Logical fallacy is defined by Oxford English Dictionary as “a failure in reasoning which renders an argument invalid.”
Contrary to the title, I’m not writing this because I want to give an English lesson. I’m sure the vast majority of people taking the time to read this have heard of fallacy and have a sound understanding of it, but I’m afraid the voters and media of our country have either forgotten or chosen to ignore fallacies this election season.
I would like to examine three types of fallacy that have been particularly pertinent to the presidential election thus far, and hopefully through increased awareness and understanding of these logical blunders we can all take a step toward making an informed decision this November.
1. Ad hominem
This is perhaps the most obvious type of fallacy we have seen so far, and is not unique to this election. Ad hominem surfaces when a rebuttal or an attack is focused directly on a particular person or their character, as opposed to their position on a particular issue.
It’s fairly obvious and easy to spot, but a fallacy nonetheless. This happens frequently in debates and interviews involving the candidates or their representatives, and while it tends to hurt former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton more, she is not innocent of the ad hominem fallacy.
Sanders backs Clinton education policies at Madison rallyU.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vt., reinforced his support for former primary rival, now-Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton at a Madison Read…
Often we have seen questions asked involving a specific policy or the opposing position on a particular issue, only to receive an answer that is nothing more than an insult or accusation thrown at their opponent.
I’m not saying it’s not important to discuss character, and to look into the lives of those running for president, but it is vital that voters and media recognize that when it’s time to discuss policy or positions, personal attacks render an argument totally invalid. These kinds of attacks cannot be tolerated.
2. Red herring
This may be the logical fallacy most associated with politics and the people in it. We see red herring when someone misleads or distracts from the issue or question that is relevant or important. Most politicians are absolute masters of red herring, though not quite everyone has the hang of it (yeah, I’m looking at you Gary Johnson).
This fallacy is most relevant in the media. When conducting interviews or moderating debates, it has to be the responsibility of our media leaders to keep the candidates on track and call them out when they intentionally don’t answer a question or try to veer away from a certain topic.
We, as citizens, can certainly make an impact in this area as well. We need to recognize the red herring fallacy when we see it, and simply turn off the TV or don’t read the articles reliant on such an attack. The media relies on us for viewership or readership, and it is time for us to demand that they recognize this fallacy and sound the alarm when they find it.
3. False equivalence
This is undoubtedly the most prominent and ridiculous fallacy of the current election, and I believe this has hurt Clinton more than any scandal, mistake or insult.
False equivalence occurs when we equate two arguments, ideas, or in this case, candidates, when they are in fact not equal. The media, and even more so the voters, have created an equivalency between Republican nominee Donald Trump and Clinton, and this could not be further from the truth.
Chances are you are living under a rock if you haven’t heard the phrase, “Well, Trump is pretty awful, but I can’t vote for Hillary because she is just as bad,” or something along the same lines. There are few sentences that frustrate me more.
Poll finds Clinton lead still narrow in WisconsinDemocratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton is neck-and-neck among likely voters with Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, according to a Marquette Law Read…
Trump and Clinton are so far from equal, yet we constantly equate them both as “bad” or “liars” or “immoral.” Now, don’t get me wrong, I have my share of qualms with Clinton, and she was not my first choice when this election started, but the simple fact is that she is a brilliant woman who has dedicated her life to serving the public and improving the lives of Americans, whereas Trump is an ignorant racist possessing virtually no qualifications to hold the office of president.
Perhaps I can explain this best through an analogy. Let’s say you love sea food, and you have a real hankering for some late-night lobster, so you go the buffet in hopes of scoring some. You pay to get in, and to your dismay you find all that’s open is the salad bar.
Though salad is hard to swallow and not very glamorous, it is actually quite good for you and a smart choice. So you should eat the salad. What you shouldn’t do is decide that salad is far from your first choice and it tastes pretty bad, and then proceed to go outside to the garbage and eat the bag of dog shit somebody threw away on their morning walk. Even though both of these things taste bad and wouldn’t be your first choice, one is significantly worse than the other.
Obviously I am exaggerating for humor here, but Trump truly is significantly worse than Clinton, and we need to stop treating them as equally bad or undesirable.
As students at one of the world’s most prestigious universities, we need to take the lead on recognizing and rejecting fallacies in this election. We are leaders in our community, and we should be eager to bear the responsibility of encouraging truth and exposing fallacy in our society.
Kort Driessen ([email protected]) is a freshman majoring in neurobiology.