Name That Fallacy!

red herring pic

Here at the ButcherBlock, we are grateful to President Trump because he continues to supply the rest of us with some excellent examples of bogus arguments. He has taken to defending a claim he made during an interview with journalist George Stephanopoulos on June 17, 2019. Two claims, in fact.

“I’m actually a very honest guy.”

The problem with this first claim is the lack of any supporting evidence. In fact, there’s a mountain of countervailing evidence with various estimates that the President has uttered thousands of lies since taking office. Also, people who are “actually…very honest” don’t generally need to point out their honesty to the rest of us. Their honesty is usually obvious because the statements of honest people tend to match up with reality.

The other problematic claim is Trump’s notion that reelection help coming from foreign governments is OK. This claim has brought out a firestorm of criticism, criticism that is well-deserved. And predictably, the criticism has prompted Trump to dig in and defend himself. He took to Twitter to tweet the following defense:

“I meet and talk to ‘foreign governments’ every day. I just met with the Queen of England (U.K.), the Prince of Wales, the P.M. of the United Kingdom, the P.M. of Ireland, the President of France and the President of Poland. We talked about ‘Everything!’ Should I immediately call the FBI about these calls and meetings?”

Red Herring.

The story goes that smoked herring (which allegedly turns red and has a potent odor) was used by escaping prisoners or slaves to throw tracking dogs off the scent by dragging the fish across the trail and confusing the dogs. It turns out that a significant number of these etymological origin stories were invented as mnemonic devices to help students remember the material, so I’m not sure how true this story is. Nevertheless, it’s a good description of the effect and purpose of this fallacy: distraction and confusion.

Meeting the heads of foreign governments is not the issue. Receiving political help from the intelligence services of foreign adversaries is the issue. And Trump appears to be soliciting that form of “help” as he did when he asked the Russians to find Hillary’s missing emails during the 2016 presidential election campaign.

Hang on tight and pay close attention. The campaign for 2020 is going to be one wild ride.

Author: Craig Butcher

Craig Butcher is an award-winning educator who has taught critical thinking skills for more than two decades. In addition, he has worked on Capitol Hill as a congressional staffer and has been a top-rated broadcaster.