The Deplorables I – Jeffrey Lord
When I listen to the sycophants, the apologists, the surrogates, the spokespersons for Trump Two-Two, I want to scream – not on behalf of Hillary Clinton, but on behalf of reason, on behalf of enlightenment values, on behalf of truth. Never mind Trump. His surrogates – Jeffrey Lord, Kayleigh McEnany, Corey Lewandowski, Kellyanne Conway, Andy Dean, Katrina Pierson, Bruce Lavell, Darrell Scott, Mark Burns, Scottie Nell Hughes, Omarosa Manigault – are deplorable in the true sense of the word. They deserve our strong condemnation. Not simply for the man they are defending, not simply for the points they are making, but for their disrespect for the rules of the use of rational language.
I am not talking about the birthers and believers that the world is flat and that the destruction of the Twin Towers was a Zionist conspiracy. I am not talking about the David Dukes, the racists or the defenders of the Second Amendment who seem willing to take up arms in the name of an invented version of part of the American constitution. These are far beyond being deplorable. I am referring to those Trump surrogates who belong to the chattering classes, but seem to be incapable of mounting a rational and evidence-based argument. It is a disgrace. It is shameful. I cannot believe this goes down the line and deep into the Republican Party, but listening to these surrogates makes me suspect that the party has been deeply infected with irrationality and may not be able to be salvaged this time no matter who wins or loses the election. That is lamentable, but it is also inexcusable. The long term history of a once noble party is being sacrificed on the altar of irrationality. Political contests have been transformed into a blood sport in which illogic and the misuse of language have been substituted for rational debate.
This is truly dreadful and atrocious, unpardonable and dishonourable. The situation is deplorable in all the senses of the word. The leading surrogates who contribute to this folly are even more deplorable than the bullying, blowhard, lying Trump Two-Two. For he is a product of business and a vehicle for entertainment. The surrogates, on the other hand, claim and represent themselves worthy of belonging to a league which requires rational discourse and argument. But they lack any one of its central characteristics.
The worst of it all is that these surrogates are usually set off against, not simply Hillary Clinton surrogates, but against quite brilliant independent analysts like Marc Lamont Hill, Joy-Ann Reid and Angela Rye (who both said to Corey Lewandowski when he put down President Obama and demanded that Obama release his Harvard transcripts – as if this bore any equivalence with releasing tax returns – “You are so out of line right now. Tell your candidate to release his tax returns. Two words: Tax return” and each insisted that “In this moment, I’m going to Beyoncé you: ‘Boy bye,’” Rye added, “You’re so out of line right now.”) Anthony Kapel “Van” Jones (Trump branded him “Mad Max America”) and my personal favourite, Charles Blow, can be added to this list. All are constantly forced to participate in a sham debate in which the proponents of irrationality are given half the media time and these journalists are reduced to taking on the irrationality of their opponents rather than the substantive policies at stake. (As an aside, the Beyoncé lyric comes from her song “Sorry” in which a woman dismisses her husband’s excuses for his affair.)
In accusing them of being deplorable, I am not asserting that the Trump surrogates are ignorant. They have mastered their notes and their rhetorical skills and exhibit them in different ways. I am not accusing them of being stupid. Just defenders and proponents of irrationality even as they demonstrate different degrees of nimbleness in their use of sophistry.
Let me illustrate with reference to each of the surrogates in turn taking on one problem at a time. Perhaps Jeffrey Lord is the person I have seen and listened to the most as a Trump surrogate. With his white hair, whimsical smile and laid back engagement in the debates, he offers himself as a serious defender of Trump Two-Two. He also has a long political pedigree having served in high office in the Reagan administration. There he must have honed his skills in defending Reagan trickle-down economics while burying fiscal conservatism in a bed of debt as Reagan tripled the gross federal debt from $900 billion to $2.7 trillion. Examine Jeffrey’s defence of Donald Trump’s refusal to make his tax returns public.
Arguments for releasing the tax returns are as follows:
• It is an established tradition going back to Richard Nixon
• It is an expectation of the voters
• It will provide evidence about whether or not he has been truthful about his charitable giving
• It may provide evidence or disproof of the suspicions of many and the evidence of a few that during the last decade, Trump’s businesses depend more and more on infusions of capital from Russian oligarchs connected with Putin and partners associated with disreputable dictators around the world
• Most of all, it will provide evidence about whether he pays his fair share of taxes in any reasonable definition of fairness.
Arguments for not releasing the tax returns are as follows:
• They are under audit and any taxpayer has the right to mitigate his tax exposure, an exposure that can be exacerbated by release of one’s financial situation
• The tax returns provide clues to how Trump operates his various businesses that may expose his positions unfairly to competitors
• The release of the information will provide an enormous distraction from the policy issues as reams of people try to mine the returns in the interest of exposing embarrassments. “He’s got a 12,000-page tax return that would create financial auditors out of every person in the country asking questions that would detract from his father’s main message.”
• Unlike other presidential candidates who were political pros, Donald Trump comes from the business world and his returns, as Donald Trump Jr. explained, amount to 12,000 pages in themselves creating an enormous fund for troublemaking.
• This is not a burning issue for the public.
What are the arguments offered in refutation of the claims of the opponents and in support of the Trump campaign position? Against the argument that this is a precedent going back to Richard Nixon, Jeffrey Lord argues that there have been 36 presidents who never made their tax returns public. What is omitted is that these constitute 36 of 43 presidents and 35 served prior to Richard Nixon. Many of these served prior to Abraham Lincoln when there were no personal income tax returns to make public. In any case, the argument does not take on the observance of a well established tradition over the last 7 presidents, excluding Gerald Ford who was not an elected president but nevertheless released a summary of his tax returns though not the entire income tax return. In other words, it is a tradition that extends over one-third of the period in which there have been income tax returns.
Jeffrey Lord doe not argue against the claim that there is a 47-year-old tradition. Jeffrey Lord does not argue that it is an illegitimate tradition. He demeans the tradition by citing irrelevancies to the case – what presidents before Richard Nixon did. He does not note that Richard Nixon resisted releasing his returns but was forced to do so. This is, of course, the well known red herring form of argument, that is an argument which is not an argument, but a distraction that is irrelevant and simply attempts to draw attention away from the issue.
Jeffrey could have argued that the appeal to tradition of the Democrats was itself a red herring since it does not follow that because the tradition had been established for 47 years that this alone made it a valid tradition to continue. That in itself is a form of a red herring argument, but one suspects that if Jeffrey opened that can of worms he would have had to engage in the argument about whether the tradition was a useful one well worth perpetuating for a number of reasons. So distraction rather than engagement seems the preferred course of avoiding a real dialogue.
How does Jeffrey Lord and Trump’s other surrogates handle the argument that the voters expect tax releases to be released? The answer – it is not a burning issue for voters. But the claim was not made that it was a burning issue, only that it was an issue for a large majority of voters overall (74%) and even a majority of Republican voters (62%). The surrogates, however, are probably right that this isn’t a burning issue. In a small sampling in Virginia, the voters were all bothered by Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns, but 17 of those voters were more troubled by Hillary’s emails while 11 who were more bothered by Trump’s refusal to release his tax information. Here again, as in the above case, Jeffrey Lord could have insisted that the Democratic case, even the case for the majority of voters, was itself a kind of red herring by concluding that since something is believed in widely does not make it valid. But again the argument is not engaged for the same reasons the first argument was not – because it would mean probing the merits of the practice whether or not a majority believed in it or not. Instead, the counter argument reverted to obfuscation and distraction by the use of the word “burning”.
This is, of course, as irrelevant as the first defence. Issues that are not “burning” in the public mind – the state of Korea’s nuclear arsenal is an example of one far less burning than the issue of release of incomes tax filings – but that does not make it an invalid subject for debate. An issue does not have to be a hot one searing the mind of the public and igniting their fiery wrath to demand attention. It may be only a smouldering rather than a red-hot torrid item, but the stonewalling and sidestepping and engagement in distraction present the possibility of making it a burning issue.
What about the issue of getting to the truth value of Donald Trump’s claims to have given millions upon millions to charity and the assertion that the tax returns would be able to confirm the claim or reveal it as false? Further, even releasing only this part of the tax return could put to rest the suspicion that the claim is an invention, a fabrication, a lie, an inquiry given steam by the evidence that the Trump Foundation had not received a dime of Donald Trump’s personal money since 2007 and that the money it receives has been donated to the foundation by others and then donated in the name of Trump without disclosing the original contributor. However, there is other evidence that in 2009 Trump donated almost a million dollars to charity, $100,000 of that sum ironically to the Clinton Foundation which he subsequently insisted needed to be investigated.
An investigation of Trump’s own foundation was initiated by Eric T. Schneiderman, the Attorney General of New York, for making an illegal $25,000 donation to a campaign group affiliated with Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi in 2013 when she indicated that she was considering joining Schneiderman’s fraud case against Trump University. This is not just an impression of illegality. Non-profits are legally forbidden from contributing to political campaigns.
How did Jeffrey respond? He called Schneiderman a “sleaze” on CNN’s OutFront. This is another kind of red herring illogic, usually called an ad hominem argument in which you attack and insult the messenger instead of dealing with the merits of the claim. It is relevant that Schneiderman is a Democrat, supports Hillary Clinton and may even sit on one of her campaign committees. This creates a perception of conflict of interest between his political affiliation and responsibilities as an Attorney General. But it is incumbent on the accuser to demonstrate the conflict of interest, especially in America where senior civil servants are usually political partisans even when not elected, which they often are.
A perceived conflict of interest takes place when an individual can derive personal, usually financial, benefit from actions taken in their professional capacity. Though Schneiderman’s political beliefs would benefit, there is no evidence or even suggestion that there would be repercussions on his pocket book. Further, if conflict of interest was defined as the tension between one’s political conviction and one’s professional responsibility, then the whole American political system would have to be shut down.
What about the claim that the Trump organization receives capital from Putin’s oligarch friends and other authoritarian leaders across the world that will lead to a conflict of interest problem between Trump’s motivation to protect his corporate interests and the interests of the United States of America? Newsweek in its exposé never offered any evidence that any of these activities were illegal, though one Virginia voter named Beverly said that, “I’m concerned what Trump’s hiding in there. There may be business dealings, illegal business dealings. He’s really good at sweeping things out, and I really think he’s hiding something.” Newsweek did point out the conflict of interest this situation would create between Trump’s personal economic interest and that of the United States. That is a real conflict of interest for an individual with multiple financial interests any one of which could corrupt the motives or professional decision-making of the individual if that individual were to gain high office.
Jeff wrote an article (“The Liberal Media Unhinged,” 13 August 2016, for mrac NewsBusters) in which he derided The New York Times, The Washington Post and the “liberal” media in general for using ad hominem arguments and personal insults aimed at Donald Trump that give “’permission from a whole segment of America’s political and liberal media class’ to kooks out there to do whatever – no matter how dangerous, despicable or out of bounds – to Donald Trump.” In other words, it is not Trump Two-Two that engages in the use of insults and ad hominem arguments and raises the possibility of violence against Hillary Clinton, but the liberal press who do so against Donald Trump and give license to commit violence against Trump Two-Two. This is another red herring – accusing one’s opponent of the failings you yourself seem so transparently to demonstrate through hyperbole and the use of flagrantly false analogies.
I will only make two further points about this patently silly argument. The first is the use of the adjective or noun “liberal”. Michael Brenner in a recent article on the distortions imposed on our language took as his first case the denigration of the term “liberal.” Barack Obama in his address last evening to the CBC, not the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation but the Congressional Black Caucus and supporters of its foundation, articulately spelled out what it means to be liberal, though it is noteworthy that he avoided the term since it has been so hi-jacked by neo-liberals at the same time as it has been so denigrated that he had to concentrate on its substance. Liberalism means expansion of voting and political rights, equality of justice, increasing the opportunities for all. For Obama, the essence of liberalism is progress based on these measures of improving society on these and other fronts. Liberalism entails the fairer distribution of wealth and making the promise of equality a reality and not just an aspiration. In its idealism, the collective good is equated with the benefits actually enjoyed by individuals.
One can oppose liberalism in the conviction that these benefits are better achieved by decreasing rather than enhancing the role of government, by insisting that a government dedicated to insisting that the collective good and the individual good are best combined, not when the two are presumed to enjoy a synergistic relationship, but when they are seen as in tension and the government as a purported deliverer of fairness is consistently reduced. That is a reasonable ideological division. But when the term “liberal” is used as a slur, when the term is equated with those who lie and malign by the defenders of Trump Two-Two, who has unarguably made a profession of lying, using ad hominem arguments and insults, one despairs for the cause of reason. When words are hijacked and deformed by the language Janissaries, when they laud Trump Two-Two for magnificently ripping “the mask of rationality off the liberal media,” we enter the topsy-turvy world of Alice in Wonderland who opined in Lewis Carroll’s magnificent satire that, “If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn’t. And contrariwise, what is, it wouldn’t be. And what it wouldn’t be, it would. You see?” When Jeffrey refers snidely to the liberal devotion to science – which he places in apostrophes – in the climate change debate, we know we are in the world of the chattering class equivalent of the flat earth society.
What about the argument that releasing the tax returns will provide evidence about whether Trump Two-Two pays his fair share of taxes? Jeffrey Lord’s defence: Democrats “will make a problem out of something. Something that could be perfectly ordinary and average, and they will make a problem out of it. This is what politicians do.” The tax returns could be perfectly ordinary, but may not be. And the issue is whether the release of tax returns would reveal that which is not ordinary or confirm that nothing untoward was done. But instead of addressing the point of the tradition of releasing tax returns, Lord argues that the release may provide ammunition for his opponents so why release them? Precisely to learn whether the returns do indicate that which is not ordinary.
Critics of Trump Two-Two ask why he cannot release the letter from Internal Revenue requesting an audit of certain years? Why can’t Trump Two-two release his returns before 2007 that are not being audited. Those questions are never answered. Instead, all we hear is deflection based on the use of logically fallacious argumentation.