Monday, September 28, 2015

Evil Lord Trump and the Flaming Moat

Donald Trump.


Build a wall to keep illegal Mexican immigrants out.

What did each of those phrases or single words do to you? Did you have an emotional reaction? What was it? Is that reaction valid? Is it a good basis for an argument?

I find Donald Trump to be a relatively repulsive human being. His face angers me. His lips are an affront to the Universe. His hair is ridiculous. His arrogance is deafening.

If I am a real thinker, however, I will be able to put that all aside when debating an issue.

The other day, Trump was interviewed by Stephen Colbert. Colbert asked him about immigration and Trump outlined his idea: Build a wall; make Mexico pay for it, because they owe us money anyway; have a door ("a beautiful, big, fat door") in the wall through which immigrants may pass, legally.

If we look for things in that idea that might set off emotion, as the words that opened this piece may have, the word "wall" seems the likely culprit. It's what they did in the Middle Ages: put up walls to keep out invaders. We have evolved past that, right? We begin to associate it with all sorts of barbaric things. Colbert certainly did.

Colbert offered a (satirical) idea: Let's build two walls, with a moat of fire in-between them and with fireproof crocodiles in the flaming moat. Of course, Colbert's aim is to point out the medieval nature of Trump's idea and to underscore, through hyperbole, how awful he thinks the idea is; to use satire to get his audience to see that Trump thinks like a feudal lord.

I cracked up laughing when Colbert did this. Is Colbert's tactic logical, though? Did he truly deal with Trump's idea? Maybe not, but such an approach can achieve its aim.

I loathe Trump. I am a descendant of immigrants. But is the idea of building a wall really so medieval? -- so barbaric?

I don't know if it is true that Mexico could be made to pay for it, but let's allow that that might be true, just for thrills. What, though, is more barbaric: building a wall that forces immigrants to move toward the door in order to enter the country legally, or for border patrol agents to have to engage in dangerous hunts and conflicts with illegal immigrants? Which way would be more efficient, a wall or the current system?

The last two questions are logically valid, once we move past our emotional reaction to the idea of a "wall." Colbert's satirical emotional appeal is a good tactic; he pulls his audience out of allowing a discussion of those two questions and draws them into a dismissal of a (now) seemingly barbaric man who is easy to hate in the first place.

Very interesting. Colbert's tactic achieves its purpose, but is it healthy for political debate? It is almost a form of red herring -- not quite, though. Very interesting.

(End note: most of my discussion on blog posts goes on on Facebook and every time I write one of these argument analyses, I cringe when I push the post button, because people tend to forget the fact that I am arguing about argumentation and not about the issue being argued. It might help to say: it is not my concern, here (though, it iis a big concern of mine), whether we should or should not build a wall but that we discuss it carefully before we make a decision. If I get yelled at for supporting Trump's idea, someone missed the point or I failed to make it clear. My intention is also to point out what argumentative tactics [whether from the base of pathos or logos] people use when they do argue.)


  1. There's nothing wrong with obsessing about the hair - it's an act of vanity and dishonesty that reflects badly on its owner.

  2. I'm not a Trump fan, but one of the things that's amusing about his campaign is the way he responds to arguments veiled in pathos with his own arguments drenched in pathos. People are used to seeing opponents cowed into silence by pathos, but Trump doubles down, which is why his fans like him and his foes find him more infuriating than the average candidate.

    Our political discourse these days is little more than pathos versus pathos. Logos should tell us that just because Trump is wrong about something doesn't necessarily mean his opponents are right, and any sane discussion of immigration would probably make clear that no policy is wholly good or wholly bad—but then nobody could demonize others and claim all the rhetorical chips.

    1. I am really beginning to think that pathos is The Blob -- just rolling through the neighborhoods and movie theaters of discourse and swallowing everything up.