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Trump and the Traitorous Critic Fallacy

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AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File

Last week, the news cycle was dominated by the feud between President Donald Trump and the Democrat’s progressive “squad” - Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), and  Ayanna Pressley (D-MA). The battle began on Twitter after Trump stated:

“So interesting to see “Progressive” Democrat Congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total loudly and viciously telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful Nation on earth, how our government is to be run. Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came. Then come back and show us how it is done.”

The obvious debate that erupted surrounded whether or not Trump’s language was rooted in racism. Critics argued that his assumption that all four Congresswomen were from other countries was motivated by racism, while supporters defended or justified his words, often by arguing that they were in reference to Ilhan Omar, the only member of “The Squad” who wasn’t born in the United States. As the dispute continued throughout the week, Trump focused on Ilhan Omar specifically, and refactored his argument into the less-controversial and more-recognizable “In America, if you hate our Country, you are free to leave” format.

However, while most were distracted by criticizing or supporting Trump’s rhetoric, the flagrant application of an emotionally-effective logical fallacy has been completely ignored.

The relevant phrase is “Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.” This is a thinly-veiled example of the traitorous critic fallacy. Known as ergo decedo in Latin, this describes the illogical rejection or deflection of a person’s argument by claiming that they harbor some level of favorability for an “out-group”, or that they harbor some level of disdain towards the “in-group”. Instead of addressing their reasoning directly with logical counter arguments, they are instead encouraged to leave the “in-group” and/or join the “out-group”.

This argument is both common and effective. When Colin Kaepernick began to protest the National Anthem, many argued that he was motivated by a hatred for America, and that he should leave the country . Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) stated that perhaps Colin Kaepernick “ought to consider moving to a country where he believes the laws are better for his purposes”, and Tomi Lahren argued that “If this country disgusts you so much, leave.

While both of these arguments are understandable on an emotional level considering the divisiveness of Kaepernick’s actions, the ergo decedo argument used by Rep. Brooks and Lahren provided no logical proof as to why Kaepernick’s actions were objectively wrong. 

The same is true of Trump’s statements on Twitter. Setting aside the debate surrounding his choice of words, the fact is that his accusation that all four Congresswomen are “from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world” is completely irrelevant when it comes to the judgement of their political viewpoints.

Some will claim that Trump was calling for the “progressive Congresswomen” to fix problems elsewhere and return to apply their experiences in the United States. However, if we are intellectually honest, it is clear that Trump was using the failure of their supposed home countries as evidence against their policy suggestions. Trump did not point to specific policies, and decided not to use examples of countries which demonstrate that these policies are doomed to fail. Rejecting specificity, he instead made a broad and general argument against the opinions of the Congresswomen based solely on their assumed countries of birth.

It should be obvious that country of birth alone is insufficient - and sometimes irrelevant - when judging the validity of one’s ideology. In the same way, it would be wrong to reject the opinion of others based exclusively on their gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, or any other identity group.

The ideologies of Omar, Tlaib, Ocasio-Cortez, and Pressley are often disagreeable, and in many cases, totally abhorrent. However, if these views are worth criticizing, then it is worth criticizing them using relevant and objective metrics, rather than citing irrelevant attributes such as country of birth. Rejecting the policy suggestions of someone until they fix the problems in their “own” country is not proof that their ideas are invalid. Indeed, producing arguments which reference such attributes as a proxy for substantive evidence could even damage the fight against their political viewpoints.

Progressive Democrats regularly reject objective and legitimate criticism by leveling false accusations of racism, sexism, or Islamophobia against their critics in order to rally under the banner of victimhood. By applying the traitorous critic fallacy, it's conceivable that Trump has provided them with ammunition which can be used to deflect criticism and avoid debate. Rather than allowing “The Squad” to continue to fight in their home arena of identity politics, Trump should force them to fight in the arena of objective evidence, where their empty claims of victimhood will be rendered as baseless as their political ideology.

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