A recent Suffolk University/USA TODAY poll found that 58% of self-identified Trump supporters believe that the January 6, 2021, assault on the U.S. Capitol was “mostly an antifa-inspired attack that only involved a few Trump supporters.” Aside from being just plain factually false, this belief is an example of a classic “brain fart,” a well-documented logical fallacy that can affect any of us commonly called “No True Scotsman.”
This post will explore this fallacy, but more importantly, look at the very dangerous downstream threat from widespread belief in this particular political myth.
Logical fallacies and Scotsmen
The classic story from which “No True Scotsman” got its name goes something like this.
Suppose I assert that no Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge. You counter this by pointing out that your friend Angus likes sugar with his porridge. I then say “Ah, yes, but no true Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge.”
In the context of the January 6 Capitol uprising, this fallacy would say something like, “No true Trump supporter would ever commit violence against the police and Congress members, therefore, the rioters must have been ordinary lawless thugs, false-flag Democrats, or Antifa.” This is a form of equivocation, with different parts of our brain in conflict trying to reconcile a severe cognitive dissonance. When we equivocate, we are usually trying to modify a previous assertion so that we can still claim that our earlier untrue statement is still indeed true.
This fallacy is also a form of circular reasoning. Trump supporters are trying, on the fly, to redefine what a Trump supporter is, in order to exclude the uglier parts of their base (at least in this instance).
The evidence is overwhelming that many ardent Trump supporters traveled to Washington with the tools for violence, and even coordinated plans for how to get past security and into the Capitol building. The statements of multiple people subsequently arrested assert that Donald Trump’s actions leading up to January 6, and his provocative speech on that day telling them to march on the Capitol, motivated their excesses. Almost everyone arrested has a long social media history as a vocal Trump supporter. The attackers were Trump’s most loyal followers. That is simply fact.
But in hindsight, many supporters in that crowd and watching on television have realized that some very violent and unprecedented stuff went down that day. Just as they have spent four years excusing Donald Trump’s odiousness, even though many are professed religious believers, the January 6 speech, plus the subsequent violence, need to be explained first to themselves in a way that preserves their view of themselves and their friends as “good people.”
The Skeptics Guide to the Universe podcast crew published a great summary of common logical fallacies a while back. This weekly podcast often features a news item of questionable logic which is then linked to one or more of these fallacies. Even the most logical among us can be pulled into many of these brain misdirections. The Ad Hominem, for instance, where we attack the person rather than the argument, is a common fallback for many of us when we are backed into a corner. This was a favorite Tweet theme from the former president’s account.
Logical fallacies abound in the online debates about the coronavirus. The False Dichotomy, where the argument is reduced to only two choices, is a common position. “Face masks either work or they don’t. I know a guy who wore a face mask and still contracted Covid. Therefore, they do not work.” Readers of this blog know that most of life is probability rather than two-option choices.
The political danger ahead
Now a month after President Biden’s inauguration, I perceive this “No True Scotsman” logical fallacy as one of three prongs to the Republican strategy to retake the Senate and/or the House in 2022. The Sunday news programs as recently as this week still feature prominent Republicans who refuse to acknowledge the Constitutional and fraud-free election of Joe Biden. I see the strategy evolving like this:
- The mob in DC was not us! Don’t blame Republicans or Donald Trump for the assault on the Capitol.
- But the 2020 election was still fraudulently decided. Ignore the court cases, as they never heard the evidence. We still won this election, and we demand a rematch!
- All recent actions to expand voting over the last decades, especially from this past year, must be rolled back. No more open mail voting. Aggressively purge the rolls. Cut back on polling places, days, and hours. Demand forms of voter ID that many citizens do not have.
The Brennan Center has cataloged at least 165 bills in 33 states working their way through legislatures aimed at cutting back on the right of people, especially minorities and young people, to vote. Even in my state of Florida, which Republicans won handily in 2020 and has one of the best-run mail voting systems in the country, Governor DeSantis is determined to make voting harder the next time around.
Two bills currently in the House of Representatives are aimed at stopping the autocratic assault on voting rights. H.R. 4 is called the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, and is focused on fixing problems with earlier voting rights legislation struck down by the courts. H.R. 1 is called the “For the People Act,” and is aimed at expanding existing legislation that financially rewards and states for improved voter access, and penalizes them for new restrictions.
Both of these bills will be essential in preventing another run at deconstructing American democracy like we have seen these past four years. In my view, these are the two “must have” goals of this legislative session. They may be our last chance at free and fair elections.