The Kellyanne Shuffle

When anyone criticizes President Trump’s behavior or policies, his supporters typically change the subject. Logicians give this logical fallacy the highfalutin Latin name, “ignoratio elenchi.” I call it the “Kellyanne Conway shuffle.” This kind of phony argument consists of “apparently refuting an opponent while actually disproving something not asserted.” The crudest form of this fallacy uses deflection: Changing the subject by accusing someone of the same misdeeds.

Consider, for example, what happened when President Trump bragged about sexually assaulting women and when roughly 19 women accused him of sexual assault or harassment. Trump supporters responded with “Well, what about Bill Clinton?” When critics presented recorded proof that Trump has racked up over 2,000 recorded lies during the course of his brief time in office, they were asked: “What about Hillary Clinton?” When anyone points out that Donald Trump’s Republican-supported tax cut will have a seriously negative effect on deficits and the debt, providing an excuse for cutting Medicare and Social Security, they are asked. “What about the debt racked up under Obama?” And regarding the growing welter of evidence about a possible conspiracy with Russia on the part of the Trump campaign to sway the election, predictably we hear, “What about Hillary’s collusion with the Russians?” Etc., etc.

Trump and supporters use this gimmick all the time, oblivious to the fact that they are justifying bad things Trump does with the pathetic rationalization that if he’s merely imitating the behavior of individuals they appear to hate the most, then it’s OK. Little do they care about the big difference between a shell game and an honest answer.

The exculpatory answer to such charges should, instead, come in the form of declarations like: “Trump did not do it. And here’s the evidence to prove it,” and not in the form of the usual interrogatory, head-spinning Kellyanne Conway-style pivots like: “Well, what about somebody else?” Even if Trump and supporters are correct; that those whom they constantly condemn as guilty of the same unethical and illegal allegations brought against him, the least germane argument to make in Trump’s defense is the inapplicable, diversionary, feeble excuse that somebody else did it, too. That’s the kind of explanation we gave our parents as teenagers when they caught us doing something wrong: “Well, Billy did it and his mom and dad said it was okay.” We all can recall how poorly that went over; but in those circumstances, we were trying to fool a much more discerning and skeptical audience.

In the final analysis, just because others may have done wrong does not make it right for President Trump, or anybody else, to do wrong. Yet that’s about the only defense Trump supporters routinely make whenever Trump habitually pulls off one destructive, dangerous, divisive gambit after another. This tactic is the old, oft-executed Republican game plan: “The best defense is a good offense.” Sadly, today, it often works.

Tim Mannello


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