A Philosopher's Blog

Trump’s Enquiring Rhetoric

Posted in Philosophy, Politics, Reasoning/Logic by Michael LaBossiere on May 4, 2016

As this is being written, Donald Trump is the last surviving Republican presidential candidate. His final opponents, Cruz and Kasich, suspended their campaigns, though perhaps visions of a contested convention still haunt their dreams.

Cruz left the field of battle with a bizarre Trump arrow lodged in his buttocks: Trump had attacked Cruz by alleging that Ted Cruz’ father was associated with Lee Harvey Oswald. The basis for this claim was an article in the National Enquirer, a tabloid that has claimed Justice Scalia was assassinated by a hooker working for the CIA. While this tabloid has no credibility, the fact that Trump used it as a source necessitated an investigation into the claim about Cruz’ father. As should be expected, Politifact ranked it as Pants on Fire. I almost suspect that Trump is trolling the media and laughing about how he has forced them to seriously consider and thoroughly investigate claims that are utterly lacking in evidence (such as his claims about televised celebrations in America after the 9/11 attacks).

When confronted about his claim about an Oswald-Cruz connection, Trump followed his winning strategy: he refused to apologize and engaged in some Trump-Fu as his “defense.” When interviewed on ABC, his defense was as follows:  “What I was doing was referring to a picture reported and in a magazine, and I think they didn’t deny it. I don’t think anybody denied it. No, I don’t know what it was exactly, but it was a major story and a major publication, and it was picked up by many other publications. …I’m just referring to an article that appeared. I mean, it has nothing to do with me.”

This response begins with what appears to be a fallacy: he is asserting that if a claim is not denied, then it is therefore true (I am guessing the “they” is either the Cruz folks or the National Enquirer folks. This can be seen as a variation on the classic appeal to ignorance fallacy. In this fallacy, a person infers that if there is a lack of evidence against a claim, then the claim is true. However, proving a claim requires that there be adequate evidence for the claim, not just a lack of evidence against it. There is no evidence that I do not have a magical undetectable pet dragon that only I can sense. This, however, does not prove that I have such a pet.

While a failure to deny a claim might be regarded as suspicious, not denying a claim is not proof the claim is true. It might not even be known that a claim has been made (so it would not be denied). For example, Kanye West is not denying that he plans to become master of the Pan flute—but this is not proof he intends to do this. It can also be a good idea to not lend a claim psychological credence by denial—some people think that denial of a claim is evidence it is true. Naturally, Cruz did end up denying the claim.

Trump next appears to be asserting the claim is true because it was “major” and repeated. He failed to note the “major” publication is a tabloid that is lacking in credibility. As such, Trump could be seen as engaging in a fallacious appeal to authority. In this case, the National Enquirer lacks the credibility needed to serve as the basis for a non-fallacious argument from authority. Roughly put, a good argument from authority is such that the credibility of the authority provides good grounds for accepting a claim. Trump did not have a good argument from authority.

Trump also uses a fascinating technique of “own and deny.” He does this by launching an attack and then both “owning” and denying it. It is as if he punched Cruz in the face and then said, “it wasn’t me, someone else did the punching. But I will punch Cruz again. Although it wasn’t me.” I am not sure if this is a rhetorical technique or a pathological condition. However, it does allow him the best of both worlds: he can appear tough and authentic by “owning it” yet also appear to not be responsible for the attack. This seems to be quite appealing to his followers, although it is obviously logically problematic: one must either own or deny, both cannot be true.

He also makes use of an established technique:  he gets media attention drawn to a story and then uses this attention to “prove” the story is true (because it is “major” and repeated). While effective, this technique does not prove a claim is true.

Trump was also interviewed on NBC and asked why he attacked Cruz in the face of almost certain victory in Indiana.  In response, he said, “Well, because I didn’t know I had it in the grasp. …I had no idea early in the morning that was — the voting booths just starting — the voting booths were practically not even opened when I made this call. It was a call to a show. And they ran a clip of some terrible remarks made by the father about me. And all I did is refer him to these articles that appeared about his picture. And — you know, not such a bad thing.”

This does provide something of a defense for Trump. As he rightly says, he did not know he would win and he hoped that his attack would help his chances. While the fact that a practice is common does not justify it (this would be the common practice fallacy), Trump seems to be playing within the rules of negative campaigning. That said, the use of the National Enquirer as a source is a new twist as is linking an opponent to the JFK assassination. This is not to say that Trump is acting in a morally laudable manner, just that he is operating within the rules of the game. To use an analogy, while the brutal hits of football might be regarded as morally problematic, they are within the rules of the game. Likewise, such attacks are within the rules of politics.

However, Trump goes on to commit the “two wrongs make a right” fallacy: since bad things were said about Trump, he concludes that he has the right to strike back. While Trump has every right to respond to attacks, he does not have a right to respond with a completely fabricated accusation.

Trump then moves to downplaying what he did and engages in one of his signature moves: he is not really to blame (he just pointed out the articles). So, his defense is essentially “I am just punching the guy back. But, I really didn’t punch him. I just pointed out that someone else punched him. And that punching was not a bad thing.”


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15 Responses

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  1. ajmacdonaldjr said, on May 4, 2016 at 9:10 pm

    National Enquirer Now Legit, According to Pulitzer Prize Board – ABC News – http://abcnews.go.com/Entertainment/national-enquirer-now-legit-pulitzer-prize-board/story?id=9887329
    What Donald Trump might have seen on 9/11. Hint: Not ‘cheering’ Arabs http://politics.blog.ajc.com/2015/11/22/what-donald-trump-might-have-seen-on-911-hint-it-wasnt-cheering-arabs/
    “Slickest Con Man Out of NYC”: Donald Trump Set to Be GOP Nominee Despite Links to Organized Crime… https://youtu.be/MFiiBSmGmWk
    Trump and the Mob: https://www.themarshallproject.org/2016/04/27/trump-and-the-mob#.bqX8DRrXZ
    Roy Cohn: Joe McCarthy’s henchman and Donald Trump’s mentor http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/04/donald-trump-roy-cohn-mentor-joseph-mccarthy-213799
    Trump picked stock fraud felon [Felix Sater] as senior adviser http://apne.ws/1TFnsND
    CIA helps Jewish swindler [Felix Sater] walk: http://www.courthousenews.com/2013/05/14/57593.htm
    ‘Senior Advisor’: Trump and the Man [Felix Sater] Once Linked to the Mob https://youtu.be/0-UvddeBilQ
    “Israel is a Jewish State and it will forever exist as a Jewish State.” ~ Donald Trump
    WikiLeaks — Israel: Promised Land of Organized Crime: https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/09TELAVIV1098_a.html
    Wikipedia — Jewish-American Organized Crime [The Russian Connection]: “In more recent years, Jewish-American organized crime has reappeared in the forms of both Israeli and Jewish-Russian mafia criminal groups. The Soviet and Russian émigré community in New York’s Brighton Beach contains a large Jewish presence. Some of these newer American-based Jewish gangsters, such as Ludwig Fainberg (who has lived in Ukraine, Israel and the United States but never Russia), share more in common culturally with Russia and the Soviet republics than their predecessors such as Meyer Lansky. Israeli mobsters also have had a presence in the United States. The Israeli mafia (such as the Abergil crime family) is heavily involved in ecstasy trafficking in America…” Read more: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jewish-American_organized_crime
    “While the FBI and major media obsess about the Sicilian Mafia (the “Cosa Nostra”) a far more powerful and sinister force is in existence that has controlled most of the globe’s organized crime for at least two decades—the Jewish mafia from Russia (a “Kosher Nostra”). Yet there is not even a desk at the FBI for their crimes, which dwarf those of the Italian gangsters in scope, violence and depth…” Read more: The Judeo-Russian Mafia: The Judeo-Russian Mafia – From the Gulag to Brooklyn to World Dominion – http://www.scribd.com/doc/157885372/The-Judeo-Russian-Mafia-From-the-Gulag-to-Brooklyn-to-World-Dominion

  2. TJB said, on May 4, 2016 at 11:13 pm

    Mike, I think you have gone off the reservation.

  3. TJB said, on May 6, 2016 at 12:02 pm

    “While this tabloid has no credibility…”


    “Credibility” may not be the first word associated with the Enquirer — but it has had some surprising journalistic scoops in years past, including the Gary Hart sex scandal and a number of leads during the O.J. Simpson trial. With the Edwards story, it had some support from mainstream media observers.

    “Had the Enquirer not exercised a very tenacious reporting on this — which we respect in the journalism world, right? — would we not have known that this scandal was occurring?” said Geneva Overholser, director of the school of journalism at the University of Southern California. “Would Edwards perhaps have been nominated [for president]? … I mean, there’s no question the course of history would have been different.”

    But the Enquirer’s reputation is as a scandal sheet that revels in humanity’s foibles. Never mind that such publications have been a mainstay of journalism for more than a century, says Joan Saab, a cultural studies professor at the University of Rochester.

    Indeed, the new respect for the Enquirer is another sign that, in the Internet age, the old divisions between “serious” news and tabloid-style coverage have broken down, Saab says. Levine, the Enquirer’s executive editor, worked for mainstream outlets, including The Associated Press, before moving towards tabloid journalism.


    • WTP said, on May 6, 2016 at 8:04 pm

      Which fallacy is it where one dismisses all reporting from a very unreliable source which actually has been right on a few occasions perusing stories that the supposedly “reliable” news sources have refused to peruse even when those stories are going on right under those “reliable” noses? Perhaps someone should write a book about such. Maybe some “dirty Jew” like Bernard Goldberg will do it. God knows our academics and such are too cowardly to stand up when it really matters.

      • WTP said, on May 7, 2016 at 2:59 pm

        Damn spell check…pursue not peruse…obviously?

    • WTP said, on May 6, 2016 at 10:14 pm

      Hey TJ, have you seen this from other sources? Any thoughts on the Grey Wall?


      • TJB said, on May 7, 2016 at 9:21 am

        Pretty pathetic. Hey Mike, did you know you were being gaslighted by the Obama administration? Now they are laughing about it.

        • WTP said, on May 7, 2016 at 3:02 pm

          Mike wasn’t gas lighted. He’s more like one of the Force Multipliers, though from an academic rather than journalism domain.

        • WTP said, on May 9, 2016 at 5:14 pm

          Hey, TJ…do you like to fish?

          • TJB said, on May 9, 2016 at 9:00 pm

            Yes, but I am not a serious fisherman. I go fishing something like 2-3 times per year.

            • WTP said, on May 10, 2016 at 4:05 am

              Yeah. Same here. It’s a shame to waste all these crickets though.

            • TJB said, on May 10, 2016 at 7:09 am

              True. Lots of bait around here just going to waste.

            • WTP said, on May 11, 2016 at 4:00 pm

              Wonder if he’s sick. A guy with diarrhea of the keyboard now seems to have the train stuck in the tunnel. Can’t recall him ever going this long without a post. Maybe he’s just constipating on a response.

  4. Michael Blackler said, on December 18, 2016 at 12:10 am

    iPhone 6 Case

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