“Somewhere I read that the greatness of America is the right to protest for
right.” Martin Luther King, Jr., I’ve Been to the Mountaintop
Donald Trump has created, and is now perpetuating, a narrative around kneeling football players that is a false dichotomy. This logical fallacy is nothing new, and certainly makes frequent appearance in politics.
False dichotomy: When only two choices are presented yet more exist, or a spectrum of possible choices exists between two extremes. False dichotomies are usually characterized by “either this or that” language, but can also be characterized by omissions of choices*.
It’s not difficult to pull out the false dichotomy being perpetuated by the administration – first by Trump (in his speech in AL and especially on Twitter), and then continued Monday in the press briefing. The narrative being sold to the gullible is roughly this:
support America (flag, anthem, military, laws, etc.),
be unpatriotic and un-American.
Two extremes have been presented to the American public, and unfortunately many people are falling for the logical fallacy. Many feel like they have to support anything “American” [as defined by the administration], or risk being called (or in fact, being) un-American traitors.
Obviously, there are a myriad of positions one could take that fall between “agree everything I call American” and “hate America.” But none of those positions are currently being left open for our citizens under the pressure of POTUS. By shaming anyone who would dare side against him, a movement against free thought is mobilizing.
So instead of dealing with crucial issues like Puerto Rican hurricane disaster recovery, North Korea, private emails again used for conducting government business, or running our crumbling country – over the weekend the White House set their sights on forcing American adults to pledge allegiance to a scrap of fabric and sing an anthem which in its later verses has an entirely revolting perspective on slavery. [It’s another great question…when can we look at getting an anthem that represents the people of the United States? But I digress…]
The fallacy presented falls apart easily – a person can, in fact, disagree with a certain American governmental position or action and not place themselves as enemies of America. There is a long history in our country of disagreeing but not hating or disrespecting, and I won’t take to listing examples of various in-between positions since we all know of them and many of us have probably been in exactly that position! Love for America does not require acceptance of her failures.
Beyond the logical fallacy of the false dichotomy we’ve been presented with, there are other concerns regarding Trump’s attack on football players and their peaceful protest. [I can’t believe I’m having to write this…a president bickering with sportsmen is beyond absurd…] A few of those concerns are:
Straw man logical fallacy [refuting an argument by attacking an unrelated argument]: the players have taken a knee during the national anthem in order to bring attention to unchecked police brutality, specifically against minorities and in minority neighborhoods. The strawman set up by the administration is that the players are disrespecting the flag/anthem/military/country. It’s simple then to attack and belittle that disrespect, except it has nothing to do with the situation at all. This straw man approach by Trump is unethical and wrong.
The First Amendment protects the rights of free speech, peaceable assembly, and petitioning for government redress of grievances. Peaceful protest by the people has been inferred from the First Amendment, and supported by the courts and our laws. The men attacked as “sons of bitches” by Trump are peacefully protesting, asking for the government to correct an egregious wrong, and exercising their right to freedom of speech. The unconstitutional approach by Trump is unethical and wrong.
The right to not stand for the anthem or salute the flag is well established by court precedent (West Virginia State Board of Education vs Barnette), which states, among other things, “no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.” You cannot force people to participate in the pledge, anthem, saluting the flag, or anything else of that nature. The forceful approach by Trump is unethical and wrong.
The President of the United States has much more important work to do than sticking his nose into a conversation where he doesn’t belong or have any standing to comment on. The President of the United States has no business calling his constituents “sons of bitches,” nor calling for them to be fired from their jobs for actions that are entirely legal. The overall approach taken in this conversation by the President of the United States is unethical and wrong.
At the end of the day, any flag is just color and design on fabric. No one fights to defend a scrap of fabric, they fight to defend the ideals represented therein. In America, when the ideals of our country are being trampled by the government, people protest. We call attention to the fact that what the flag stands for is being destroyed, whether by politicians, police, or even the president. This is what #TakeAKnee is all about, and the people perpetuating the dangerous false dichotomy of “you’re either for us or against us” know that full well. This is a distraction technique, or even worse.
My greatest fear in this discussion is the false dichotomy America narrative looks toward the endgame of using bad logic to turn us against each other – to quelch freedom of speech, expression, and press; to create a mob mentality of unquestioning “American support” among the populace; to then use their creation to further autocracy in the United States of America. If it is unsafe to speak up, then our right to fight for right is greatly diminished. By further dividing the public and creating division among voters, the people are more concerned with the actions of their neighbor than potential treachery committed by their elected officials.
Instead of allowing ourselves to be pitted against one another, our focus needs to be on making sure that our government officials are doing their jobs with the best interests of all American citizens as their primary objective.
Do not fall prey to the pro-America false dichotomy fallacy – our democratic republic may well depend on it.
Examples of perpetuating the false narrative:
Trump begins by misrepresenting what the players are doing, then sets the false dichotomy as “do American my way or you are un-American,” and then goes on to call for private business owners to fire their employees based on how he envisions being patriotic. He gets angry enough to curse about those who disagree with him. Dangerous and pathetic.
Trump’s speech at Luther Strange rally in AL:
“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, out, he’s fired. He’s fired! You know, some owner is gonna do that. He’s gonna say, ‘That guy that disrespects our flag, he’s fired.’…They’ll be the most popular person in this country…But you know what’s hurting the game…When people like yourselves turn on television and you see those people taking the knee when they’re playing our great national anthem…”
more of the same us vs them language, misrepresenting the issues and situation, calling for the 1st Amendment to be violated, and calling on retaliation for not “doing American” the way he wants people to.
Trump’s Tweets, a selection (@realDonaldTrump):
”If a player wants the privilege of making millions of dollars in the NFL,or other leagues, he or she should not be allowed to disrespect our Great American Flag (or Country) and should stand for the National Anthem. If not, YOU’RE FIRED. Find something else to do!…Roger Goodell of NFL just put out a statement trying to justify the total disrespect certain players show to our country.Tell them to stand!…If NFL fans refuse to go to games until players stop disrespecting our Flag & Country, you will see change take place fast. Fire or suspend!…Great solidarity for our National Anthem and for our Country. Standing with locked arms is good, kneeling is not acceptable. Bad ratings!…Courageous Patriots have fought and died for our great American Flag — we MUST honor and respect it! MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!…” [and there are more, just visit his profile to see]
this pushes the false dichotomy of “for us or against us…support what we say support or you’re un-American.” Now it’s not just POTUS, but his minions in the White House as well.
From Monday’s press conference (Sarah Huckabee Sanders):
“promoting patriotism should bring us all together…always appropriate to promote flag, national anthem…this is not about the president being against something but about him being for them…everyone should be able to celebrate national pride, supporting those who fought and died for our country…”