204. Critical Thinking: How Donald Trump Uses Language to Persuade

24 takeaways from this video:


1. Donald Trump‘s presidential announcement speech has been analyzed for language and logical fallacies because:

  • Trump is a powerful, successful, and well-known public figure who is campaigning to hold the most powerful political office in the United States
  • Trump is a successful businessman and salesman which has never held a political position, and as such isn’t as well versed in sound political speech-making  as the other presidential candidates
  • Trump is very effective at manipulating language, argument, and rhetoric in unorthodox ways to persuade others to his advantage
  • Trump’s success as a businessman and presidential candidate so far is proof of his ability to persuade others to his cause
  • Trump uses so many logical fallacies in such a short amount of time that analyzing his speeches for logical fallacies is the most efficient use of time

2. This analysis attempts to objectively deconstruct Donald Trump’s argument style, and is not meant to be a reflection of political belief or affiliation.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Recall in Karl Popper‘s lecture How & When to Override The Autonomous Mind that the principle of charity is the idea that when you are attacking a claim or an opponent, etc., don’t attack your opponent’s argument at its worst; attack his or her argument at its best. Aim to reformulate your opponent’s claim in the strongest way possible before you to address it, attack it, or destroy it: Give your opponent the benefit of the doubt by reframing his or her argument in the best, most logical and correct-possible light before addressing it. Doing this not only increases the credibility of your reputation for objectiveness and fairness, it also take away the from the strength of any rebuttle your opponent may have to your logical argument.]

00:00:43 Logical Fallacies are “errors in the reasoning or logic of an argument” which render the argument invalid, or illegitimate.

Regardless of your message, and with your ultimate goal of persuading a person:

  1. While logical fallacies are errors in logic and reasoning and perhaps an illegitimate, unfair means for persuading others, in some cases using logical fallacies aren’t necessarily a “bad” thing, and using them doesn’t necessarily automatically make your argument any less persuasive.
  2. While logical fallacies are not considered ‘fair’ persuasion tactics, they can be nevertheless quite effective:
    • for the persuader who either doesn’t care whether he or she persuades other people using what other people consider ‘fair’ methods or not, and/or considers the ends of the persuasion to justify the means. For example convincing a person to quit smoking in order to improve their quality of life and health.
    • on an audience who is not aware that logical fallacies are being used to persuade them
  3. Understanding how logical fallacies are constructed and used can be very effective in persuasion, but using them can be risky because employing logical fallacies on audiences who understand how logical fallacies are constructed and used may backfire on you, causing the audience to:
    • label you as a manipulative and untustworthy person
    • become critical of you and turn on you and your ideas
    • reject your persuasive authority
    • feel intellectually insulted and personally attacked at your using flimsy arguments to try to persuade them, or worse
    • become an active advocate against you and your ideas

Knowledge is power, and the more you know about the tools people use to persuade you, the better armed you are at being manipulated into believing something simply because the ‘logic makes sense.’

00:01:34 An ad hominem is an attempt to avoid an argument by personally attacking a person making an argument rather than addressing the person’s argument itself.

Trump’s 15 fallacies in 3 minutes:

00:04:33 “Wow! That is some group of people. Thousands!”

An argument ad populum, or bandwagon argument, is an attempt to persuade an audience by concluding that because a large group of people believe something to be true or popular, it must be true or popular.

  • Just because someone claims many people believe something doesn’t mean it is true that many people do believe it.
  • Just because many people believe something doesn’t mean that what they believe is true.
  • Just because many people are aware of something doesn’t mean they believe it.

00:05:50 “Some of the candidates… didn’t know the air conditioner didn’t work; they sweated like dogs. They didn’t know the room was too big because they didn’t have anybody there. How are they going to beat ISIS?”

A fallacy of false cause is an argument which attempts to establish a cause>effect  relationship between two or more unrelated things. In Trump’s argument, just because the other presidential candidates were unaware that the air conditioning in the building wasn’t working on that particular day doesn’t mean they would be ineffective at combatting ISIS. The two are completely unrelated, and any insinuation that they are related would be absurd to an informed audience.

00:07:07 “We (the U.S.) don’t have victories anymore. We used to have victories, but we don’t have them.”

A false dilemma is an argument which attempts to claim that there are only two possible solutions: either/or, black/white, and that any alternative options besides those two solutions presented are nonexistent.

00:08:11 “When was the last time anybody saw us beating China in a trade deal?… They send their cars over by the millions… and what do we do? When did we beat Japan at anything?”

An assumption is a belief or idea that is taken for granted or is supposed to be true without first verifying the belief or idea is true. A complex question fallacy, or a loaded question, is an argument which attempts to control audience agreement to the question while convincing the audience of the unjustified or controversial assumption contained within the question. Loaded questions are flawed arguments that do not prove a point, yet are presented as a valid argument.

Unless you’re already knowledgeable in US and Chinese trade deals, or are able to quickly access the necessary information to both answer Trump’s question and address the underlying assumption in the question, then you’re at a disadvantage against the speaker’s assumptions and unable to correctly answer, refute, or disagree with the speaker.

00:08:59 “…I beat China all the time.”

Hasty generalizations are beliefs and conclusions reached before a person has done enough research and obtained enough evidence to accept the belief as true.

Misleading vividness, or the anecdotal fallacy, is an attempt to persuade the audience into making hasty generalizations by refering to a vague experience or unprovable fact from experience to validate the argument being made. The above loaded question “When was the last time anybody saw us beating China in a trade deal…?” asked a question nobody in the audience could, or was in the position to effectively answer, and Trump’s response “…I beat China all the time.” demonstrated how he was the answer to the question nobody could answer.

00:10:05 “…They send their cars over by the millions… and what do we do? When was the last time you saw a Chevrolet in Tokyo?”

An argument from fallacy attempts to persuade the audience that since an argument is a fallacy (in the case above because there are no answers to the loaded questions), the claim must be untrue and the conclusion must be whatever answer the speaker purports it to be.

It is a fact that in 2014 Chevrolet sold 597 cars in Japan, and between January and May 2015 Chevrolet sold less than 367 vehicules in Japan while Ford managed 2,000, Cadillac 358 and Jeep 2,756 sales. (Source: Politifact 17 June 2015) But while these facts are documented, they do not constitute an adequate answer to the underlying questions “When was the last time anybody saw us beating China in a trade deal?… When did we beat Japan at anything?,” nor do they address Trump’s hasty generalization “…I beat China all the time.”

00:11:49 “When do we beat Mexico at the border?”

A straw man fallacy attempts to persuade the audience by creating a false, simplified, misrepresented and weakened version of an argument that can then be attacked and disproven, thus giving the impression that the original argument has also been proven wrong. In Trump’s example, the extremely complicated and deeply-grained cultural issue he is referring to is that of what to do with illegal immigration (not just from Mexico but from all around the world), which Trump compares to a mere wall separating the United States and Mexico. Building a wall might surely separate the United States from Mexico, but how would doing so solve, or even address the complex issue of illegal immigration from Mexico, let alone the immigration from the other countries around the world?

[EDITOR’S NOTE: For an interesting argument on how the United States and the global economy benefit from immigrant workers, read the book Immigrants: Your Country Needs Them by Philippe LeGrain.]

00:14:22 “They’re laughing at us; at our stupidity. They are beating us economically. They are not our friend. Believe me.”

An appeal to emotion attempts to persuade an audience by evoking and manipulating the audience’s emotions in order to prove a point and win an argument. Nobody likes to be mocked, insulted and laughed at, therefore everybody can hear this sentence and find some truth to it.

The phrase “believe me” refers to the misleading vividness, or the anecdotal fallacy mentioned above.

00:15:40 “The U.S. has become a dumping grounds for everybody elses’ problems.”

A slippery slope attempts to persuade an audience by making the argument that if one event happens, then another, then another, and then another must logically happen as a result; a chain-of-events reaction. But what turns the argument into a fallacy is when the evidence that one event leads to the others is not followed by a rational, evidence-based argument, or is supported by unprovable and/or illogical claims.

Trump’s use of the present perfect (has become) in this example reverses the slippery slope fallacy, pointing out that today’s situation we are witnessing is the direct consequence of past events by decision-makers (notably President Obama‘s administration) that has led us to today’s situation.

00:16:29 Applause. “And these are the best and the finest.”

Circular reasoning attempts to persuade an audience by starting an argument by making a point they want to make in the argument that follows. Trump made an argument, and if you are among the audience members who cheered in agreement with his argument, then you are among ‘the best and the finest’ in the audience.

00:16:53 “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best; they’re not sending you…”

This is another example of the  false dilemma and straw man fallacy mentioned above.

00:17:02 “…They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime, they’re rapists, and some, I assume, are good people. But I speak to border guards, and they tell us what we’re getting.”

The appeal to authority attemtps to persuade an audience that a claim is true because an identified ‘authority’ (in Trump’s case border guards) agrees with it.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Recall in John Oliver On The Dangers Of Not Challenging Junk Science that individual results shouldn’t be taken seriously until they are put into context with all the work as a whole because when it comes to ‘authorities’ in the scientific community, with the unfortunate reality of tenure, reputation, and funding at risk, all the while mainstream media’s business model of glorifying new and different content as they push that content to the less scientifically-saavy, general population, scientists seem to have found themselves in the same boat as an online blogger seeking views for monetization. “My success as a scientist,” Brian Nosek explains, “depends on me publishing my findings as frequently as possible and in the most prestigeous outlet.”]

The genetic fallacy attempts to persuade an audience by claiming that a conclusion is either good or bad because of the source of the conclusion. In Trump’s argument, he posits that ALL (but some, he assumes) Mexican immigrants must be bad people simply because they are Mexican.

The fallacy of composition attempts to persuade an audience by assuming an entire claim is true based on a few, small parts of the claim. In Trump’s case, that 100% of Mexican immigrants must be criminals, drug dealers, and rapists because of Mexico’s issues with drugs and organized crime.

00:19:14 “And it only makes common sense.”

An common sense fallacy attempts to persuade an audience by arguing that a claim is so obvious that even an idiot could understand it. Nobody wants to be identified as an idiot, therefore it is not in the audience’s best interest to challenge the speaker’s assertions.

00:19:38 “…we (the U.S.) are not being sent the right people.”

This is a repetition of the above mentioned false dilemma, which attempts to claim that there are only two possible solutions: the ‘right’ people or not the ‘right’ people, and that any alternative options besides those two solutions presented are nonexistent.

00:20:04 “It’s coming from all over the South and Latin America, and it’s coming, probably, from the Middle East. But we don’t know because we have no protection and we have no competence. We don’t know what’s happening.”

The argument from incredulity attempts to persuade an audience by claiming that something is true (or false) because there is a lack of evidence to prove that it isn’t true (or false), and that this fact makes absolute no common sense to the speaker.

00:21:00 Within the first three minutes of Donald Trump’s speech, he has used a total of 15 different logical fallacies to lay the foundation for his presidential candidacy.

Donald Trump is an example of the power of language when it comes to persuading an audience.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: For more on critical thinking and identifying logical fallacies, check out:

President Donald Trump