University professors normally expect that every graduate be at least marginally acquainted with elementary logic. For me, as a retired professor, it is especially odd that the current president of the United States can be so blithely indifferent to these well-established rules of correct inference. Even stranger, perhaps, is that neither the press nor the public ever calls him out specifically for such an inexcusable and consequential failing.
Known formally as post hoc, ergo propter hoc, or simply post hoc, this reasoning error maintains simplistically that because one selected event just happens to be followed by another, the second event (here, economic and stock market growth) is a verifiably direct effect of the first (in this case, the 2016 election).
A post hoc argument is invariably fallacious because it discounts all other potentially relevant factors. More precisely, Trump’s claim of credit in this case is unwarranted because it falsely assumes that all other conceivably influential factors have somehow remained constant.
A second major Trump manipulation of elementary logic has to do with this president’s undiminished and persistently illegitimate association of brute force with both truth and efficacy. Known formally as the argumentum ad baculum(appeal to force), it is committed by Trump whenever he substitutes pure coercion or threats of force for analytic reason in justifying a predetermined conclusion.
A third notable fallacy of Trump’s daily (or hourly) communications has taken a variety of nuanced or different forms, but is still generally known as the argumentum ad hominem. Here, the president tries to make his point by intentionally sidestepping the inherent logic and reasonableness of his pertinent “opponent” (virtually all subject persons are at best “opponents”) and then relies entirely upon discrediting him as a person.
For example, when Trump sought to counter Sen. Richard Blumenthal’s, D-Conn., allegations about Russian manipulations of Trump’s election and administration, he fully ignored the actual substance of Blumenthal’s argument, and focused instead on the senator’s earlier war record exaggerations.
A frequent reciprocal of this argumentum ad hominem, negative are Trump’s positivearguments made from illegitimate authority. Well known as a popular technique of commercial advertising, such inherently fallacious argument intends to transfer the respect or even reverence one may have for an authority in one area to another, one in which he or she has no meaningful judgment or expertise.
A good example is Trump’s recurrent defense of plainly unqualified appointees as “good guys,” and his corresponding inclination to argue that these appointees who were successful in accumulating personal fortunes are thereby certain to become exemplary public officials.
Another and even more egregious example of the argumentum ad hominem, positive is the president’s unapologetic appointment of close family members to positions of high national responsibility. Can anyone seriously believe that son-in-law Jared Kushner is the best suited person to seek peace in the Middle East, or that Ivanka Trump ought to be representing the president of the United States on utterly core economic and trade issues?
One could plausibly infer, from this last and arguably most refractory manipulation of correct reasoning, that had Trump been president of the United States during the April 1943 Warsaw Ghetto uprising, he would seamlessly have blamed “many sides” for the “violence.”
In sum, it is time for Americans to worry not only about this president’s increasingly stark moral and political transgressions, but also his distinctly related intellectual debilities. With particular regard to North Korea, Trump’s multiple and conspicuous manipulations of reasoning could bring us to the brink of a first ever nuclear war. Accordingly, it is high time for us to restore a sense of deep respect for “Logic 101” in the White House.
The alternative could be far worse than a failing grade.
Louis Rene Beres is professor emeritus of political science at Purdue University. Beres’ lectures and research focus on international relations, terrorism, and international law. He is the author of several books, including, “Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy,” which was published in 2016 by Rowman & Littlefield.