The Dangers of Faulty Logic

It goes like this:

If someone is a jihadist terrorist, then he is Muslim.
So-and-so is Muslim.
Therefore, so-and-so is a jihadist terrorist.

The problem with this logic is that it is flawed. In philosophy, it is known as affirming the consequent, or an attempt to infer the reverse from the original statement. The deficiency here is the IF clause was never asserted as the only sufficient condition for the THEN clause to be true. While the IF clause may be true, there can also be other factors, unspecified in the original statement, that result in the THEN clause being true. To demonstrate how deeply flawed this type of thinking is, consider the following:

If something is a fish, then it can swim in water.
An otter can swim in water.
Therefore, an otter is a fish.

Faulty logic is lazy logic. It is the hallmark of a lazy intellect, a shallow thinker, and an incurious mind. It reduces complex concepts into simple sound bites. Feeding these to an audience hungry for a scapegoat only whets their appetite for more fallacies to continue justifying their worldview. Unfortunately, this is the type of “truth” that is the currency of the new administration, where all negative news regarding it is deemed “fake news” and they offer “alternative facts” instead. It is only a matter of time until a lot of people get hurt.

Welcome to 1984.

Who Is Protected By The Constitution?

Lawyers from the Justice Department have filed an appeal to lift the stop order on the executive order banning entry into the United States from those holding passports from seven Muslim-majority countries for three months, refugees in general for four months, and refugees from Syria indefinitely. The main argument is that “an alien seeking initial admission to the United States requests a privilege and has no constitutional rights regarding his application.” There are three questions:

1) Do legal residents who are citizens of the seven countries named in the ban have constitutional rights?

2) Do illegal aliens have constitutional rights?

3) Do refugees have constitutional rights?

The 14th Amendment states that “no state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” For legal residents, the amendment means that being denied re-entry if they were abroad when the executive order was signed is unconstitutional because the travel ban would deprive them of their property without due process of law. These are people who have created a life in the United States; it is where their homes and their livelihoods are. To prevent them from returning would render them homeless and possibly penniless. For illegal aliens, the amendment affords them, by virtue of their residence within the borders of the country, equal protection of the law, including constitutional rights. This is because the amendment states “any person within its jurisdiction”, not “citizens of the United States.”

For refugees, however, they are not citizens, legal residents, nor illegal aliens who are already living in the United States. So does the 14th Amendment, or any amendment in the Constitution for that matter, protect refugees from the executive order enacting the travel ban? Until a refugee has gotten past immigration at an airport or border crossing, they are not within the jurisdiction of the United States. It is actually the 1st Amendment that gives the refugees constitutional rights. The executive order suspended admission of all refugees but ordered the Secretary of Homeland Security “to prioritize refugee claims made by individuals on the basis of religious-based persecution, provided that the religion of the individual is a minority religion in the individual’s country of nationality.” While the order does not explicitly ban Muslims, by naming Muslim-majority counties in the ban, then carving out preferential treatment for refugees who are a minority religion from those countries, the executive order established a preference of one or more religions over another. The 1st Amendment states, in part, that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” While the the executive order was not created by the Congress, nor does it establish a religion per se, the amendment has been interpreted to mean that it is unlawful to discriminate against any religion, which is what the travel ban did. Furthermore, immigration law states that “no person shall receive any preference or priority or be discriminated against in the issuance of an immigrant visa because of the person’s race, sex, nationality, place of birth, or place of residence”.

In summary, a broad range of people are protected by the Constitution, including those who are not citizens or may not even be in the United States yet. That is the beauty and wisdom that was established as fundamental law during the development of our country. For a single man to try to wipe that away with a stroke of his pen is deeply disturbing.

The Politics of Fear

President Trump issued an executive order banning the entry of individuals from seven Muslim-majority countries for three months and from Syria indefinitely. Mass protests ensued, and as of today, a federal judge from the state of Washington placed a national stay on the order. There has been much debate, both before and after the executive order, asking whether or not the president supports racist policies. It has been argued that he couldn’t be racist, since his daughter and her family are Jewish. The core question, I think, is whether or not it is possible to support racist policies and engage in racist rhetoric without being actually racist.

I believe the issue is exemplified by the xenophobic and prejudicial attitude that has been his trademark, both personally and as a politician. When you fear and/or dislike those you deem strange or foreign, odds are you tend to associate with those you do like, namely people just like you. It then stands to reason that, barring firsthand interactions with those you dislike, your opinions about them will be shaped by broad brush stereotypes, which themselves were often created and spread by other xenophobes or hardcore racists (e.g., the blood libel against the Jews).

John O’Donnell, former president of the Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino, in a memoir quoted Trump as saying, after discovering there were African American accountants working at the property, “I’ve got black accountants at Trump Castle and at Trump Plaza — black guys counting my money! I hate it. The only kind of people I want counting my money are short guys that wear yarmulkes every day. Those are the kind of people I want counting my money. Nobody else. . . . Besides that, I’ve got to tell you something else. I think that the guy is lazy. And it’s probably not his fault because laziness is a trait in blacks. It really is; I believe that. It’s not anything they can control.” When asked during an interview whether the quote was accurate, Trump replied that it was probably true. In one outburst, he managed to insult two groups of people. But wait, you might say; he’s praising Jews for their business acumen. He wasn’t. He was parroting a stereotype that has been around since the Middle Ages.

During the campaign, Trump released an ad that showed pictures of George Soros, Janet Yellen and Lloyd Blankfein, all of whom are prominent Jews, while he railed against the “levers of power in Washington” and “global special interests” that threatened our country. That kind of rhetoric comes straight out of “The Protocols of the Elders Of Zion”, which was written by anti-Semites a hundred years ago. It would truly be astonishing if he and his campaign staff were ignorant of the parallels, especially with Bannon as his special advisor. If the similarities did escape his notice, however, the fact that he approved an ad that displayed pictures of Jews who are associated with finance during his condemnation of those he blamed for the ills of America again demonstrates how he has bought the stereotype of Jews and money, lock, stock and barrel. Furthermore, we would be delusional if we don’t believe that the white supremacists, neo-Nazis and other anti-Semites in the country didn’t watch that ad and say, “That’s right. It’s those Jews. So glad someone finally had the guts to say it.”

The problem with stereotypes is that they are tidy little boxes that claim to capture the “essence” of the people being stereotyped, but when you meet someone who is “that kind” of person, and you take the time and effort to know him, more often than not you do not find the stereotype. You meet someone who has his victories and defeats, his joys and challenges. You meet someone who is, by and large, an average person, living an average life, doing average things—nothing at all like the stereotype you expected. So how to reconcile the discrepancy? You must declare one incorrect or the another an anomaly. The hope is, in the grand experiment this melting pot of a nation has been, that as logical, sensible people, we would discard the stereotypes as incorrect. My concern is that Trump seems to take the latter approach: those in his inner circle who are not like him are anomalies rather than the norm, and consequently, those stereotypes remain intact and will continue to fuel his divisive rhetoric and policies.