Tuesday, May 24, 2016
The Fallacy Of Logic - Why The Washington Establishment Is So Befuddled By Donald Trump
There is a lot of angst inside the Beltway these days. Pundits, politicians, academics, and lobbyists are all upset about the spectacular rise of Donald Trump. Not only does he defy all logic, but he understands that people don’t want logic. No position papers; no detailed programs on debt, deficit, and the dollar; and above all no on-the-one-hand-on-the-other consideration of the issues. Post-modern intellectuals, so good at deconstructing texts, have taken Trump’s speeches at face value. They have focused on what the candidate says, not what he means.
Trumps followers on the other hand know quite well what he means. He doesn’t have to make sense, connect the dots, or come to logical conclusions from a well-constructed argument. They don’t want a Kant in the White House. They are angry, frustrated, and very, very unhappy – so angry and frustrated in fact; so anxious to free themselves from progressivism, intellectual corruption, venal, money-driven politics, and insider trading that leaves them out in the cold, powerless, and disenfranchised.
Of course these disaffected voters are enthusiastic about Donald Trump. They feel threatened by illegal aliens who will take their jobs, erode traditional American culture, drive down wages, and increase taxes. They feel invaded by those coming to America for a free ride. They resent the dismissiveness of the Washington elite who live in protected, white enclaves, who sample ethnic food, but who have no idea how precarious the lives of the working poor are. They need no balance sheet to sum up the costs and benefits of immigration, the historical impact of immigration on culture, language, and the economy.
These voters know that abortion is wrong and there is no point debating moment of conception or women’s rights. It is killing, pure and simple. It is altering God’s plan, and it further erodes community values of respect for life and others.
The list of grievances goes on; and for every issue carefully parsed by privileged intellectuals of both parties and resolutely and confidently decided, millions of Americans feel wrong in their gut. The assault on religion, civil liberties, and freedom of expression in the name of diversity hurts.
Why, then, do we assume or expect that these marginalized, disaffected, and politically disenfranchised voters should vote logically?
Why should logic trump visceral reactions when these emotions come from a deep well of perceived injury and insult? Why assume that political issues are as subject to rational analysis and conclusion when political philosophy is a matter of personal conviction, morality, and religion? Individualism is not just an abstract construct but native to America, imported by equally disaffected religious zealots to Massachusetts, cultured and cultivated for over 250 years. ‘Don’t tread on me’ may be Texan in popular culture, but it is as American as apple pie.
Frontier justice was not meted out fairly and uniformly. Cattle rustlers – real or presumed – were hanged on the spot. Insults – actual or imagined – were dealt with in duels and shoot-outs. Our history is one of presumptive judgment moderated by Anglo-Saxon law. Our insistence on the right of the individual is ingrained, institutionalized, and hard-wired.
There is no political issue which can be determined by logical exegesis and conclusion alone. Every issue – whether religious rights, abortion, gender equality, home mortgages, or campaign financing – has a subjective component which must be taken into consideration. How one feels about social equality will determine voting for or against policies of income distribution, tax reform, minority rights, and eminent domain. How one feels about the increasing pressures of urban living, the intense competition for jobs and space will determine votes.
No one has ever said that the Supreme Court, supposedly the most fair and objective branch of government if not in the land is not biased. It is no coincidence that Justices vote down party lines most of the time. No one would have expected Justice Ginsberg to ever vote with Justice Scalia. They were simply too philosophically (emotionally, subjectively) apart for any possible consensus.
There must have been at least some iota of personal revenge in George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq and to finish his father’s business. There is no doubt that the NeoCons contributed to Middle Eastern chaos because they believed – not just concluded – that liberal democracy was indeed God-given. It is an absolute good not a relative one.
We all marry for the wrong reasons, choose the wrong mate, fall in love stupidly, take risks we know we shouldn’t, defy logic and considered opinion in our business, personal, and family affairs, embrace demagogues, rush up the aisle to be healed by Jesus, dress with little regard to style or personal appearance, commit faux pas, and act inappropriately despite our best judgment.
The works of the most celebrated authors and dramatists – Shakespeare, Faulkner, Ibsen, Tolstoy, and Dostoevsky among others – are stories of passion, emotion, jealousy, revenge, and desire. Antony never should have fallen for Cleopatra let alone be manipulated and dominated by her and thus throwing his political primacy to the winds. He was besotted by the beautiful Queen of Egypt and seduced by the luxurious East.
Othello, a supremely logical and intelligent military leader, a man of competence, decisiveness, and good judgment on the battlefield, was completely befuddled by women, Venetian society, and emotional demands. There is no logic or real motive in Iago’s complete disassembly of Othello. There is something indescribably perverse or evil about the man who is as irrational and c0mpelled by instinct and character as the general.
Hedda Gabler’s actions to destroy her husband and former lover are not logical, but predictable given her childhood, her make-up, and the ineffable and impossible to understand indomitable will with which she was born.
A heroic man like Faulkner’s Thomas Sutpen who was as close as he could come to the life of status, respect, wealth, and acclaim that he had always dreamed of in the hills of Appalachia and almost found in Mississippi; but he got confused, waylaid, and derailed by his lack of judgment in his personal life.
If there is anything certain to be concluded about human nature as seen in works from Aeschylus to Tennessee Williams; or from Defoe to Joyce is that it is illogical. Shakespeare understood that human nature would always play out in the similarly predictable ways; but in never in exactly the same ways. Richard III and King John may have been driven by the same ambitions, but they were very different. Their stories, a combination of human nature and inevitable human folly, were irresistible to Shakespeare and his audiences.
Many critics have lamented the ‘dumbing down’ of American culture. However, there is no such thing. Americans have always been dumb. We have always been an anti-intellectual people who put more faith in good, native judgment than in necessarily corrupt politics.
Hamilton and Jefferson debated the question of ‘The Will of the People’. Jefferson believed that the collective judgment of the people would always be right while Hamilton argued just the opposite. This election (2016) is the modern version of that debate. Not only does a well-defined collective will exist, it is manifest and powerful.
Once again, the pundits and inside-the-beltway establishment don’t get it. Not only do they believe that logic indeed will always trump illogic, but that their ‘logical’ conclusions will always prevail. They are not only befuddled by Donald Trump and his radical populism, but they cannot possibly understand how people could vote for him.
Their ignorance, their problem.