How to rebut logical fallacies in the impeachment debate

Posted on January 30, 2020

Progressives have gotten so used to hearing bald-faced lies that perhaps we have become a little less ready to recognize which rhetorical tricks are being used against us. Let us consider five of the most common informal logical fallacies—arguments that may sound convincing on their face but actually rely on a flaw in logic.

(1) Red Herring Fallacy—Also known as: misdirection, smokescreen, clouding the issue, beside the point, and the Chewbacca defense.

A Red Herring argument is one that changes the subject, distracting the audience from the real issue to focus on something else where the speaker feels more comfortable and confident.

A typical policy example: “It may be true that the minimum wage is low, but the real solution is to eliminate burdensome government regulations so businesses can grow and be able to pay their employees higher salaries.”

An example in the impeachment debate: “The real issue is Joe Biden’s involvement in Ukraine.”

Your response should be:

This Biden argument is just a diversion—a smokescreen. If there was any such problem, the Senate could have investigated, issued subpoenas or held hearings any time over the past three years. The current question before the Senate is whether the Articles of Impeachment are true. The Biden argument makes no difference to that question.

(2) Strawman Fallacy—Also known in the U.K. as Aunt Sally.

A Strawman argument is an intentional misrepresentation of an opponent’s position. It sets up an easy (and false) target for the speaker to knock down.

A typical policy example: “The pro-abortion advocates oppose a waiting period and sonogram requirement because they favor abortion on demand. And abortion on demand means eliminating all consideration of the unborn child as well as women’s health.”

An example in the impeachment debate: “Progressives want to nullify the 2016 (or 2020) election.”

Your response should be:

This is a false representation of the issue. Anyone who is hired with a four-year contract—let’s say a baseball player, for example—can be fired for just cause. That’s what impeachment is about: should Trump be fired. Further, he has been impeached and he’s still running for President in the 2020 election. Nothing is nullified.

 (3) Slippery Slope Fallacy—Also known as absurd extrapolation, thin edge of the wedge, and camel’s nose under the tent.

A Slippery Slope argument is a version of a Red Herring. Specifically, this is a claim that a policy which takes a small step in one direction will lead to a chain of events that will result in drastic change.

A typical policy example: “If we require background checks for the sale of all guns, including private sales at gun shows, it will lead to the federal government obtaining the information to create a list of who owns guns which, in time, will lead to the confiscation of privately-owned firearms.”

An example in the impeachment debate: “All Presidents try to help themselves politically when engaged in foreign affairs. Impeaching Trump means that all future Presidents will be at risk of impeachment.

Your response should be:

That argument is absurd. Sure, elected officials try to do a good job in part to get reelected. But the evidence shows that Donald Trump launched a corrupt scheme, using his public power to benefit his private self. It had nothing to do with doing a good job for America.

(4) Begging the Question Fallacy—Also known as: assuming the initial point, chicken and the egg, and circular reasoning.

In an argument Begging the Question, the conclusion is assumed in one of the argument’s premises, and that premise is not supported by independent evidence. Often called circular reasoning, it begins and ends at the same place. [Sorry, it has nothing to do with prompting someone to ask a question.]

A typical policy example: “Our Second Amendment rights are absolute, so gun control laws are illegal.”

An example in the impeachment debate: “The House has no grounds for impeachment because individuals with direct knowledge, like Bolton and Mulvaney, never testified. And individuals like Bolton and Mulvaney should not testify because there are no grounds for impeachment.”

Your response should be:

Your circular argument makes no sense. You are defending obstruction of justice. Nevertheless, even if Bolton, Mulvaney and the rest never testify, there is already overwhelming evidence of guilt, including documents, witnesses, and Trump’s own words.

(5) Post Hoc Fallacy—From the Latin phrase “post hoc, ergo propter hoc,” which means “after this, therefore because of this.” Also known as false cause.

A Post Hoc argument is one where the speaker confuses correlation with causation, specifically, that because one event followed another, the first event caused the second. Is there a so-called Education Reform argument that’s not Post Hoc?

A typical policy example:Schools that teach Latin have higher test scores, therefore if we establish a school that teaches Latin, it will improve student achievement.”

An example in the impeachment debate: “Military aid to Ukraine was eventually released, so clearly Trump had a different reason for withholding the funds.”

Your response should be:

The one did not cause the other. There is absolutely no proof that Ukraine met some other requirement that caused the funds to be released. On the contrary, all the evidence demonstrates that Trump ended his extortion scheme because the whistleblower blew Trump’s cover.