How defending Trump is like defending domestic abuse

From a linguistic perspective, defenses of Trump have a lot in common with domestic abuse. Here’s how that works.

screenshot-2017-02-26-02-10-47
Source: https://goo.gl/kQeAju

Data point: back in the United States, our new President has been gleefully violating our Constitution, or at least trying to, to the very best of his ability.  The heart of American political philosophy is expressed in the First Amendment to the Constitution:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

What our new President’s been up to:

  • Banning people from entering the United States based on their religion.  Quote from December 7th, 2015: Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.  (Yes, he is enough of an asshole to refer to himself in the third person.)
  • Attacking the press.  Tweet from February 17th, 1:48 PMThe FAKE NEWS media (failing , , , , ) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!
screenshot-2017-02-26-02-14-35
Source: https://goo.gl/YswwKk

It interests me that many of his supporters defend his un-American actions based on the argument that he’s “just” doing what he said he would do.  There seems to be some implicit claim that if you say that you’re going to do it, then it’s OK to do it.  Some examples:

  • “He was simply doing what he said he was going to do in the campaign,” Paul Hess told the Times.  (source)
  • President Trump is, after all, just doing what he said he would do. And, in a representative democracy, that’s something to be respected.  John E. Stafford, letter to the New York Times
  • Amid all the wailing and gnashing of teeth, President Trump reminded us that he was just doing what he said he would do.  “We have really done a great job. We’re actually taking people that are criminals, very, very hardened criminals in some cases, with a tremendous track record of abuse and problems, and we’re getting them out,” Trump said. “And that’s what I said I would do. I’m just doing what I said I would do.”  Sean Hannity (source) (includes video of Trump saying exactly that)

As far as I know, this is not the case–either from a legal perspective, or from an ethical perspective.  If I say to you If you drink my Coke again, I will punch you in the face, I’m going to arrested if I do, in fact, punch you in the face–having said in advance that I was going to do it does not make it legal.  It does not make it ethical, either.

“I warned her I would kill her if she went with other boys,” he added. He said that Sunday afternoon she went to a show with another boy and that “she broke her promise at other times.” “I kept my promises and she broke hers. I loved her very much,” he added.  –Source: https://goo.gl/X05M2x

The whole phenomenon reminds me of the stereotype of domestic abusers: This is your fault–I told you I would hit you if you talked to him again.  I told you I would whip you if you didn’t come straight from school.  I told you I would kill the kids if you tried to leave me. Do domestic abusers actually do that kind of thing?  Read the quotes.

Now, there’s an interesting little linguistic thing going on in the quotes from the Trump defenders.  Let’s look at the quotes again:

  • “He was simply doing what he said he was going to do in the campaign,” Paul Hess told the Times.  (source)
  • President Trump is, after all, just doing what he said he would do. And, in a representative democracy, that’s something to be respected.  John E. Stafford, letter to the New York Times
  • Amid all the wailing and gnashing of teeth, President Trump reminded us that he was just doing what he said he would do.  “We have really done a great job. We’re actually taking people that are criminals, very, very hardened criminals in some cases, with a tremendous track record of abuse and problems, and we’re getting them out,” Trump said. “And that’s what I said I would do. I’m just doing what I said I would do.”  Sean Hannity (source) (includes video of Trump saying exactly that)

Note the words simply and just.  They have a very specific function here.  You can think of it as justification through minimization: their goal is to communicate the idea that what follows is not a bad thing, specifically by minimizing it relative to things that would admittedly be bad.  It’s quite complex, because it starts with a concession–with an implicit agreement that if you had done what the other person states that you did, then it would have been bad.  But, that concession is then followed with an argument that what you did was not, in fact, that, and since it wasn’t that, then you are meant to accept that it was not bad. 

The English words just and simply have a lot of meanings.  This particular meaning gets used in a couple very particular ways.  I’ll give you the more complicated one first, because it’s actually easier to see how they function in the more complicated case:

  • Yes, I did sorta take some of your sandwich, but I really just tasted it.
  • Mom, I didn’t hit him–I just touched him hard.
  • Don’t get mad at what I said–it was just a joke.
  • I’m not being mean–I’m simply stating a fact.  You are fat, old, and bald.

The structure of all of them works something like this: there’s this thing that you think that I did, and if I had done it, sure, maybe that would have been bad.  But, I didn’t–I did some lesser thing, and since it’s not the bad thing that you mentioned, it’s not bad.  So:

  • Yes, I did sorta take some of your sandwich, but I really just tasted it.  The structure: if I had really taken some of your sandwich, then that would have been bad–but, I didn’t.  I did a lesser thing: I tasted it.  Since that’s not the bad thing, then it’s not bad.
  • Mom, I didn’t hit him–I just touched him hard.  The structure: if I had hit him, then sure–that would have been bad.  But, I didn’t hit him–I did something less than that, and since it’s not that bad thing, then it’s not bad.

This is a fallacious argument.  Suppose that there is some bad thing–let’s call it X.  The fact that something is not X does not mean that it is not bad.  The fact that something is “less” than X does not mean that it’s not bad, either.  But, that’s exactly the implication behind the whole “he’s just doing what he said he would do” attempt at a justification.  In fact, “just” is being used here without the concession–it’s pure minimization.  It’s adding to the assertion he’s doing what he said he would do an adverb that is meant to convey that the doing is something less than something else–specifically, less than bad.  

At some point, the current insanity is going to end–America always rights herself, eventually.  How?  Who knows?  Maybe Trump will throw one of his little hissy fits and resign.  Maybe he’ll nuke somebody, and somebody will nuke him, and the world as we know it will end.  These days, it’s tough to be surprised.  One thing that I am, however, sure of: history is not going to look kindly on this period, and it’s not going to look kindly on the people who supported Trump.  Are they all going to go to jail?  Of course not.  Are their grandchildren going to be ashamed of them?  Probably.  You have a choice to make here: collaborate, talk back, or just keep your head low.  There’s only one of those that you won’t be ashamed to tell your grandkids about.

3 thoughts on “How defending Trump is like defending domestic abuse”

  1. “Are their grandchildren going to be ashamed of them?” You forget there won’t be any grandchildren :pensive: Good news, I hate Earthlings .
    More seriously, in Trump’s defenders’ mind the fact that he said he would exterminate all Jews and all hairdressers (just an example from a funny joke I adore) and that the wonderful US people voted for him means that it is the wonderful US people’s will, so as their wonderful president he is democratically entitled to do so . There is some logic in this that you don’t point out .
    More seriously, what’s wrong with domestic abuse ? I mean, as long as you are the strongest ? :satisfied:

    Like

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