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Repubs won’t defend Trump’s character, because they can’t

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Aristotle defined a form of logical fallacy, Ignoratio elenchi, in which an irrelevant point is offered that has nothing to do with the real issue being debated. Also known as a “red herring” and “the fallacy of distraction,” Ignoratio elenchi frequently shows up in political double-speak; for example, a politician is asked how he will deal with unemployment, and replies, “Unemployment is a serious problem in America. My opponent has no plan to deal with it, but I will create jobs,” blah blah blah. The politician didn’t answer the question; he has no plan; he dodged the question with a red herring to distract the questioner.

Wall Street Journal columnists are adept at the high art of Ignoratio elenchi, and William McGurn in particular employs it on a regular basis, in order to change the subject whenever Donald Trump’s problems arise. On Christmas Day, the paper published his latest, The ‘Stupidity’ of Donald Trump,” in which McGurn lambastes Trump’s critics in the press for continu[ing] to dismiss Mr. Trump as stupid… that Mr. Trump is a very stupid man remains the assumption dominating his press coverage.”

Interesting hypothesis, but it suffers from a major problem: it’s not true. No one is saying that Trump is stupid. Rather, the criticism of him regards his character. This is McGurn’s red herring: he cannot defend Trump’s character (because it is indefensible), so he proffers a shiny object to change the subject.

Ignoratio elenchi.

Trump is not stupid. I doubt that even his fiercest critics suppose that he is. He patently possesses the cunning to be a successful businessman, television personality and politician. He clearly is quick on his feet. He is neither slow-witted nor dull; he is not stupid.

No, the reason why Trump upsets so many Americans—more than half of us—is not because we doubt his intelligence. It’s because his character is deplorable. The man is a moral and ethical catastrophe. Most Republicans know that, even if they won’t admit it publicly. Possibly William McGurn knows that, too. I won’t go through the litany of things Trump has said and done that testify to his moral failings; you’re as aware of them as I. I will say that if William McGurn, or any Republican, expects to be taken seriously, they have to at least address the issue of Trump’s character.

Does character matter in a politician? I think most of us would say it does. When Dr. King referred to “the content of their character,” he was speaking specifically of his “four little children,” but everyone understood that his metaphor was “all of God’s children,” from Stone Mountain to Lookout Mountain, from the heightening Alleghenies to the snowcapped Rockies, from the molehills of Mississippi to the slopes of California.

McGurn and the other sycophants that surround this current president pretend that character doesn’t count. If they admitted that it did, they would have to reject Trump utterly—throw him out with the trash, the way they threw out a man who really did possess a sterling character, Barack Obama. But Republicans will never criticize Trump’s character, because they themselves lack character. They must defend him, because he is defending their political and economic interests. And so we have the likes of McGurn, throwing out red herrings, defending Trump against things no one is asserting, distracting, trying to change the subject. Ignoratio elenchi. It will be interesting to see how they attempt to red-herring their way out of Mueller’s report, which will almost certainly damage Trump, and make defending his character even harder.

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SPEAKING OF STUPID, how’s this headline in last Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal: “More Educated Women Favor Democrats.” Yes, it turns out that the more education women have, the more they vote Democratic. Now, why would that be? Could it be because educated people are smarter than uneducated people? And does that imply that dumber people vote Republican? Just asking…

 

  1. I have not been seeing comments to your recent posts. So my comment here is to just say I am reading them and appreciate them. Your insights (like in this post) are spot on.

  2. Thanks Bill. I appreciate that!

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