The “Pro-America” False Dichotomy: Do Not Fall Prey to Fallacy!

“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’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…”

  • 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 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]

  • 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.
  •  
    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…”

  • 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.
  •  
    *https://www.logicallyfallacious.com/tools/lp/Bo/LogicalFallacies/94/False-Dilemma

    a few thoughts – ‘always happy hour’ by mary miller

    I picked up this book over the weekend just to have something to read, enjoy, and relax. I had no intention of saying anything about it, so I read it differently than I would a book I intended on reviewing – I made no notes, I just read. By the time I was through the first few stories I knew I’d at least like to recommend the book, so that’s what I’m doing today.

    Always Happy Hour is a great book of short stories!

    I loved her voice…I could easily hear my relatives or neighbors telling stories in the Southern tone captured so wonderfully by Miller throughout her collection. The authenticity of the stories, in this way and others, was refreshing and engaging. I really wanted to pick up the phone and invite both author and narrator(s) to hang out and have a beer! My only observation which might be mistaken for criticism is that the main character is every story is much the same, in a way that made the collection read more like a novel told out of order…but she provided an interesting cohesion to the collection that’s often lacking in a book of short stories.

    Buy it, read it, love it – I can’t wait to read more by Mary Miller!


    thinking of irma (2 poems)

    A few poems I wrote this week while thinking of Hurricane Irma.


    beautiful oblivion

    The water is beautiful –
    Serene, cerulean,
    Stretched wide as the eye can see.

    You’d never know that
    Bodies
    Lurked just beneath the surface –
    Breathing yesterday,
    Now submerged in eerie calm.

    Ripples from kayaks,
    The occasional man in hip waders,
    Swimming neighbor children.

    As fast as it came the
    Deadly water disappears –
    But life is never quite the same after
    Irma comes to town.


    bad people

    the dying embers of Irma
    reached my home today –

    cold
    wind
    rain

    we bitched about the drizzle while
    others, unknown faces,
    lost everything they
    knew.


    I received a bit of feedback from the editor of a literary magazine on beautiful oblivion, which I’ll paste below, followed by an edit that much improved the piece.

    beautiful oblivion, rewrite

    The water is beautiful –
    Serene, cerulean,
    Stretched wide as the eye can see.

    You’d never know that
    Bodies
    Beneath the surface –
    Breathing yesterday,
    Now submerged in eerie calm.

    Ripples from kayaks,
    The occasional man in hip waders,
    Swimming neighbor children.

    As fast as it came the
    Deadly water disappears.

    6.24.17

    We had plans for the afternoon, so I accompanied my lovely wife to work this morning. She handles marketing efforts (among other things) for a flag store. They sell flags, poles, and other flag-related accoutrements. The customers today were an eclectic mix, as I’m led to believe they always are. Few in number, but easy to draw stories from. Who gets out on Saturday morning to buy a flag?

    Anyway…

    He’s elderly, in with his wife of, I assume, many years. Looking at flag poles for their front yard. Considers and discusses the various available poles and finally chooses one. Then, of course, it’s on to flags. First, the 3’x5′ American flag. And then a second flag…

    A goddam confederate flag. And the wife was 100% into it, unfolding the two flags for size comparison and contemplating how they’ll look on the pole in the yard. I had to sit quietly behind a desk, pretending to be busy, while they purchased that ridiculous piece of shit.

    So there you go, America – Army veterans (you know, people once charged with the protection of the nation) proudly buying the adornments of traitors.

    I certainly understand freedom of speech and expression, there are just some things that no one should hold dear (like murder or discrimination…you get the point).

    a few points gleaned from a lunchtime ‘washington [#fakenews] update’ address with Congressman Gregg Harper

    fake news gregg harper

    click picture to contact the congressman

    I attended a rather large and significant event (considering Mississippi economics) at the end of last week. I won’t mention specifics, but it was a convention for an association representing an industry that employs a huge percentage of Mississippi workers.

    Congress(person)man Gregg Harper, 3rd District, was the keynote speaker. It’s no secret that I’m neither a fan of the current administration nor the mindless masses [traitors] who support them, so I decided…’during this talk, I’ll take notes.’

    {coming clean from the beginning — he didn’t know there was anyone present who would identify themselves as ‘a member of the media’…he asked, I held my tongue. I think it only fair that the public (electorate) hear what our elected officials say when they believe no one is around to report it.}

    These are my notes, clarified some after the fact, annotated with my own commentary, from that address. I did not take notes about everything, nor do I claim to represent everything he addressed — but everything following was in truth said by the Congressperson. We all take note particularly of statements we strongly agree with or strongly disagree with, and my notes reflect that reality. There’s my full disclosure.

    Things the elected official from Mississippi said and discussed — my annotated comments in brackets:

    • The news is frequently wrong, and many stories going around now in the media, even media that should be friendly to the administration, are false.
      [The continual attack on reporting and news undercuts freedom of the press — authoritarian governments do this. Always. #fakenews #administrationlies]
    • He rambled about North Korea for a while, bragging about two warships now being posted in the region, just in case. He made it clear that we are ramping up for war, and the administration doesn’t expect anyone to be able to stop it. Reason #1: the nature of North Korea’s administration. Reason #2: none of North Korea’s allies will be able to curb them except perhaps China, but they can’t be trusted to follow through with what they say.
      [Elected government officials making glib comments about events that could be leading us to war is disturbing. Laughter. “Well, we can at least get some war games out of all of this.” It is as though they forget that the lives of the men and women of the armed forces rest in the balance — US service people and innocent Korean civilians will die if war happens. This is no laughing matter.]
    • “The Chinese can change their mind by breakfast…no government steals more intellectual property…” This is the statement immediately following comments on North Korea, related to our inability to trust China to keep North Korea in check. We don’t trust the Chinese — a point he made several times.
      [Governments don’t trust each other. They spy. They maneuver. They manipulate. But government officials tend to keep overt criticisms, especially unprovoked ones, to a minimum. And accusations of theft should be backed up with some sort of evidence, even if generally believed to be true — throwing around accusations is dangerous. Another hint of both the isolationism and amateurism that we’re seeing from the US government lately.]
    • The conversation then moved on to disparaging the ongoing investigation into the Trump campaign and possible collusion with Russia. It was presented as a massive distraction posed by the left. Government leaks were the next topic, with a basic formulaic-type response I’d heard before — leaks are dangerous, never a good thing, government knows best, leakers should be caught and punished. Another hint that much of what was presented by media as leaks was just fake news. But then a surprise comment, one that I appreciated: he praised the appointment of former FBI director Robert Mueller as Special Counsel to lead the Russia investigation.
      [I laughed at a few jokes over the course of the talk, but this comment on Mueller was the only time I genuinely felt something like happiness. At least there was a willingness to not start trying to undercut the investigation from the beginning — Mueller is respected by everyone, and Harper’s comments showed that fact. But the constant attacks on the other side in a general way, and dismissing the conclusions of multiple intelligence agencies off-the-cuff simply doesn’t make any sense, and reminds me of a great quote from Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale: “We lived, as usual, by ignoring. Ignoring isn’t the same as ignorance, you have to work at it.”]
    • Paraphrase: The media has latched on to Jared Kushner’s alleged attempt to create a back channel of communication with Russia. This kind of back channel is usual for campaigns in transition, and there’s nothing unusual or illegal about it. It’s been going on at least since the time of President Reagan.
      [Again, my comment would be that brushing potentially compromising situations under the rug neither inclines others to trust, nor speaks directly of honesty. The congressman was also bending the truth — secret channels of communication with foreign governments are not unusual for presidents, but are in fact highly unusual for teams in transition. There is a huge difference between ‘President of the United States’ and ‘President-elect.’ One is the leader of the free world; the other has neither power nor authority to act on behalf of the American people. Looking into and clarifying the communications associated with this back channel makes perfect sense, both as a responsibility of ethical elected leaders and a responsibility to the American public.]
    • In the midst of attacking the left (Democrats) for investigating Trump and his team, Harper then chuckled, stepped away from the mike a bit, and says he has a comment off the record, a comment that hasn’t become a major story (it was implied that the story wasn’t yet known by the media, but that is not the case) but shows the opposition isn’t as clean as they purport to be. He said that about 20 staffers shared between 5 Democratic House members, including Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, were at issue…they were Pakistani, and the implication was that they were illegals.
      [The hollowness of this brief commentary was pathetic. The wrongdoings of Trump are in no way impacted or mitigated or balanced by wrongdoings of other members of government. Anyone in government doing wrong should be held accountable, regardless of their position or party. The actual story about these staff members concerns their being under criminal investigation for equipment theft and misuse of the House IT network, some sources even allege spying is among the concerns, and some of them possibly leaving the county for Pakistan after the investigation began.]
    • We then returned to the meandering course of the address, moving to healthcare. A healthcare bill has passed the House and is now being considered by the Senate. The bill will be greatly changed after the Senate’s work, but he hopes to have the two bills in conference by late July. He went on to say that he will always refer to the Affordable Care Act as “Obamacare;” it isn’t affordable, so he refuses to call it that. He then claimed that none of the promises of the law have happened, and that now the entire healthcare system in our country is ruined and messed up. Parts of the new bill that he particularly praised included purchasing insurance across state lines and removing regulations on the insurance industry in order to stabilize the markets.
      [The Senate has already confirmed they aren’t “looking at” the House bill. They are writing their own, and will refer to the House bill, but aren’t even using it as a basis or starting point. The Senate will pass their own bill, and having two radically different bills into conference by July is less a hope than a delusion. Refusing to call a law passed by both houses of Congress and signed by the president by it’s name…refusing to use the name of a law of the United States…this, I’m afraid, betrays an attitude toward the law not befitting an elected member of government. The notion that nothing of the ACA has worked at all, for anyone, in any way, is a sweeping false generalization (as one example, how many more people now have health insurance that didn’t before the ACA), and laying blame for the ruination of American healthcare (another false hyperbole) at its feet is equally ridiculous. Plenty of experts have already explained why purchasing across state lines is absurd (networks, etc.), and insurance industry regulations are in place because the industry was gutting the American people and making healthcare inaccessible to increasingly more people. Bad ideas a plenty…]
    • I’m not sure if this next comment was planned, related somehow to healthcare, or an unexpected aside. He said that the average American citizen has no idea about politics. Politicians keep up with what’s going on, conversations the average citizen doesn’t know are happening and can’t even understand, and therefore politicians are best equipped to make political decisions. Leave it to the professionals.
      [A calloused comment that was really the only time I considered walking out of the address. His disdain for his electorate was off-putting in the worst way. He basically said — the public doesn’t know what’s best, or good for them, or even what they want…they don’t understand the conversation…they should shut up and let the pros, like me, take care of everything for them. Sounds very authoritarian to me.]
    • I hoped the next conversation would happen, and lucky for me, it did. The Paris Agreement. Harper preached that the Agreement was a bad deal for American, a unilateral executive decision made by President Obama, which has the traits of a treaty and should have come before Congress for approval. Trump was praised for pulling out of the Agreement so America won’t be at a massive economic disadvantage to the rest of the world by the end of the century. AND, he added, it is only estimated to reduce world temperatures by 0.2 degree by the year 2100.
      [Where to even begin on this topic…it’s hard to decide, since the administration denies the reality of climate change and loves to misconstrue data. In brief — the Paris Agreement is voluntary, and any country can change their commitments. It’s also nonbinding — I think that needs to further explication. These two points, facts, voluntary and nonbinding, also demonstrate why it’s not a treaty. I am surprised the congressman didn’t deduce that on his own. Trump also said he wanted to renegotiate – 195 countries signed, and have already said they will not renegotiate. Also, renegotiation is entirely unnecessary, since the Agreement is voluntary and the commitments can be changed. Further, the comment on temperature reduction (and the study that’s from) betrays a lack of understanding of science, and a bending of reports and data to the administration’s viewpoint. There’s a nice article, if you can bear to read it, in the German publication Spiegel, detailing some of the lies, misinformation, and misunderstandings touted by the Trump administration as “reasons” for the US withdrawal from the Agreement. Even more, it makes clear the betrayal felt by the remainder of the world, and the way our government is now viewed. For your edification — Donald Trump’s Triumph of Stupidity.]
    • Harper then proceeded to say that he’s never seen someone attacked like Trump, and he doesn’t think any president has ever been treated as poorly, and he thinks the approach will backfire on liberals.
      [What short memories our politicians have…a quick primer (there are many, many who have been treated more unfairly than Trump, to use the president’s own words). The United States of America have had 4 presidents assassinated – which seems worse treatment than Trump has received: Abraham Lincoln, James A. Garfield, William McKinley, and John F. Kennedy. There have been at least 20 attempts to assassinate sitting presidents, so we aren’t even in the conversation of worst treated American politician, much less worst treated politician ever.]
    • Before question time (of which only a few were allowed, two of which I’ll comment on below), Harper wanted to make 2 comments about Trump.
      1 – he feels Neil Gorshuch was a great choice for the Supreme Court.
      2 – he said the US hasn’t been respected for many years, had lost world respect primarily because of weak leadership. He thinks the missile strike on the Syrian airbase and the MOAB dropped on ISIS targets in Afghanistan will make the world begin to respect the US again because now they know Trump is a man of action and will do what he says.
      [1 – The Gorsuch seat was stolen from Obama. The Republicans refused to hold hearings on his nominee for a court appointment that was, constitutionally, his to make. The callousness and hypocrisy drips from the capital steps. Gorsuch, this “great choice,” has a record of being anti-equality, especially for the LGBTQ community and women’s rights. He has also, several times, already demonstrated his arrogance and the fact that he’s not up to snuff when compared to the other justices on the Supreme Court.]
      [2 – The leaders of the free world have, for many decades and more, referred to the US as THE leader of the world…any other notion is simply a falsehood. Until 2 weeks ago, that is. The Syrian and Afghanistan attacks have been roundly criticized as illegal by world leaders — not exactly the makings of “restoring respect.” This section could be so long…the ignored security briefings, the murdered civilians. Trump has lost the world’s respect. He has placed the US on the back burner. Trying to claim otherwise is, verifiably, fake news.]
    • Question #1 was about the inefficiency of the VA. Harper supports shutting down the VA and privatizing all aspects of VA care. He said he hates to say it, but what we have now is about as good as big government can do. He also stated that the central problem is federal employee unions, driving up prices and complicating the entire system.
      [The irony, an elected government official blaming all of the problems on the government. Hypocrisy at its finest. Backing the government out of caring for the very people they employed in the armed forces to defend the people and land they claim to care so much about (they are public servants, after all) — is your face making the same strange expression as mine? And then attacking the federal employees as the problem, instead of government’s unwillingness to cut pork and favors in order to care for their citizens…classic pointing the finger and refusing to take any responsibility. But, on the up note, now the people of Mississippi know how this elected official feels about caring for the nation’s and state’s veterans.]
    • The 2nd question I noted was about our role in and relationship with the United Nations. Harper was no fan, and made that clear. His main consternation was what he called the anti-Israel bias at the UN. He then said that his personal belief is that a major part of America’s being blessed by God, and therefore so successful as a nation, is because of our support for Israel. He again said he’s no fan of the UN, but wants to see what the US can do, and if it can’t work in our favor then we should leave.
      [I assume he equates recognizing Palestine as a state as being anti-Israel, a typical American evangelical misnomer. The UN has been a major player in everything from world peace to fighting famine, all over the world. Having everyone work together is not a bad thing, even if it means your particular country can’t always be the top dog. Bringing in his religion might cause an issue, especially if he wants to destroy decades of cooperation because of something he simply believes to be true. That’s not how our republic works.]

    I am not surprised by anything the Congressman said that afternoon, but I continue to be saddened by the fact that so many of our elected officials are perfectly willing to ignore criminal behavior, deny science, turn a blind eye to hate, abandon promises and allies…all for the hope that their party can stay in power. Where are the days of a government “of the people, by the people, for the people?”

    No government is perfect, but the public must take back this American government from the hands of autocrats and fools who are quickly leading us to a point of no return — destruction of our political structures, economy, environment, and international relationships looms on the horizon.