Super Tuesday and the “Cult of Trump”


Here are a few things to consider if you’re thinking of voting for Donald Trump on Super Tuesday. I posted this on Facebook a few weeks ago.

Trump enthusiasts shouldn’t go along with everything he says or does just because it has shock value. Do you disagree? This isn’t a game or one of Trump’s “beauty pageants” where he should be able to “strut the runway” without accountability. His supporters, especially, have the opportunity and the responsibility to hold him accountable. That’s the most significant contribution you can make, as an individual, in this election—compel your candidate to face the music, whatever it is, whatever it’s source. Wouldn’t you like to know what he’s really made of, and who he is behind the bluster?

No one denies that Trump is full of bluster. That’s what many like about him. So let’s include that in the mix, for argument’s sake. A voter who’s mad about what’s going on may like the sound of Trump’s brass. But is bluster all that matters to Trump fans? Is that all it takes to convince them that he’s The Man? What about substance? Talking tough without showing courage is revealing. Do you disagree?

Wouldn’t you like to know how Trump would hold up under the most intense scrutiny? I know I would, no matter what candidate in any election.

Here’s something to consider. Donald Trump may be the ultimate “insider.” This possibility should not be taken lightly, since it contradicts what his fans would like to think about him. He’s master of the sound byte. He makes big promises to woo conservatives, but without a conservative track record. He’s an opportunist, something he tacitly admits when he says he “gets along with everybody.” This is code for, “I can buy whoever I want to get whatever I want.” That’s what I’ve done (“had to do”) as a business man. How about this? He’s paying His own way for his campaign, right? So he’s buying your vote. He hopes it will get him what he wants. (And he criticizes fellow candidates for depending on the support of others who raise money for them. The implication is that you aren’t a worthy candidate for the presidency unless you’re a billionaire. That’s a convenient way to narrow the field!)

Talking so glibly about getting along with everybody “to get things done” is Trump’s diversionary way of explaining his generous donations to liberal politicians and liberal causes. He did it to get something out of it. He admits it. Fine. Maybe that has gotten him where he is as a business man. But should it qualify him for the presidency? Should it even qualify him as a man of integrity in the world of business? At the very least, this is a question worth asking. A man of integrity in the world of commerce would want you to know such a thing.

In any case, Trump has made deals with insiders to get where he is. That makes him an insider. But is that what you want?

Trump supporters, how do you know Trump isn’t selling you a bill of goods to get what he wants? How do you know he’s being honest about what he wants? Hasn’t he proven that he’s an arch manipulator? Ask yourself, is there any evidence for that?

I understand people want an activist, someone who will “get things done.” I also understand people wanting what Trump promises. And I understand the temptation to think he’ll get it done because of his track record as a corporate kingpin. But will he be your friend after he wins and has no use for you any more? When he’s done with people who get him what he wants, he’s been known for throwing them under the bus. (How does he feel about Hillary now?) This is Trump’s M.O. But isn’t that what has turned you off about other candidates? So why give him a pass?

(Did you catch what Trump said when he was asked why he gave to the Clinton Foundation, which was using their finds dishonestly? He said he didn’t know how they were using their money. Do you believe that? He wrote the book on the art of the deal. No prudent donor would give to an organization without scrutinizing their practices. A responsible donor investigates an organization that asks for money. He has to be convinced that his money will be handled responsibly. So either Trump did not exercise due diligence or he knew more than what he wants you to know he knew. If he knew, then he’s been dishonest with you (to keep your vote). If he didn’t know, then he’s not as savvy as he says he is (and he hopes you won’t consider that possibility, again, so he can keep your vote). Hasn’t Trump admitted, in a sly sort of way, either that he didn’t act wisely, or that he knew all along and didn’t care? You be the judge. But it’s a good question, don’t you think?)

How do we know this is Trump’s M.O.? Have you read his book? Have you ever wondered how he made his billions? Have you watched his campaign strategy closely and his media appearances? One day he likes Fox. The next day he despises them. One day he’s devoted to the Republican Party and willing to accept the results of the nominating process. The next day he’s threatening to go his own way if “he isn’t treated right.” One day he wants to please you, the avid supporter, the next day . . . .

Trump supporters, do you have such admiration for Donald Trump that you would like to be the kind of person he is? How about this: Would you like your children to emulate him? If you reflect unqualified zeal for Trump in your home, aren’t you representing him as a role model to your children? How do you feel about that? Do you want to teach your children that getting ahead is the main thing to shoot for, and that this end justifies any means? (Can you convince me that’s not the way Trump operates? Again, have you read his book?)

And has it occurred to you that maybe you’ve accepted the relativism of the age, and bought the same line: “The end justifies the means.” Have you decided that a vote for Trump, whatever reservations you have about his character and reliability, is the means that is justified by your desire to “Make America Great Again”? Is this the right way to do that? In other words, do YOU believe the end justifies the means?

Is it possible that you’re making an emotional decision about something that requires rational deliberation? Is it possible that the way you justify your choice of a candidate is no different than what drives those you consider mindless zealots for Obama? Do you believe that Obama fans have abandoned the tools of critical reasoning? Can you honestly say you’re different?

If you think you’re different, a model of critical thinking and rational deliberation, how do you convince others that you are? How many of his other supporters are being properly critical in their support? Does Donald Trump want you to reflect carefully and examine his detailed arguments for his proposals? (Right now you should be wondering, “What arguments?”) Is it just possible that Trump is counting on an emotional frenzy to get you jazzed up and wired to vote for him?

Have you joined the cult of Trump? Or is there something different about your support for him, compared with all the others out there that you know are not exercising due diligence?

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Teaching Philosophy of Religion to Junior High Kids


Yesterday I spoke in two classes, a 7th-grade class and an 8th-grade class, at Vineyard Christian School in Anaheim. Our topic? The Existence of God. I had a 2-page handout for them, and in 45 minutes we examined the value of evidence for what we believe, what it means to have evidence, and what sort of evidence there might be for the existence of God. This is not my usual audience and my biggest concern was that it would all seem boring and over their heads. I was mistaken. Here are three lessons I learned:

  1. Our kids care about these questions. They want to know what to believe.
  2. Our kids want evidence for the things they’re asked to believe.
  3. Our kids have natural strengths in assessing evidence about things that matter, but these strength need to be cultivated and tutored.

It was with some trepidation that I handed my outline to the office assistant for duplicating. I worried that she would take one look at the detail and sophistication and be hard-pressed not to snicker. She was more confident than I that it would work. The kids proved me wrong. We need to expect more from our young people, urge them to keep the questions coming, and invite them into a vigorous life of the mind. Let us not underestimate their interest and capacity. They are the next generation. And we are responsible for their nurture.

Related posts:

Teaching Logic & Critical Thinking to Your Kids


Cover of

Cover of Being Logical: A Guide to Good Thinking

It’s pleasing to know that parents are taking a more proactive role in the education of their children, whether or not they are homeschooling. I’ve been asked if I can recommend tools that could be used to teach children the elements of logic and critical thinking.

  1. My first suggestion is that the best way to teach children how to think critically is to be a visible model of critical thinking. Children have a far greater aptitude for critical thinking than adults credit them for. They tend to be good at inferential reasoning. Their powers are limited in part by their limited storehouse of information from which to make inferences.
  2. Modeling excellence in critical thinking presupposes skill in critical thinking. So parents need to be students of logic and critical thinking themselves. Unfortunately, most have not had the opportunity for formal education in these skills. But there are accessible books to consider. I’ll add a list of recommendations at the end of this post.
  3. If your children see you making the attempt to sharpen your skills in reasoning, this will itself be a good example to them. You can tell them what you’re learning.
  4. Learn the names of basic inferential moves (for example modus ponens, modus tollens) and use these labels with your children when they demonstrate their own ability to make such moves. This should reinforce their awareness of the significance of their mental powers, and affirm them in the use of their powers.
  5. Encourage your children to think about the implications of something they have said or heard. You’ll have to be alert to opportunities for this. But once you’ve been at it for awhile, you’ll get into a natural groove. It will eventually become a part of your routine interaction with your kids. How to do this? I’ll save that for another post sometime.
  6. Get your children reading at their grade level (or above!) books that exemplify and encourage critical thinking. Mystery and suspense novels, carefully selected for their sophistication and interest, can be useful. I read the Hardy Boys as a kid. I also liked the stories of the Sugar Creek Gang.
  7. If you’re home schooling (or not), you can include in the curriculum some materials that teach critical thinking. The Fallacy Detective is a good source for this. (See below.)

Recommendations:

So, here are a few of the many resources available. I’m recommending those that provide a good place to start. Each title is linked to its Amazon page.

Books that inspire parents and other educators to teach children these skills:

Books for self-education in logic and critical thinking:

With adequate preparation in the early years, children in junior high and high school may be ready to work through these books themselves. They don’t provide a complete education in logic, but they are satisfactory for pre-college preparation. For more rigorous study in high school, I recommend using one of two textbooks:

Like most textbooks, Copi and Hurley are pricey. So you may want to settle for a second-hand copy. The illustrations and exposition of old editions will be dated, but the logic will be the same! I shop for second-hand books at AbeBooks.com.

For grade school and up:

Fiction classics for youth:

This post is cross-referenced in an interesting post here.

Related Posts by Doug Geivett:

My Right to Park My Car in Front of My House


There’s a debate in my town about whether residents should be free to park their vehicles in the street in front of their homes, without threat of getting a parking ticket.

Last weekend, The Orange County Register published a story about this— Read more of this post

Our Role in the Appointment of a Supreme Court Justice


A few days ago, President Obama announced his first nominee for Supreme Court Justice. Among the various tools the President has used to get his message out is his website, where a 4-minute video announcement is posted here. I encourage you to view this video. I also encourage you to think carefully about what the President says at each stage in his announcement.

We live in a democracy. We have the opportunity and the responsibility to pay attention to major developments occurring in the executive, congressional, and judicial branches of our federal government. We should not simply elect a new President and our congressional representatives, and then forget about it. We have a duty to unceasing vigilance. The survival of democracy depends upon it.

The appointment of a new justice to the United States Supreme Court involves all three branches of our government, starting with the executive branch and the President’s nomination of the person he or she believes is best suited to the role. Congress then deliberates and votes up or down on the President’s nomination. If the nominee is approved, he or she steps into the vaunted role of applying the United States Constitution to the most sensitive legal cases of the age. If Congress does not approve the nominee, then the whole process begins again, with the President’s selection of a new nominee.

Now is a good time to consider why so much circumspection is required—required by the Constitution. When drafting the Constitution, the founders of our nation recognized that the degree of authority vested in justices of the Supreme Court is, well, supreme. What they say goes. Each appointment is a life appointment. It ends only when an individual justice decides to retire or that justice dies—whichever comes first. It is not unusual for justices to sit on the highest court for several decades. Except in very rare cases, a justice’s tenure on the Supreme Court is years and years longer than the maximum eight years any person can serve consecutively as President of the United States.

In addition, the decisions made by our Supreme Court justices outlive the justices themselves and stand indefinitely. Reversing the effects of a Supreme Court decision is far more complicated than appointing justices to the Court. It is probably the most unlikely action our federal government can make.

Finally, decisions made by the Supreme Court are compelling for all 50 of the United States.

You may wonder what difference ordinary citizens can make in the process of appointing justices to the Supreme Court. Here are a few key opportunities:

  1. Our responsibility begins with the election of a President.
  2. We then are free to follow the nomination and confirmation process. This is mostly a matter of staying informed. This takes some skill, since media outlets themselves have political agendas.
  3. Being informed is not enough. We must be thoughtful about what we hear. We must consider how a nominee is being pitched to “we, the People.” This requires skills of another kind, the skills associated with critical thinking.
  4. We are represented by elected officials in Congress. Our representatives are sensitive to our expressed will to be heard. Citizens hold some power, then, in influencing the approval process.

The single most significant aspect of our duty as citizens is vigilance and critical thinking.

This post reveals nothing about my response to President Obama’s nomination. I may add posts about that later. Meanwhile, I’m especially interested in the way the nominee is being presented to “the public.” That’s us. Except that we aren’t “the public.” We are the People. And We the People must do our part.

To that end, I’ll be adding posts that encourage critical reflection on aspects of the media coverage. My first post about this can be found here. It begins at the beginning with the President’s announcement.

Geivett’s Book Recommendations:

President Obama’s Argument for Bipartisan Support for the Confirmation of Sonia Sotomayor


A few days ago, President Obama announced his first nominee for Supreme Court Justice. Among the various tools the President has used to get his message out is his website, where a 4-minute video announcement is posted here. I encourage you to view this video. I also encourage you to think carefully about what the President says at each stage in his announcement.

Here’s a specific question to consider:

  • Can you identify President Obama’s argument that Sonia Sotomayor should be a bipartisan slam dunk for confirmation by the Congress?

He makes an argument toward the end of his speech. He doesn’t say, “Let me give you a good argument for this.” But he does make an argument. If we’re paying attention, we’ll recognize the argument. And if we’re critically engaged, we’ll make a sober judgment about the plausibility of his argument.

So the second question I have for you is:

  • Does the President make a good argument that Sonia Sotomayor should be a bipartisan slam dunk for confirmation by the Congress?

These questions are rooted in my goal to encourage greater understanding of media messages—whether from the President, or anyone else.

By greater understanding I mean deeper awareness of what the message is and whether that message is reasonable. The President’s speech, because it is addressed to ordinary citizens and because it can be viewed very conveniently online, presents us with a great opportunity to hone the skills needed to be responsible citizens of a fragile democracy.

Book Recommendations:

If you have any questions about these recommendations, please use the comment box below.

Related Posts by Doug Geivett:

Why Winning a Presidential Election Is No Big Deal


Of course, being the President of the United States is a big deal. For one thing, you get to sit behind a cool desk and look powerful. (Apparently, however, it does’t take long to discover that even a president-elect has limited powers. Our current PE, Mr. Barack Obama, has already revealed plans to be more realistic than his campaign promises.) You get to travel the world and talk to all the other really important people. You get to live in the Big White House. And someday, you’ll have a giant library with your own name on it, dedicated to reminding everyone of your past greatness.

Still, there’s a sense in which winning an election, even a presidential election, is no big deal. It may attest to your campaign prowess, your ability to raise more money than you can spend, and your ability to look presidential. But does it establish that you are the rightful heir to presidential power? Constitutionally it does, certainly. But is this the only sense that matters, in a democracy? It shouldn’t be. A citizen becomes President by garnishing a sufficient amount of support from voters. And it’s the constitution of today’s voter, not the Constitution of the United States, that requires chastened realism about the significance of an electoral victory.

Since the voters decide who is to be president, the quality of the decision correlates with the quality of the electorate’s decision making powers. With this in mind, I’m led directly to wonder: how does it feel to win an election, knowing that those who voted for you, as a block, have no idea why you deserve to be President? Fortunately, with all the preparations before Inaguration Day, there is precious little time for sobering thoughts along these lines. Unless you’re not the president-elect and you don’t have such great matters to distract you. Then you can ponder the wisdom of the electorate—if you have the stomach for it.

There’s a common form of argument called modus tollens. It goes like this:

  1. If P, then Q.
  2. Not-Q.
  3. Therefore, not-P.

If P stands for “The majority of the electorate in the 2008 general election voted wisely,” and Q represents “The decision to elect Barack Obama as the the 44th President of the United States was a wise decision,” then we get the following argument, using the above schema:

  1. If the majority of the electorate in the 2008 general election voted wisely, then the decision to elect Barack Obama as the the 44th President of the United States was a wise decision.”
  2. The decision to elect Barack Obama as the the 44th President of the United States was not a wise decision.
  3. Therefore, majority of the electorate in the 2008 general election did not vote wisely.

I don’t think we need such an argument to establish the conclusion in statement (3). That’s because there is plenty of independent evidence that the electorate did not vote wisely, and, strange as it may sound, this has almost nothing to do with Barack Obama. The most salient evidence has to do with the appalling illiteracy of the American electorate, about history and economics, about values and political theory, and a host of other things.

Some who voted in the recent election believe that the Revolutionary War was won at the Battle of Gettysburg, that the Holocaust is a Jewish holiday, and that Lithuania is stored in a bottle in mother’s medicine cabinet. Suppose we subtract from the electorate any person who believes any one of these things, or anything else akin to such things. Why would we do that? Not simply because their beliefs are silly in the sense of being mistaken, but because they are silly in the sense of being believed for the reasons people who believe such things believe such things. Wouldn’t that be a step in the right direction, a kind of minimalist step, to get decision makers with a modicum of knowledge and knowledge-acquisition skills, capable of making wise decisions about who gets to sit behind the Big Desk?

To be sure, the intelligence test I’ve just proposed is pretty minimalist. It doesn’t account for level of reasoning ability. We should want our voting citizens to be well-informed and capable of basic critical reflection. Two of my examples of “silly beliefs” are taken from Lewis H. Lapham’s article “Playing with Fire” (Lapham’s Quarterly, Fall 2008). Lapham writes, “Why would any politician in his or her right mind wish to confront an informed citizenry capable of breaking down the campaign speeches into their subsets of supporting lies?” That’s an excellent question. It’s meant to be rhetorical: no politician today would wish such a thing. If Lapham is right about that, then we need different politicians. But then they might not be the politicians we deserve.

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