Saturday, October 15, 2016

DDAT: Defending the Indefensible

In my last post, I stated I thought it was becoming highly probable that Trump could win the election, because the odds were approaching 50/50 according to websites like RealClearPolitics and Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight.  Now it has flowed back again to Hillary Clinton's favor due to her debate performances, and revelations better known as "Pu**y-gate."

During the reactions from both Republicans and Democrats, I kept hearing the expression "Defending the Indefensible."  And I again heard from Trump and his spokespeople, as a response, what I discussed in my previous post, which I acronymed as DDAT:  Deny, Deflect, Ad homme, Tu quoque, and how it is difficult to deal with due to its being inherently irrational:
Trump and his surrogates use this argumentation on a regular basis (his surrogates almost use tu quoque exclusively). It basically reduces all dialogue to chaos, because there’s no measure or referent for trust or agreement. Anything you say, even if it’s a straight-up, obviously known fact, and Trump and/or his surrogates/supporters disagree with it, it can easily be dismissed as irrelevant using one or more of DDAT. They don’t have to present their own case, or present facts or evidence as a response, they just defuse their opponents’ argument through rhetoric.

I can’t offer anything as a verbal counter to this, because I don’t know how it’s possible to counter chaos. Even if the DDAT was pointed out, there would be a new DDAT in the reply. If I said “you’re using tu tuoque, two wrongs don’t make a right!” the response would be something like “No I’m not (denial), if anyone is using tu quoque or whatever you call it, it’s Hillary (deflection).” And on and on.  It is almost a form of verbal abuse.
DDAT is perhaps one of the best ways to "defend the indefensible."  Why not answer something that can't be argued in a rational manner, in an irrational way?   Many of Trump's statements--the ones his surrogates are questioned about--are those highly controversial ones which are almost impossible to defend, so the best way to respond is to provide a non-answer or obfuscation, to distract the interrogator through denial, deflection, ad hominem and tu quoque.

As noted in an article from, some pundits, such as MSNBC's Joy Reid, developed some useful standards for dealing with Trump surrogate "DDAT" responses:
When surrogate Boris Epshteyn pulled the typical Trump campaign ploy of answering a question about a Trump position by switching the answer to how awful Hillary Clinton is [ad hominem/tu quoque], Joy confronted him by very clearly setting these ground rules: whenever a Trump surrogate answers a question about Trump by diverting the answer to a statement about Clinton, the audience should assume one of three things:

A) He doesn’t know the answer

B) The answer would not help his candidate

C) He is not here to answer questions or clarify issues but only to distribute campaign talking points

At one point she also said that when she wanted clarification on Clinton issues she would ask a Clinton surrogate.

Of course, Epshteyn could just respond to A), B), and C) with denial, deflection, ad hominem and tu quoque, as, unfortunately,  it's the only way to defend the indefensible.  Around and around we go.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Recipe for Impossible Dialogue: DDAT

To my surprise it was Hillary Clinton who did the “Romney 47%” remark (I predicted it would be Donald Trump in my previous post), not Trump, with her “Basket of Deplorables”….and with that and her illness, Trump is now close to pulling ahead of her in the polls, and we may have a Trump victory in November. It was not so much Trump’s to win, but Hillary’s to lose, as at one point there was a lot of discussion about her "landslide" particularly in the electoral college.  Well, so much for that.

So onto the title of this post. Let’s consider this entirely plausible statement from Trump (he’s said, at various times, all of these already):
“I haven’t got a racist bone in my body. Crooked Hillary and her Democrat supporters are the real racists, she started (the birther movement) back in 2008.”
This is what I am acronyming “DDAT”—the method Trump argues. “I haven’t got a racist bone in my body”—this is denial. We know because of his  new campaign manager, known as a white nationalist, his previous housing discrimination lawsuit settlements, and what he did during his revival of the birther movement, that this is a very dubious claim by Trump. “Crooked Hillary”—ad homme (ad hominem) otherwise known as name-calling. "..and her supporters are the real racists”…deflection. “I’m not but you are!”…effectively neutralizing the issue (as well as removing its moral force)  so outsiders can’t tell who is or who isn’t “racist.” " …she started (the birther movement) back in 2008”--  tu quoque—French for “You too!”. Even if it was started by Hillary (this was debunked back then by fact-checkers, as it was started by one of her supporters, and it’s well documented she disavowed it) that doesn’t make Trump’s leadership of the birther movement right or correct.

Trump and his surrogates use this argumentation on a regular basis (his surrogates almost use tu quoque exclusively). It basically reduces all dialogue to chaos, because there’s no measure or referent for trust or agreement. Anything you say, even if it’s a straight-up, obviously known fact, and Trump and/or his surrogates/supporters disagree with it, it can easily be dismissed as irrelevant using one or more of DDAT. They don’t have to present their own case, or present facts or evidence as a response, they just defuse their opponents’ argument through rhetoric.

I can’t offer anything as a verbal counter to this, because I don’t know how it’s possible to counter chaos. Even if the DDAT was pointed out, there would be a new DDAT in the reply. If I said “you’re using tu tuoque, two wrongs don’t make a right!” the response would be something like “No I’m not (denial), if anyone is using tu quoque or whatever you call it, it’s Hillary (deflection).” And on and on.  It is almost a form of verbal abuse.

The only thing I can advise is that one must stay to the high road. Stay calm, and just make one’s case with the facts, and hope others (read: voters) see through it. So far, however, too many either aren’t able to don’t want to.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Trump: Still Stuck in the Spotlight

In my last post I talked about how then presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump appeared to have succumbed to the Spotlight Fallacy: he seems to be treating the general election like his primaries, only appealing to his base voters and not anyone outside of them, those he needs to appeal to in order to win. He was not ADDING voters. And almost a month out from the Republican National Convention, he’s still locked in the emergency room, thinking everyone is sick.

As reported recently in the Tampa Bay Times:
Every so often there are media reports from inside the Trump campaign that he is going to "pivot" to the general election, meaning emphasize policy over personality and moderate his tone. But such attempts have been ephemeral, Trump sticking to a freewheeling style that his supporters love.
Right after the Democrat National Convention, when Hillary and her VP pick Tim Kaine took off on a bus tour, Trump tweeted criticisms (see below) of the size of her crowds at some of her stops. Because to him, the size of those crowds were what mattered, not the immensely larger “crowds” at home who actually vote.

With Hillary’s efforts to reach out to those beyond her base to add voters (particularly Sanders supporters and wavering Republicans), I thought the polls would now reveal a bounce for her, but I also suspected and felt I should not be surprised by, since the conventional wisdom this election cycle has been so far off with the unconventional Trump candidacy, that they might show Trump pulling ahead. If they did, then I’d know that “fallacies can work,” in this case, Trump’s “Darth Vader like” acceptance speech with its numerous appeals to fear and consequence.

But for now, the polls show how Trump has fallen victim to the Spotlight Fallacy. I’m sure his backers and his campaign are aware of it, and we’ll have to see what they come up with. Perhaps some new revelations about Hillary’s emails, or a major gaffe by Hillary which Trump will turn into ad hominem-laced hyperbole.

I’m also going to make a prediction that Trump is going to have a “47% Moment” like Mitt Romney did in 2012. Actually, Trump’s had something like it already, but this one is not going to be brushed aside like so many other things he’s said.  It will be along the lines of a “let them eat cake” moment, because I believe his xenophobia extends to his crowds of supporters.

Friday, June 17, 2016

The Spotlight Fallacy and Donald Trump

Almost a year ago, Donald Trump declared his candidacy for president, and as I listened to the constant repetition of his appearances on various media, one thing became very clear to me:  almost everything he said contained a logical fallacy.  Now, everyone can become victim to fallacious reasoning, myself included, but Trump takes it to another level.   I’d say all of our arguments fail due to unrecognized fallacies 20-30% of the time, but Trump is more like 80-90%, at least in his campaigning.   Most people don’t notice because most of us aren’t trained in recognizing them.

I’ve harped on about fallacious reasoning many times.  It means Trump’s conclusions are not supported by sound reasoning, are not consistent, and hence cannot be relied on.  Never mind all the fact-checks that show he flat out lies a lot (see my previous blog post),  most of his conclusions he pronounces at his rallies and in speeches are not arrived at logically.

As the primaries progressed beginning in February, Trump would attack the person, not their argument, probably because he can’t make any argument.  It was effective during the primaries, but not nearly as much now.  It was “low-energy Jeb” “Little Marco” “Lyin’ Ted” etc. etc.  Because the differences in policy were not significant, ad hominem attacks were a useful strategy for Trump.  Give the opposition a derogatory, insulting name, and keep repeating it.  Don’t argue the substance, like the difference between “securing the borders” and “building a wall.”

In the general election, he had to make that “pivot” to substantiating his positions to differentiate them from his opposition, because the voters he now needed to appeal to were in part biased (the Democrats/Independents) and name-calling would not be as effective.  This is where a fallacy comes in that Donald himself is succumbing to, the “spotlight fallacy.”

It’s been reported Trump told his Republican establishment supporters (i.e., Paul Ryan, the RNC) that he would just “be himself” and not be what they told him to be (to appeal to more voters).  This may be because he sees the crowds at his rallies and believes this is evidence he is getting support from those other voters.  I recall him making the claim recently that there were “hundreds” of signs at one rally which said “Latinos for Trump.”  Given his penchant for exaggeration, I doubt there were even a few signs that said it, and they may have been placed there for that purpose.

The spotlight fallacy can be described with the “emergency room” example.  If you were confined to an emergency room, you might come to the conclusion that everyone was injured or sick, until you got outside of it, and found out that wasn’t true. Trump seems to believe that because so many show up for his rallies and applaud him, and the fact he won so many states in the primaries, it translates to winning the general election.  During the primaries, he could say and do almost anything negative or controversial, and his polls would unexpectedly rise.  He believes (IMHO) that would also be the case for the general election.  But those were polls of mostly Republican voters, the “believers,” not all likely voters.  The non-believers (the “well” outside the ER) outnumber the believers (the “sick” inside the ER), and Trump mistakenly thinks the non-believers have the same mindset.

So when he tweets “Crooked Hillary” or “Pocahontas” it has almost no effect, it’s only preaching to his choir of Republicans.   And it offends the politically correct whom he derides, and who unfortunately for him also vote.  Pride cometh before the fall.  Trump’s own narcissistic arrogance keeps him in the bubble he chooses to stay in during his campaign.   If the Democrats want to win, they need to strive to keep him in the bubble, and maybe even goad him into further mocking political correctness.   So the only thing that defeats Donald Trump—is Donald Trump.

Update 6/19/2016:  At a rally yesterday in Las Vegas, Nevada (in a YouTube video starting at about 56:00), Trump spent the first 20 minutes reiterating his primary success.  Several times he said “we won 37 states…we won 14 million votes…he (Trump) has sold-out arenas wherever he goes.”  At around 1:05:00 he asks the crowd “how’d you like to be with the party that keeps winning—that has the biggest crowds…where Trump gets the highest ratings in the history of television” and even told Hallie Jackson of MSNBC that the crowds at his rallies “were getting bigger.”  At 1:07:00 he again repeats “We beat the hell out of them” referring to the other primary candidates he ran against.    While he mentioned “crooked Hillary” and how she lacked integrity and judgment, most of his rant was about how he succeeded in the primary, and how 70% more Republicans voted in it than in 2012.

After his standard spin about how "America is sick and I am the cure", at around 1:16:00 he again boasts about “having massive crowds everywhere” and how “the safest place to be is at a Trump Rally, remember that,”  then “all the seats are now filled and there are 3,000 people outside.”

So for the first 20 minutes, he lets us know quite clearly that he’s still in the primary crowd bubble.  You don’t win the general election by getting the biggest crowds or having the highest TV ratings, you win it by appealing to the largest number (the plurality) of voters.  Thus far, Trump seems to be in denial about that.

Friday, April 1, 2016

So You Say an "Outside" Candidate is More Honest?

The "Politi-Facts" Say No---a  H Y UUUUUU GGGGGE  No

The last time I blogged for Politi-Psychotics was the end of 2013.  At the time I had become a lot more involved with my YouTube channel developing different videos, which entirely took my time away from this blog; in 2014, I had some personal changes—my significant other suddenly, unexpectedly died of a massive heart attack about half way through the year—which changed my life quite drastically.  Those changes then in turn took time from the YouTube channel.  Today life has calmed a bit and I find that this has been a far more exciting election year than the last one and bizarrely so.  Very bizarrely.
I also recently took a look at my “former” nemesis’ website, and he is still going at it almost as if nothing ever changed. (What I’ve learned in the interim will be very helpful if I decide to re-launch my criticisms of him, but I haven’t decided if my time will allow it.)  He still refers to his formula for determining the amount of Politifact’s left-leaning bias, which is proportionately comparing the Pants on Fire category of Politifact rulings to the False category (as I recall).
So for the purpose of this post, I’ve decided I’m going to make the value assigned for Pants on Fire rulings the same as False, so as to remove its effect on the "Truth Index" or “Politi-score” (a numerical average of the Truth-O-Meter scores) as I computed it back in 2011-12…in order to take a look at the Republican and Democratic presidential contenders, with a few other comparisons thrown in.  Yes, another different way to score PolitiFact rulings.
For some reason I thought I had ended my database at 7,000 rulings, yet from what I could find (my laptop died in the meantime), it appears I ended it at 6,273 PolitiFact rulings from its beginning in 2007 to September of 2012.  At that time, the Truth-O-Meter mean was 45.0, 5 points less than the one-for-one average of 50 (“Half True”).  Republicans averaged 40.5 (10% below the mean); Democrats 51.0 (a little more than 10% above the mean).  That upside for the Democrats and downside for Republicans, some critics would contend, reflects the left-leaning bias of PolitiFact, not necessarily that the Democrats may be more honest than Republicans.  The bias, it is argued, is the result of something called the Spotlight Fallacy, in that PolitiFact’s supposed selection bias has resulted in “truthier” claims for Democrats, or on the flip side, more lies being scored by PolitiFact for Republicans (and as my counterpart contends, harsher scoring of Republicans).
That all being said, let’s take a look at the current presidential contenders in terms of their PolitiFact ruling Truth Index/Politi-score. For the purpose of comparison, I’ve also added Obama and the withdrawn candidate Republican Marco Rubio.

(Data as of 3/30) Click to enlarge:  Trump is at the bottom no matter how you look at it.
These candidates/office holders—Obama, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Ted Cruz, Donald Trump, John Kasich and Marco Rubio--cover a total of 1,250 rulings;  Obama as president is (still) the most fact-checked person at PolitiFact.   Extrapolating out from 2012, I’d estimate that the rulings for these seven individuals represent around 10% of all the fact checks done by PolitiFact  since it started.
The table is ranked from highest to lowest “truth” score, and as can be seen, the “establishment candidates” all fall within a narrow range, above the overall mean, and above their party means, and even taking into account a margin of error to compensate for any bias, the “establishment Republican” candidates John Kasich and Marco Rubio have earned scores indicating a “truthiness” equivalent to their Democratic opponents .  But the “outside” candidates—as Cruz portrays himself to be, and Donald Trump is—are outliers to the “Mostly False” side, Trump extraordinarily so.  And if we go back to 2012, it was no different.  The scores changed very little, all getting more negative except for Obama. (Marco Rubio’s score, however, went much more negative, dropping from a 55.2 for 43 rulings to 47.5 for 139 rulings. )
At that time John Kasich had a higher score than Obama and would have been Number 2 on the list.  Based on the Truth-O-Meter alone, John Kasich’s “truthiness” puts him up with the Democrats, and if we allowed for a margin of error/bias, it could be said he is the most honest candidate, even over Hillary.  But that would require a lot of analysis to determine such a “margin”.
Conclusions?  A Republican might say that PolitiFact loves Hillary and Obama.  Trump and Cruz supporters might say a conspiracy was under way to make Trump and Cruz look like liars, and that Trump’s “PolitiFact Liar of the Year 2015” status was proof.  I don’t think a conspiracy is needed to validate they make a lot of false statements, especially the Donald.  Over a hundred fact-checks have been done on each of them, and if someone is that far off the mean overall or for the party, it can’t be dismissed summarily for bias.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Prophecy Fulfilled...Ha ha!

Well, I guess they did it, as I predicted about a month ago.  I watched Angie Drobnic-Holan talk about it on Jake Tapper's Show on CNN (above pic is a snippet).  Now, I must say, if she's going to say previous rulings on Obama saying the same thing should  "both be Pants on Fire" I suppose she could go back and change the previous Half True to Pants on Fire so my conservative counterpart doesn't have a cow?  She explained it as a progression from an inconclusive to a verifiable, just as I did in my post. 
Anyway, this year it seemed pretty obvious and now I kind of see how they pick them:  notoriety associated with the claim seems to hold more importance than prevalence of fact-checking the claim; that is, even if it's repeated quite a bit (as well as fact-checked), if there's a lot of publicity surrounding it, or I suppose you might call it, getting a lot of Lexis-Nexis results may matter more.
But Obama's had a bad year in 2013, and perhaps PolitiFact wanted to give it some credence.

Friday, November 8, 2013

PolitiFact 2013 Lie of the Year?

As the end of the year approaches, I've started thinking about PolitiFact's 2013 Lie of the Year. Are they even going to do it again this year? Was it Bill Adair's "thing" and not Angie Drobnic-Holan's? Well, if they do, it seems to me there's one very, very strong candidate. That's Obama's repeated statement that under Obamacare, "if you like your current insurance plan, you can keep it"....conveniently changed to... "you can keep (your plan) if it hasn’t changed since the law passed." Making it Pants on Fire.

Let's look at the history of how PolitiFact rated the "if you like your current insurance plan, you can keep it" statement from Obama:
During Obama's campaign in 2008, he was actually given a True: but at that time, his vision of that which came to be known as Obamacare was much different than what it turned out to be. Things were a bit different at the fledgling PolitiFact as well, as this True ruling was a brief 267 words. The important paragraph which shows how things had changed was this one:
Obama has said he would like his plan to be universal, in that everyone has health care coverage. But currently it includes a mandate only for children. Obama has said that he did not include a mandate for adults so as not to penalize people with modest incomes.
This was a far cry from what it developed into after he was elected president.  "The mandate for adults" was practically the heart of the healthcare proposal which survived to the law itself, meaning that, at the time,"keeping your healthcare plan" was more likely than not. 
In 2009, before the ACA was even passed, and oops, Obama said it again. But now there was a mandate for adults  This was when there was a lot of debate in congress over adding a "public option", a sort of Medicare for those under age 65, and the details had still not been finalized.  This time the Truth-o-Meter throttled down half way on Obama:
Until the legislation gets closer to a final stage, it's difficult to say how many employers will likely opt to change coverage. But clearly some change is coming. It's not realistic for Obama to make blanket statements that "you" will be able to "keep your health care plan." It seems like rhetoric intended to soothe people that health care reform will not be overly disruptive. But one of the points of reform is to change the way health care works right now. So we rate Obama's statement Half True.
Fast forwarding to 2013, as the reality of Obamacare rolled out, he was prudently advised he had better "tweak" it and put some caveats on, if your insurance has the coverages the ACA requires, you can keep it.  If your insurance company won't upgrade it, then you might get cancelled...or your rates adjusted accordingly. Obama chose to back peddle, however: "What we said was, you can keep (your plan) if it hasn't changed since the law passed."

So it went from let's give Obama the benefit of the doubt (True), to we don't have enough information (Half True) to "oh no you don't!" (Pants on Fire).

The qualifiers having made it a Pants on Fire lie, and with PolitiFact in a special report including a compilation of 37 recorded occasions where Obama said it without the qualifier, what we now have is a pretty humongous lie. Along with the start-up failures of the website we have quite a Lie of the Year combustible combination.

Last year, a Republican got the honor, and it was for something that was capturing the public's attention at the height of the presidential campaign. But this year, the Democrats are over due, and it might be okay to go back to the subject of healthcare, since that's dominated the Lie of the Year position since PolitiFact created the award. 
The announcement is right around the corner, and the timing could not be better. So it's my prediction. We'll see in a few weeks.