Friday, June 23, 2017

Sloppy Argument

John Zeigler at Mediaite has written a column castigating Donald Trump, a column so sloppily argued that it's hard to take it seriously. Zeigler is upset that more conservatives are not also upset that Trump "lied" about having taped his conversation in the Oval Office with James Comey.

He begins with some background:
To the shock of no one with a functioning and objective brain, it was finally revealed today that President Donald Trump, contrary to previous public statements, does NOT have any tapes of his conversations with then FBI Director James Comey. This official revelation should be a rather big deal, but much like nearly everything involving Trump, it likely won’t be.

Let’s be very clear about what really happened. After Trump suddenly fired Comey and was stunned by the backlash, word began to “leak” out about Comey’s version of their conversations. Trump then tweeted that Comey “better hope there are no tapes” of those discussions. We now know that Trump (unless he is a complete imbecile) knew when he made that pronouncement that no such tapes existed, and yet he waited several weeks, dodging many opportunities to clarify, before finally admitting that it was all just a bluff.
Zeigler then gives three reasons why Trump's tweet about the tapes is so outrageous:
First, there is the issue of Trump strongly suggesting something that he knew to be untrue and purposely allowing people, including Comey, to believe it for several weeks. I don’t know what that is called in this post-truth era, but where I come from that is still a lie. To a few people (I think/hope), lies by the President of the United States still matter, at least a little.
This is just silly. Trump didn't suggest that the tapes actually exist. That's an interpretation of his words that hostile interpreters have read into them. Nor is it a lie to say that "Comey better hope there are no tapes". A proposition, to be a lie, must be false, and there's no sensible reading of Trump's words that can turn them into a false proposition. If people have jumped to the conclusion that Trump was claiming that tapes definitely exist that's their fault, not Trump's.
....Even more nefariously, Trump was clearly trying to intimidate Comey, a likely key witness in a criminal investigation, into being afraid to offer specific details of their discussions because it might not match with tapes, which he was using the credibility of his office to strongly suggest existed. It is not hard to imagine that, in Trump’s mind (he didn’t know about Comey’s memos at that time) this would greatly chasten Comey in what he might say or testify to because he would fear being contradicted by audio evidence.
This is also silly, if not incoherent. What Trump was obviously doing was attempting to insure that Comey told the truth about their conversation. It'd hardly be helpful to Trump to frighten or intimidate Comey into saying anything that would be contradicted by tapes, if they existed. Why would Trump even raise the possibility of tapes unless he was trying to convince Comey of the need to be truthful in his statements about his conversations with the President?
Third, the practical impact of Trump shooting his mouth off about these non-existent tapes could end up being catastrophic to his presidency. Because of the “tapes” tweet, Comey let the cat out of the bag about his memos and, in turn, this helped provoke the naming of Robert Mueller as special counsel. Much like with his “Muslim Travel Ban,” it sure seems like Trump’s own words turn out to haunt him in the legal arena more than just about anything else possibly could.
This may or may not be correct, but it assumes that Comey would not have discussed his memos if Trump hadn't mentioned the possibility of tapes. How Zeigler knows that Comey would've kept the existence of the memos secret he doesn't say. An assertion like this should be supported with at least a little bit of evidence, but Zeigler gives us none.

One thing I agree with Zeigler on, though, is that Trump's tweets have often been unhelpful to his presidency, but in this instance the only reason to think that Trump did something that should arouse the ire of all decent persons is to impose on his tweet words and intentions that simply aren't there.

One need not be a Trump apologist to insist that weak, sloppy arguments against him - by those on both left and right - are not only unfair to the president but also diminish the credibility and stature of the people who make them.