Alternative Facts, Inadvertent Omissions And The Inconvenient Truth

Michael Flynn tendered his resignation today, after the clamor over his discussions with a Russian diplomat about the U.S. sanctions became too much for even Trump to bear. That’s saying a lot. Donald Trump’s trademark, both in his private business dealings and in his administration, is undisciplined impetuousness. He thrives on thrashing about like a bull in a china shop, ignoring any protests regarding his behavior, and paralyzing those around him for fear of setting him off.

Trump is ignorant, yet believes himself infallible and beyond reproach. He is arrogant, yet remarkably insecure. When criticized or made to feel inadequate, he obsessively lashes out, both verbally and on Twitter, like a petulant toddler. During these tirades, he almost always resorts to citing false, disproven stories, either unwilling or unable to separate truth from fiction. Like a child, he seems compelled to rewrite history to cast himself as the hero, smarter and more talented than he really is. When reminded of what really happened, he angrily dismisses it as “fake news”. In summary, Trump plays fast and loose with the facts.

As has been made painfully evident during the past month, those in his administration share these characteristics. Kellyanne Conway is often smugly and glibly dishonest during interviews. When she was finally called on the lies she was spouting, she claimed she was offering “alternative facts.” Sean Spicer’s press conferences are the American equivalent of the surreal press briefings given by Muhammad Saeed al-Sahhaf during the Iraqi War, where al-Sahhaf would claim that no American troops were in Iraq as U.S. tanks rolled by behind him. In his resignation, Flynn stated that he “inadvertently briefed…incomplete information”. In other words, he lied by omission. Trump didn’t feel this was an issue until the story was leaked. After being publicly pressured to fire Flynn, Trump was more angry about the leak than about the lie and potentially illegal actions of his former National Security Adviser.

The problem is that facts don’t matter to this administration. Stories can be conjured out of thin air, like Conway’s Bowling Green Massacre, or made up in the face of contradictory evidence, like Spicer’s insistence that more people attended Trump’s inauguration than Obama’s, despite photos clearly showing the opposite. Words can be strung together any which way and presented as facts, regardless of whether they are or not. And if actual facts are not presented? Then it never happened; what happens in Moscow stays in Moscow. But like the boy who cried wolf, this administration will lose all credibility, if it hasn’t lost it already. While this may provide priceless material for comedians, the situation is quite serious. What countries would trust us, either in trade or in an alliance? The world may very well decide that it can live without a delusional, unreliable partner—and that is the inconvenient truth.

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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.