The “straw man” and “loaded questions fallacies!

A professor of Constitutional law (his name doesn’t matter at this point) opines on the Electoral College, by starting with a critique of “Federalist No. 68,” , written by Alexander Hamilton, citing the “mode of appointment of the chief magistrate of the United States” by the electors, a “small number of persons, selected by their fellow-citizens from the general mass, [who] will be most likely to possess the information and discernment requisite to such complicated investigations.” His scorn for The Federalist (which is actually 85 essays written by James Madison, Hamilton and John Jay under the pseudonym Publius) veritably drips from his pen, or MacBook or whatever: “It is like a particularly well-done brochure for a Las Vegas timeshare, written to sell more than to inform. Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay had one job: to ensure that the draft Constitution was ratified. The alternative, to these patriots, was disaster—the division of the new nation into hostile confederacies, and possibly the transformation of some or all of the states into clients of the European powers. There was no chance of a do-over; it was this Constitution or nothing. For this reason, The Federalist insists that every word, every comma, of the Constitution added up to the best of all possible rules in the best of all possible worlds.

The last sentence is, in the field of debate, known as the Straw Man fallacy. That name came from the idea of debating an argument by setting up a false statement as the cornerstone of the argument, then knocking it over—the straw man—as a proxy for debating. While Publius believed that our constitution was as good a document as our founding ancestors could craft, nowhere in #68 (the only one of the 85 I have read thoroughly) does it say or imply that “every word, every comma” is “best of all possible worlds.” That’s an impossibility for anything crafted by men, which must mean that the constitution itself is a form of deception, right? Never fear, the agenda will be revealed. These days, virtually every criticism of the electoral college will circle around to “Trump is illegitimate” and/or “its all about racism”, and I was not disappointed.

As long as George Washington was on the ballot, the electoral system worked fine. But when Washington retired in 1796, it hobbled his successor, John Adams. The original Constitution made the electoral-vote runner-up the vice president—Adams’s defeated opponent, Thomas Jefferson. Poor, gallant Adams could have used a friend at No. 2 but instead got a cunning foe. In the next election, in 1800, the system turned on Jefferson; because he and his running mate, Aaron Burr, got the same number of electoral votes. After that debacle, Congress proposed the Twelfth Amendment, ratified in 1804. It requires electors to vote for one president and one vice president. But it didn’t fix the real flaw: the electoral system is grossly undemocratic and devised in large part as a protection for slave states, which feared being outvoted in a popular-vote system.When Trump won the electoral contest, the republic was in danger. “Grossly undemocratic” is a straw man. The USA is not and never was a democracy, we are a federal constitutional republic, with elected representatives passing laws, powers of the central gov’t are enumerated, powers of the states are all those not specifically given by the constitution to the central gov’t. “The republic was in danger.” No, just the opposite.

The truth about the 2016 election: Clinton’s margin of national votes over Trump was a bit more than 2.8 million, less than her margin over him in two metropolitan areas. She got over 3 million more votes in Los Angeles county and New York metro counties. Nationwide, he won 2,626 counties and she won 487 counties. His electoral vote total was 304 to her 227. Had there been no electoral college, she would have been president of Los Angeles and New York. Look at a map of the 2016 election BY COUNTY. It will then be clear who reflects the will of the country as a whole. Federalist #68 actually defines the goal of the electoral college as a president who is represented by the widest constituency. Electing a president with so narrow support as Clinton would have been the greater danger to the republic.

David Hogg is certainly no Constitutional scholar, nor any kind of scholar, but he can sling logical fallacies with the best of them. He joined MSNBC host Chris Hayes, who asked Hogg what he thought about the “very violent culture in America.” Hayes, no friend to either logic or open ended questions, sets up the straw man of excessive violence for Hogg to knock over by asking a Henny Youngman type “loaded question“. Henny Youngman was a popular comedian who specialized in one liners–“Have you stopped beating your wife?”

Hogg responded, “I think it comes down to reckoning with our history, and our history of white supremacy in the United States, and the fact that we live in a post-genocidal society, oftentimes that was orchestrated by the United States government and that, if we want to talk about mass shootings, we have to recognize the massive number of indigenous mass shootings that were committed by the United States government. White people feel that it is more American to pick up a gun because you are afraid of what you don’t know than it is to actually explore what you don’t know and have the courage to actually address that,” Hogg said, adding, “because I would personally argue that peace is patriotic.” Hogg has no problem justifying the loaded “white Americans create a very violent culture” narrative.

A loaded question contains a controversial or unjustified assumption. Aside from being a logical fallacy depending on usage, such questions may be used as a rhetorical tool: the question attempts to limit direct replies to be those that serve the questioner’s agenda. “What do you think about the very violent culture in America?” Not, “what do you think about culture in America?” The loaded question assumes we are violent, giving Hogg the forum to flog his favorite narratives. I would have responded, “violent compared to what–any Islamic country, India, Myanmar, China, any country in South and Central America?” Put aside that the assumption is based on false information and media attention (compared to any non-European country). Scratch that, when getting Trump is the goal, why quibble?

Author: iamcurmudgeon

When I began this blog, I was a 70 year old man, with a young mind and a body trying to recover from a stroke, and my purpose for this whole blog thing is to provoke thinking, to ridicule reflex reaction, and provide a legacy to my children.

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