other people do bad things or assert that there is nothing wrong with people exploiting their office after they leave—but those are utterly different matters.
Mike, I suspect the taxpayers are getting a bargain. Isn’t this really what is important?
Michael LaBossiere says
That not relevant, unless Trump is donating the place for free. If I were to give my students a bargain on my books that I compel them to buy, I am still doing wrong. If I hand them out for free, then no problem.
in any case, I don’t think it will happen.
Michael LaBossiere says
Not now; because someone probably convinced Trump that the crime would be bad for him somehow.
I am not a Trump fan, but I really don’t see that he is very dangerous to the U.S. He is a total narcissist, but he is keeping us out of war and the economy is good. He likes the U.S. more or less as it is, as do I.
I am much more fearful of someone like Elizabeth Warren, who wants to make deep structural changes.
Michael LaBossiere says
Well, he is doing his best (which is not much) to undermine American alliances (NATO, etc.), corrupting the government, and so on. Russia could not hope for a better friend.
Mike, please read the following from a fellow traveler
Yes, the Democratic party, the media, and the academic world (BIRM) hyperventilating about the Russians. After “Tell Vladamir I’ll have more flexibility (on nuclear missile defense) after the election” and Hillary’s “reset button” and Ted Kennedy’s offer to help Andropov to shackle Reagan and American forces under Trump wiping out an entire company of Russian soldiers. After decades of the Democrats, the media, and the academic world (BIRM) mocking Joe McCarthy (who actually did catch a commie or two) and virtually any Republican since then up to the conclusion of the cold war for being obsessed with the Russians. And now Tulsi Gabbard, the closest thing to sanity left in the Democratic party, is being called out as being a Russian asset, not by Republicans mind you, and not by some obscure back bencher but by the very same candidate that the Democrats nominated and who actually somehow won a plurality of votes in the last presidential election.
Give me a fucking break. Were this not reality, it would be a bad 1970’s movie farce. And this is what passes for “thinking” in modern America. It’s a clown show, and increasingly a dangerous one. And it should be called out for it. In no uncertain terms.
As for the accusations against how-was-I-to-know-she-was-with-the-Russians-too Gabbard, this to me is a huge indication that if this country doesn’t get a clue and get one pretty quick, it’ll take a whole lot more than lawyers, guns, and money to get us out of this.
Michael LaBossiere says
That sounded so crazy I had to check a couple sources; but seems legit.
Clinton doesn’t seem to have provided any evidence to back up her claims; maybe she does believe them-but she seems to have no justification. Making such wild assertions sort of makes her a Russian asset–Trump’s defenders can now point to crazy Hillary and laugh away the piles of evidence about real Russian activity in the United States.
The statement that “Trump is a Tyrant” is patently absurd in and of itself. We have a tri-cameral system of government with three equal branches – and like so many presidents before him Trump faces a Democrat Congress who, not satisfied with merely blocking nearly every action he seeks to take, but is eager to initiate investigations and bring charges against him for whatever they think they can throw at the wall and make it stick.
As for the executive orders and decrees he has made since his election, many of these have been held up or blocked in federal courts, or at least been forced to have been modified.
Politically speaking, Trump is not nearly as powerful a president as he would like to be, or as he probably imagined he would be.
He doesn’t hold back when it comes to angry tweets, bluster, self-aggrandizement or threats. Perhaps this is a shortcoming of his, or maybe it’s all part of the plan – but the Constitution still rules; his power is limited in the same way as his predecessors; I’d even say that the visceral hatred of the man and the willingness of his detractors to go to such great lengths to depose him limit his power even more.
As for your accusations – it’s really interesting how you are so quick to scrutinize what you perceive as the “arguments of Trump supporters” by applying your brand of logic to them, yet you treat the accusations themselves as being inherently true, without scrutiny, without a single critical thought, and certainly without benefit of the test of a legal challenge.
“Once again, his defenders have been tasked with explaining why this obvious exploitation of his office and clear violation of the emoluments clause is actually perfectly normal and fine.”
There is no “clear violation of the emoluments clause”. This is an opinion, and if it ever grew into an actual charge, it would be tested in court. Not in your world, though, and not in the world that increasingly likes to ruin people before they have had the opportunity to explain or defend their actions. Nor is this an “obvious exploitation of his office”.
According to the White House, Trump stated that he would make the Doral available for the G-7 at no cost, if it was legal”. He then said that he would make it available at cost, and further stated that if there were any profit made, he would gladly donate this to the US Treasury.
The White House also made the claim that the Doral was “the perfect place” for a summit like this; a claim that is difficult to refute; Trump properties are known for their luxury, their amenities, and their attention to detail. And hosting the G-7 at a luxury resort is not without precedent for the United States.
But maybe because he’s “Donald Trump”, or maybe because we in the US are just too cynical regardless, Trump was pressured to back off of this selection, and will announce a more “Politically Correct” venue in the next few days, I suppose.
I have to wonder, though, how the selection of this property would have been received had it been made by a different president. The optics certainly would be different. But what if this president had engaged in some hard-ball negotiations to pressure the Doral into offering their services at cost, or at no cost?
No doubt speculations would run wild, as they are now. Some would accuse the government of being too heavy-handed, that it was unfair of them to force a private company to offer them a discount – and what were they afraid of? An IRS audit? Others, of course, would direct their attention to the company – what’s in it for them? What “insider corruption” is in place that got them this plum contract in the first place?
Perhaps most absurd is this statement:
“Trump will simply enrich himself and his family at the expense of the public while providing nothing for the public good. This is a clear case of tyrannical behavior.”
First of all, “at the expense of the public while providing nothing for the public good” is a very bizarre way of looking at this. The “expense of the public” is a foregone conclusion – the US is obliged to host the G-7, and the public will pay for it regardless of where it is held. As for “enriching himself and his family”, well, he was never given the opportunity to demonstrate whether his offer of “at cost” or “at no cost”, or to donate profits to the US Treasury was genuine or not – but that doesn’t matter to the mainstream media, the anti-Trump pundits, the Facebook crowd, or “A Philosopher’s Blog”. No documentation necessary, no explanation needed or desired. We know what he is, right? Very incisive logic.
But the most absurd part of this is the one we can arrive at by inductive, rather than deductive reasoning. Donald Trump knows damn well how to make money. He’s been doing it all his life. His detractors, of course, will accuse him of cheating on his taxes or violating some moral code by declaring bankruptcies or taking advantage of loopholes or foreign investments or not paying his bills – but whether or not he is actually guilty of any of that is beside the point – The man knows how to make a profit”.
To seek the presidency in order to enrich oneself in the way he is charged – by exploiting his position to direct business to his properties, for a man like Trump is a seriously bad business decision.
There is no world in which it would make any sense at all for him to subject himself to even half the scrutiny he is subject to today, and think he can turn some kind of profit in this way. You may argue (correctly) that revenues at some of his properties have increased by virtue of his use of them to host dignitaries, diplomats, and affairs of State, but those revenues don’t come close to the kinds of profits this man is capable of making in the cutthroat world of business without the burden of Public Office.
As much as you hate the man, you have to accept that Trump is smart enough to know how a controversial presidency could hurt the brand he has cultivated over his life. He, of course, will claim that the presidency has cost him billions, and we can pretty easily assume that that’s a pretty broad exaggeration, but in sum, the revenue increases at some of his properties don’t offset the costs he has borne. According to Jeremy Vinook in The Atlantic after Trump’s first 100 days –
“On Wednesday, the restaurant Koi announced that it will be closing its location in Trump SoHo, one of the president’s properties in New York City. As Suzanne Chou, the general counsel for the pan-Asian chain, told the food blog Grub Street, “The restaurant is closing because business is down.” Though Chou didn’t explicitly identify the reason for decline, her answer suggests that backlash to Trump’s presidency may be to blame: “I would prefer not to speculate as to why, but obviously since the election it’s gone down.”
“Koi’s departure from Trump SoHo isn’t the only sign that Trump’s politics may be damaging his businesses. On Tuesday, after a USA Today investigation into a sudden surge of anonymous condo purchases at Trump’s Las Vegas property, the Chicago Tribune noted that Chicago’s Trump International Tower is facing the opposite problem: People just don’t seem to be interested in moving in. Demand is down not only relative to previous years—the average time on the market for a unit has increased by more than 50 days compared to the six months preceding the election—but also compared to surrounding properties: 10.7 percent of the tower’s units are on the market, more than double the vacancy rate of comparable nearby buildings.:
Again, we can argue the finer points of this and compare numbers – but the point is that to expect to be able to exploit the presidency in order to increase one’s wealth, at least for a guy like Trump who has far more other opportunities to do so, would be an incredibly stupid business decision, and one that is highly unlikely for a guy like him to make.
It is a much more reasonable assumption to believe that Trump, who has been in the hospitality business for decades, considers himself to be the consummate host, and truly believed that the Doral is, as he phrased it, practically built for a meeting of this kind”. Add to this his ability to control the costs, the amenities, the service, the security – it is a perfect opportunity, even if he makes no money.
He just miscalculated the optics, and the politics of it.
To me, it’s far more believable that Trump will screw up on optics and politics than he will in turning a profit.
Take another look.
There’s another point that I’d like to make, which is that the premises you are assuming are false. You have built a tidy little case about “False Equivalency” and “Red Herring” and torn them down as being logical fallacies – but the placement of the various pro-Trump or anti-Left positions into your syllogisms is really just a figment of your imagination.
None of these arguments, none of the accusations, none of any of it is intended to be a counter-argument to the “Trump is a Tyrant” trope. To insert them into your syllogisms in order to disparage the intellect of the opposition is specious; worse, it exposes a disrespect for the common sense of the rest of us “great unwashed”. We who know nothing of formal logic or philosophy simply know better, and your credentials do not sway us. Rather, it puts your credentials into question.
Trump, as we know, is being accused of exerting pressure on the Ukraine government for his own political ends.
The White House, and the political right, have been strident in their accusations of Joe Biden, the Obama administration, and the Clinton campaign for doing exactly the same thing.
But for you to conflate the two and try to convince anyone that the efforts by the right are in any way being used in the way you present is imaginative – but without merit.
“Cum hoc ergo propter hoc”
Given the way Washington operates, and the way in which Trump plays that game, I think it’s a far more reasonable conclusion that this is a case of political hardball – “Bring it on”, says the right, “But be prepared for the consequences – because we will come after you in spades”.
As I write this, there is mounting evidence that the case against Trump is quite weak, whereas the one against the Clinton campaign, Joe Biden, and the Obama Administration expose a “quid-pro-quo” political culture of corruption that has existed since the country established its independence in 1991. Politico reports that
“Ukrainian government officials tried to help Hillary Clinton and undermine Trump by publicly questioning his fitness for office. They also disseminated documents implicating a top Trump aide in corruption and suggested they were investigating the matter, only to back away after the election. And they helped Clinton’s allies research damaging information on Trump and his advisers”
Once again, “Cum hoc ergo propter hoc”
Is there anyone who actually believes that this developing story is intended to address the accusations of Trump vis a vis his phone call with Zelenskiy? Given the transcript of the phone call and Zelenskiy’s on-the-record comments, and given the suspicious-if-not-criminal nature of the Schiff probe, the political bias of the CIA-connected “whistleblower” and the unprecedented secrecy of the impeachment discussion, I’d say that to try to include this story as such is not only unnecessary, but exactly as you say – fallacious and illogical.
I suppose that it would be overly idealistic to presume that the Trump administration is merely doing what the Obama administration should have done, i.e., rooting out foreign interference in our election process regardless of the outcome, but that thought definitely has a ring of truth to it if you remove the word “merely” from the equation. It’s high time that this sort of corruption is addressed.
But the point is that to my knowledge, there is no source, no article, no politician nor pundit who is making the claim that Trump is innocent because Biden is guilty. I think you’d like us to believe that, because it fits your own narrative – but I’d challenge you to provide any sort of evidence that this is an official, or even widespread belief. Don’t forget – the narrative that is being presented by the White House and the right in general is carefully vetted by lawyers and politicians who have just as much classical education as you. They are not stupid. The easy and obvious answer is that while both barrels are being unloaded, the connections you draw simply do not exist,.
I’m a pretty cynical person when it comes to our government. During the Obama administration, it baffled me as to why the Republicans failed to expose the egregious abuses of the power of the presidency – the overuse of executive orders, the arm-twisting and political pressures employed in the passage of Obamacare, the use of the IRS as a weapon against political enemies, and the refusal to investigate the allegations of corruption and abuse of power against Hillary Clinton and the Clinton Foundation – to name but a few examples.
To conclude that none of this abuse or corruption existed seemed a little “Pollyanna” to me. It’s much more reasonable to accept that politicians are generally corrupt, dishonest individuals who are willing to compromise whatever moral or ethical standards they claim to uphold, and that there must be some other reason that meaningful investigation into this corruption and malfeasance is curtailed or halted. The culture of “quid pro quo” is a given in Washington politics – but how much of this is for the public benefit, and how much is self-serving?
So why would the Republicans not pursue the allegations of abuse against the Democrats?
I think that the answer is twofold. The first is that they are probably just as guilty, and have sins of their own that they prefer to remain undisclosed. The second is that whatever excesses the Democrats can get away with just might be available to the Republicans in the next. It’s a delicate political balance – expose as much as you can to disparage your opponents enough to win the next election, but not so much that they’ll want to retaliate. And the cycle perpetuates.
Enter Trump. One of the reasons he was elected is that he simply does not give a shit about any of this. Washington didn’t know what to do with him. During the Republican primaries of 2016, I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed his being there – I did not support him, I didn’t think he had a chance in hell of winning the primary let alone the election, but I thought that what he was saying was something that America needed to hear.
But to everyone’s surprise, he got himself elected, and America (and especially the left-wing) doesn’t know what to do about that.
So Trump is, by Washington standards, a “loose cannon”. And the way to deal with a loose cannon like that is to get rid of him – to disparage him, to destroy his credibility, to turn the public against him, to impeach him – before he has the opportunity to do any harm to the status quo. Hence “pussy hats”, the “Russian Collusion” investigation and the Mueller report, the double-secret behind-closed-doors impeachment proceedings, and the incessant “White Supremacist”, “Racist”, “Islamophobe” and dozens of other personal attacks that have fomented so much hatred and distaste of him.
After all, who knows what he’ll do? He clearly doesn’t think he has anything to lose.
And so now we find out.
The left, in their unbridled glee at the smallest hint of corruption on the part of Trump and his administration/campaign, hints that in any other administration or campaign would be routinely ignored, have let their political guard down. They have overestimated their own ability to undermine his credibility, influence, and power – and have opened the doors to political retaliation that they are unprepared to handle. Because (A) Donald Trump promised to “drain the swamp” in Washington, and (B) he simply does not give a shit who he takes down.
Maybe Trump expected the same kind of latitude granted other presidents when he took office, but it’s doubtful he expected the level of attack he has gotten. And now there’s a war; the gloves are off, and Trump has far less to lose than his opposition – he can just go back to being a billionaire, but they are invested deeply in the culture of corruption.
So we have a horse race. Can they impeach him before he can do too much damage? Or will he be able to expose enough of the culture of corruption as to destroy the credibility of those who seek to destroy him? Or will there be some kind of behind-the-scenes detente?
You can call it war, you can call it “scorched earth”, you can call it political hardball – but the one thing that it is not is “logic”.
Heh. Two excellent rebuttals. A shame the substance of each will, yet again, be ignored. Because, as previously stated, “Trump’s defenders have nothing to offer but lies, exaggerations and the fallacy of false equivalence here.” So, umm…you lie.
See you simply don’t listen when Mike uses words like “obviously” and “utterly different”. There’s really no discussion to be had. Now off with you, peasant.
1. Premise 1: A has done X, which is bad.
2. Premise 2: A (or a defender of A) points out that B has also done X.
3. Conclusion: A doing X was not bad.
Agreed that this conclusion is fallacious, if anyone ever actually came to this conclusion.
1. Premises 1: A has done X, which is bad.
2. Premise 2: B has also done X.
3. Conclusion: When choosing between A and B, X counts equally against both.
That is not a fallacy, and it is the more common conclusion.
And more accurately still, T and B have been accused of doing X under differing circumstances to different degrees, if at all. The circumstances presumed of B are much, much clearer and blatant, some as stated by B himself as if they were something to be proud of, than the insinuations of T doing X. Quid pro quo often being hard to prove without some degree of inference. Also note that it is T’s job to investigate and possibly prosecute B for having done X. Thus with T asking presumed victim U of both B and T’s presumed crime of X for help with information or evidence of B doing X can quite easily be construed as T doing X with a wink and a nod, even when done in the context of T simply doing his job.
Not that the evidence against both B and T isn’t tied up in disinformation, innuendo, smoke, mirrors, etc. Which being all the more reason for T to ask U for clear information regarding B doing X. Because, again, it’s T’s job.
Speaking in the abstract, of course. could apply to any B or T perpetrating an X to exploit any U that you can think of. Obviously. Anyone who disagrees with my analysis has nothing to offer but lies, exaggerations and the fallacy of false equivalence. Quia Ego Sic Dico. Now move along, peasant.
Michael LaBossiere says
Your second argument is, as you note, not a fallacy. But I would disagree that people do not regularly conclude that what their side did was not bad because the other side did the same thing. Think about what people say to justify actions war or even petty wrong doing (“That person cut me off, what an ass…so I am right to cut him off now!”).