Deconstruction part 1

A couple weeks ago a woman I love and admire very much posted this article. I enjoy reading her thoughts as we occupy very different space on the political spectrum but I respect her process and recognize we start with very different core values. I was shocked and dismayed however, that this piece spoke to her and she saw it as a logical piece of work.

In order to work through my own response and provide a coherent rebuttal I have written this deconstruction.

The italics denote my analysis (also as a ‘trained persuader’) of how he is presenting his ‘case’ in a less-than-straightforward manner and is instead appealing to fear, manipulative tactics, and dog whistle politics to garner support. I have linked to the most obvious and relevant logical fallacies at the end of each for those more interested in arming themselves against lazy analysis and argumentation.

I have also included a more straightforward response, engaging directly with the points afterwards.

We have deep divisions in this country that must be resolved if we are to move forward. It is important that we be honest and straightforward when discussing them. Disagreement in itself is not bad, but how we present it, how we engage with it, and how we resolve it should be the focus of our democratic project if we are ever to ‘make America great again.’

 

 

SA: As a trained persuader, I’m seeing a dangerous situation forming that I assume is invisible to most of you.

He gives himself authority and then makes a statement implying that alternative analysis is because we are not as experienced or intelligent as him.

Logic Fallacy: appeal to authority: You said that because an authority thinks something, it must therefore be true. 

Response: I am also a trained persuader, and have spent a lot of time teaching others to persuade. Lesson number one is that every persuader should rely on one’s argument, logic, analysis, and evidence, not personal history or accolades.

 

 

SA: The setup is that during the presidential campaign Trump’s critics accused him of being Hitler(ish) and they were sure other citizens would see it too, thus preventing this alleged monster from taking office. They were wrong. The alleged monster took office.

Characterizing history as a setup is in itself a setup. This construct is a classic tool of projection, usually employed to manipulate or gaslight. By eliding these two sentences he implies ‘wrongness’ about two ideas when in fact we were only wrong about one.

 Logical Fallacy: composition/division: You assumed that one part of something has to be applied to all, or other, parts of it; or that the whole must apply to its parts. 

Response: I think he is a monster. I think someone who is sexually predatory and sees women as objects is not a good person. I think someone who uses disproportionate power to refuse payment to small businesses that employ others after the work has been completed to be lacking in morals. I think those are rational and reasonable beliefs based on history, evidence and empirically-based facts. I also think he won according to the rules of the game. I was wrong and I am not ashamed to admit it. I believed that mocking those less powerful, demeaning and threatening violence, and demonstrating an unwillingness to learn important information to effectively execute the office of president would effectively disqualify him in the minds of the majority in all states. It did not, and he won the electoral college fairly, which in our system is the only measure that matters. He was legitimately elected president. He is still a monster, and now the monster is currently the most powerful person in the world. I’m not sorry I believed the goodness of people, just disappointed in where we got to.

 

 

SA: Now you have literally millions of citizens in the United States who were either right about Trump being the next Hitler, and we will see that behavior emerge from him soon, or they are complete morons. That’s a trigger for cognitive dissonance.

This is a deeply problematic dichotomy which bears examination.

Logical Fallacy: black-or-white: You presented two alternative states as the only possibilities, when in fact more possibilities exist.

Logical Fallacy: begging the question: You presented a circular argument in which the conclusion was included in the premise. 

Response: This is reductive, inflammatory, and disingenuous. Targeting a specific religion and taking away their basic civil liberties as a precursor to making them second-class citizens is exactly how Hitler began. I am in no way saying that he is or will become Hitler, what I am saying is that to imply that behavior might emerge is to whitewash a pretty shocking 10 days of American history. This is definitional gaslighting.

For the record: I have been called a moron before. I have called myself moronic often and sometimes I am. Here’s the thing: I LOVE being wrong. I love it because it means I’ve learned something or the world changed a little from what I expected. I would love to be wrong in this instance. But, how DJT has behaved since taking office terrifies me as much as it disappoints. It is even more shocking the blasé acceptance of a clear double standard when evaluating the behavior of this president.  I believe in the power of this country and I genuinely hoped that the weight of that office would impress on him the duties he signed up to execute but he is not a leader. He isn’t quite Hitler (yet), he is certainly no Lincoln.

In a society that is stretched to breaking point, crying for leadership of any kind, divided by contempt and misunderstanding, he made it demonstrably worse. When tensions are high, and it is important to be the best example of us, instead of creating coalitions, or finding words that heal our divisions, we spend our days at the mercy of his whims and based on how he reacts to the television he watches instead of reading briefings on military operations.

 

SA: The science says these frightened folks will start interpreting all they see as Hitler behavior no matter how ridiculous it might seem to the objective observer.

This is an appeal to authority without the opportunity to interrogate that source which is problematic as a foundation for equal discourse. He names ‘The science’, without citation, a critical element of rational debate founded on an empirical basis. He invites those who agree with him into his camp of ‘objective observers’, thereby implying that only subjective observers would see something different and they are ‘ridiculous’. This sentence is analogous to historical statements that lay the foundation for repression of dissent.

Logical Fallacy: tu quoque: You avoided having to engage with criticism by turning it back on the accuser – you answered criticism with criticism.

Response: I don’t think the analogies to history are completely ridiculous, (neither does this german historian) although I believe we are approaching hysteria on a number of levels across the spectrum. I would caution that inflammatory pieces like this are more likely to make that occur. I think having contempt for the other side makes all of that worse.

 

SA: And sure enough, we are seeing that. To be fair, Trump made it easy this week with his temporary immigration ban. If you assume Trump is Hitler, that fits with your hypothesis. But of course it also fits the hypothesis that he’s just doing his job.  We’re all seeing what we expect to see.

This is classic dog-whistle. Depending on the position you occupy in society this statement will mean widely different things. ‘That’ in the first sentence is deliberately vague. Appealing to rationality in the face of confirmation bias would be a more convincing argument if this article was balanced. This dichotomy is also problematic.

 Logical Fallacy: no true scotsman: You made what could be called an appeal to purity as a way to dismiss relevant criticisms or flaws of your argument.

Response: ‘Temporary immigration ban’ deeply underestimates the impact of this policy on both micro and macro levels. We have already seen innocents denied access to medical care, to loved ones, to studies, and jobs and lives. I can attest that being held in limbo is a special kind of torture and is not an incidental issue to each person impacted. On the macro level, it does not improve security at home, and increases our risks abroad. It offends many allies, and undermines principles that have been sacred to our country since it’s founding. I don’t assume Trump is Hitler. I’m watching carefully to see what kind of leader and president he will be. I also don’t believe he is doing his job. His job is to lead the whole country, the people who agree with him and the people who don’t. For every negative comparison to Obama I will reply: Obama didn’t marginalize, Obama didn’t belittle, Obama didn’t ignore. Obama was not perfect, be he took seriously the job of serving and representing every single citizen of this country and in less than a week DJT has confirmed the hypothesis that he has no intention of doing the same. He has not brought us together. He has not improved our security. He has not improved our standing abroad. He has brought the federal government into conflict with state and local jurisdictions. He has supported the undoing of our health provisions with no alternative, and vowed to save taxpayers a whole 30 dollars a year by eliminating programs demonstrated to lift up those most in need, and the programs that support the foundations of our ongoing experiment with democracy. He has gotten into bed with Pharma and he has shored up the gates to the swamp while filling the pond with ‘gators.

 

SA: But lately I get the feeling that Trump’s critics have evolved from expecting Trump to be Hitler to preferring it. Obviously they don’t prefer it in a conscious way. But the alternative to Trump becoming Hitler is that they have to live out the rest of their lives as confirmed morons.

This is abusive. This is the equivalent of ‘She asked for it.’ Because she was drunk, or didn’t do the dishes or a million other excuses. Claiming to have insight into the mind and psyche of a group for which you clearly demonstrate contempt is a difficult argument to support. 

Fallacy: Gaslighting

Logical Fallacy: strawman: You misrepresented someone’s argument to make it easier to attack. 

Response: Are you kidding me? I think I have a pretty good handle on my own emotions and desires, thanks. Who the heck are you to assume you know me better than I know myself? How arrogant do you have to be to think that is a subject on which you are more well versed than I? Also, more generally, why would anyone WANT him to be Hitler? Unless we all have a massive death-wish? More likely that this a psychological projection. There is a lot of that going around.

You can keep calling me a moron, but it doesn’t change my ability to observe the world rationally, to gather information from a variety of sources, to check my own assumptions and biases and still conclude that he is a terrible president with dangerous instincts and ill-informed actions. I don’t work within your reductive confines, and I am happy to admit when I am wrong without shame. I’d rather be wrong sometimes and learn than be close-minded and not consider new information as it arises.

 

SA: No one wants to be a confirmed moron. And certainly not after announcing their Trump opinions in public and demonstrating in the streets. It would be a total embarrassment for the anti-Trumpers to learn that Trump is just trying to do a good job for America. It’s a threat to their egos. A big one.

Admitting we are wrong is hard, its why ‘trained persuaders’ often set up the conversation in such a way they can avoid that possibility altogether. Again, ascribing a reaction to the other side that there is no basis for but allows him to characterize the other side as petty, small and ego-driven.

Logical Fallacy: ad hominem: You attacked your opponent’s character or personal traits in an attempt to undermine their argument.

Response: I wouldn’t have been embarrassed if Trump had done a good job. I would have been relieved. After the last three weeks I can say that either he isn’t trying to do a good job for all Americans (an important note), or he is REALLY bad at it. I am proud to be American, and want us to be the best we can. I remember when truth, honor, integrity and justice were our national values. We had a historical narrative of helping up those behind us, and standing up for those in need. I miss those days, and wish we could get them back. I want us all to grow again, to return to the days of optimism and productivity, but I don’t want to do that by shutting the doors and pulling the ladder up behind us. We must be honest about where we are, where we’ve been, and what we are each willing to do to begin again to make our shared home better.

I learned in corporate life that there are three kinds of approaches to doing a job: spend your time and energy working to BE really good at your job; spend your time and energy working to LOOK GOOD at your job; spend your time and energy working to MAKE OTHERS LOOK BAD so you can look good in comparison. I know who I respected most and who I wanted to be in that list. I know who was driven by ego.

 

SA: And this gets me to my point. When millions of Americans want the same thing, and they want it badly, the odds of it happening go way up. You can call it the power of positive thinking. It is also the principle behind affirmations. When humans focus on a desired future, events start to conspire to make it happen.

I’m not talking about any new-age magic. I’m talking about ordinary people doing ordinary things to turn Trump into an actual Hitler. For example, if protesters start getting violent, you could expect forceful reactions eventually. And that makes Trump look more like Hitler.

Saying that ‘this is the point’ re embeds the idea that the previous statements were all neutral ground-work and that this is the only argument he is making when in fact the framing and phrasing of this piece has been making a point since the first sentence. In this construction DJT is untouchable. If Trump acts like Hitler it is only in response to my protest, removing the only means I have to speak up if he does act like Hitler, and undermining any argument I might make before I begin.

Logical Fallacy: begging the question: You presented a circular argument in which the conclusion was included in the premise.

Response: If Trump ‘turns into an actual Hitler’ it will be because he made a choice to do so. I would be interested to hear what Jews and Gypsies, and homosexuals, and public intellectuals did to ‘create’ Hitler. The reality is that DJT has moved towards propaganda and repression from day one. Firing the Attorney General for defending the Constitution should make that pretty clear. Our system is designed for loyalty to the founding documents codified through history and custom for a relatively short period of time. I don’t believe the Framers had an idea for ‘alternative facts’ but Websters seems to have a pretty strong definition of what a ‘fact’ is, and it’s pretty concrete.

This reverse logic is what is causing me cognitive dissonance. Most history and social science would agree that increasing repression on those protesting doesn’t tend to do so well. Ask F. W. de Klerk. Protesters usually do so because they have been disenfranchised from traditional democratic mechanisms (like being purged from voter rolls, undue burdens for registration and/ or voting lines 6 hours long) There is ample evidence of that in myriad ways for many of the people who are speaking out. Many of the others are allies- using their privilege and positions to support the ideology that everyone’s voice should be heard.

 

SA: I can think of dozens of ways the protesters could cause the thing they are trying to prevent. In other words, they can wish it into reality even though it is the very thing they are protesting. In the 3rd dimension of persuasion, the protesters need to be proven right, and they will do whatever it takes to make that happen. So you might see the protesters inadvertently create the police state they fear.

Giving the protestors total responsibility while DJT attempts to steal total power is problematic. This construction implies that the future hinges on protestors alone, thereby avoiding the potential that DJT could also prevent this. In fact, each side has autonomous actors, and the reality is that one has much more power than the other. The only person with the power to create a police state is DJT and his administration. He could also choose not to.

Logical Fallacy: begging the question: You presented a circular argument in which the conclusion was included in the premise. 

Response: This may be a radical idea, but I think we should judge DJT against the actions of previous presidents and our highest expectations for a leader. We have had protests (quiet virulent ones) in the past and we have never needed to resort to the kinds of repression that DJT is implying. Democracy means our leader must convince a majority of the populace, they should not coerce, that is the purview of authoritarians.

Again, this is a largely manipulative and abusive construction. This is the logic that says a woman didn’t fight hard enough, or contain herself enough, and if she had just stayed in line she would not have been raped or abused or disenfranchised. I personally think we should tell those committing crimes that they should not do so, instead of teaching already-threatened groups that they must always fear. We should tell boys ‘just don’t rape people, ever’ and we should tell DJT ‘there is no justification for a police-state in the United States, ever.’

 

SA: If you are looking for the tells that this dangerous situation is developing, notice how excited/happy the Trump critics seem to be – while angry at the same time – that Trump’s immigration ban fits their belief system. If you see people who are simply afraid of Trump, they are probably harmless. But the people who are excited about any Hitler-analogy-behavior by Trump might be leading the country to a police state without knowing it. So watch for that.

This is a contradictory statement, again, seemingly to blame protestors for potential future aggression by those against whom they protest. This is another version of divide to conquer.

Logical Fallacy: the texas sharpshooter: You cherry-picked a data cluster to suit your argument, or found a pattern to fit a presumption.

Response: This is the exact kind of argument used to justify repressive measures by an authoritarian state.

 

 

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