Hatch Schmatch!

Introduction: On Thursday, March 25th, 2021, newly appointed Secretary for Housing and Urban Development, Marcia Fudge spoke at a White House press briefing. During this talk, a reporter asked her about some political races in Ohio. After initially declining to answer to answer a question about filling her old seat in the House of Representatives, she responded to a follow-up question about an upcoming Senate race for Ohio by discussing the Democrat’s prospects for winning the seat. Subsequently, reporters began asking questions about whether or not she had violated the Hatch Act in providing these answers.

This tweet is one of many in which apparent supporters of the Biden administration expressed varied levels of frustration over the criticism in view of the previous administration’s record of frequent violations without consequences.

Key Facts: As indicated in this article by CNN, there is some question about whether or not answering questions about Democratic prospects in upcoming elections violates the act inasmuch as it borders on actively using the office and the press conference to advance partisan messages.

As also indicated in the CNN article, members of the Trump administration frequently violated the hatch act without significant consequences. I think it fair to characterize many of these violations as flagrant.

Text: The top tweet in the image to the left is the argument in question. I left the second tweet in as it is an example of the sorts of questions Haley Sheley was responding to. Anyway, the argument is as follows:

“I’m old enough to remember Trump having a campaign rally on the White House lawn calling, his then campaign opponent, Joe Biden a socialist. So, I don’t wanna hear how Marcia Fudge MAY have violated the Hatch Act by answering a reporters question about the Ohio Senate race. GFTOH”

(Emphasis in original)

ANALYSIS

Comments: In case it isn’t obvious, “GFTOH” means “Get the fuck out of here!”

Statements: The argument is as follows:

[1] I’m old enough to remember Trump having a campaign rally on the White House lawn calling, his then campaign opponent, Joe Biden a socialist.

So

[2] I don’t wanna hear how Marcia Fudge MAY have violated the Hatch Act by answering a reporters question about the Ohio Senate race. GFTOH”

Diagram: The diagram is simple enough.

2 -> 1.

Discussion: This argument raises the following questions; False Equivalence, Micro-reasoning, Moral Reasoning, Qualification, Tu Quoque.

False Equivalence: As the argument certainly involves some questions about comparisons here, it might be tempting to ask questions about whether or not this is an example of false equivalence, but if there is a disparity in the actions compared in this instance, it is probably one that points the other direction, so to speak. As the author of this argument points out, correctly, I think, the Trump administration is guilty of far greater violations than the one which Fudge is accused of making.

Micro-Reasoning: This is a brief argument dealing with a complicated issue. It might well be that problems with the reasoning here stem partly from the limitations of micro-blogging.

Moral Reasoning: As this argument is about misconduct, it does raise questions about the nature of moral principles, but these questions are complicated by the legal and political context of the principles at stake. It would be fair to suggest that the Hatch Act imposes moral responsibilities on government officials. On the other hand, these obligations are complicated by the viability of the political system. There are legitimate questions about whether or not one is still obligated to follow a law that has been virtually ignored for 4 years. Likewise, there are questions about whether or not such an obligation can be reasonably imposed on one political party alone.

Qualification: As noted above one of the points this author makes in her tweet is established by the all-caps to emphasize the term “MAY.” In effect, she is reminding us that it is by no means clear that Secretary Fudge actually did break this law by answering a question raised by a professional journalist in the context of a press conference. In effect, “may” qualifies the claim in question by reminding us that it is simply a possibility, not an established fact.

Tu Quoque: As an argument dismissing a criticism of one person by pointing out that her political opponents are guilty of the same misconduct, this seems like a classic case of a tu quoque fallacy, but there are a few things that might argue against this judgement.

First and foremost, this is not an argument directed against the Trump administration itself. It is directed at the news media for raising the question in the first place. The argument is thus less of a ‘you too’ than a ‘him too.’ So, the issue might not be so much a question of evening the score, so to speak, than one about what kind of standard has been applied here.

Many have questioned whether or not journalists are applying a double-standard here, but many journalists certainly did question Trump officials regarding violations of the Hatch Act. Any concerns about he lack of consequences for these violations probably lie with the political process rather than a clear bias on the part of the news media.

Secondly, this is not your run-of-the-mill he-did-it-too argument or situation. In this instance, the violations of the previous administration were frequent and flagrant. Under the Trump administration, the Hatch Act fell into virtual disuse as officials willfully defied the act without significant consequences. Questions about whether or not it is acceptable to uphold the principle of a law, as applied to one party, so soon after the other has all but nullified that law in practice are not exactly equivalent to the normal point of this fallacy. It is not simply a question of whether or not someone else did it too; the point here is that this application suggests a very serious double-standard.

The point of the Hatch Act is to curtail partisanship in government service, and there are real questions about whether or not the act still serves that purpose. If it applies only to the actions of Democratic officials, then arguably, the Hatch Act serves only to exacerbate the very partisanship is is meant to combat.

Third, any comparison between the actions of the Trump administration and those of Secretary Fudge would surely suggest her own actions are on a scale far short of her predecessors. Once again, the problem here is one of an extreme double-standard.

Even in light of these three considerations, I’m inclined to think this remains a tu quoque fallacy, however, partly because of the particular conclusion drawn in this instance. It is literally a refusal to consider the question. While, there are legitimate questions about what the Hatch Act means in the wake of four years of willful disregard, direct refusal to consider the issue entirely doesn’t raise those questions in a helpful manner. In the end, the reasoning is still problematic.

Evaluation: The argument is unsound because it commits the fallacy of tu quoque.

Truth of Premise 1: It is worth noting that the President himself is not covered by the Hatch Act, so his own statements about his political opponent during a campaign rally on the White House lawn would not violate the law. That said, the actions of staff in setting up the event certainly would.

Relevance of the inference: This really is a lot more complicated judgement call than usual, but I do think it fair to say this is a tu quoque fallacy.

Final Thoughts: At the end of the day, America is better off when public officials do in fact refrain from using their office to promote partisan politics. Secretary Fudge’s comments are probably not a serious violation of this principle, but they do touch upon ‘dangerous territory,’ to borrow language from the CNN article. If there a serious questions about whether or not this law has been violated before, or even whether or not this law can be applied to both parties when relevant, these questions are probably not properly addressed by ignoring questions about Fudge’s behavior in this instance. It is highly unlikely that serious publishment would be warranted in this case, but the question itself seems reasonable, and that question is exactly what this argument denies outright.

Wisdom of the Oompa Loompas

Introduction: This argument is a (hopefully) well known part of the movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factor, which was produced in 1971. In this film, the Oompa Loompas, mysterious workers at the chocolate factory sing a number of songs amounting to criticism of the children featured in the story. Each of the Oompa Loompa songs effectively points out the misconduct of an individual child and makes a case for changing that behavior.

This particular passage is the tune the Oompa Loompa’s sing at Violet Beauregarde, a girl who obviously likes her gum.

Key Facts: It’s worth considering that the Oompa Loompas play the role of a chorus in much the same manner that the convention was used in old Greek theater. In this case, they deliver a moral lesson which not only speaks to the characters in the story but also echoes lessons many parents might have given their own children.

Text: Here tis!

“Gum chewing’s fine when it’s once in a while
It stops you from smoking and brightens your smile
But it’s repulsive, revolting and wrong
Chewing and chewing all day long
The way that a cow does.”

ANALYSIS

Comments: I got nuthin!

Statements: In the following, statement 5 is rewritten so as to spell out the comparison. Statement 6 is the implied conclusion of the entire argument. It comes very close to matching statement 1, but it also entails the negative implications of chewing too much, which is of course the main thrust of the moral lesson.

[1] Gum chewing’s fine when it’s once in a while.

[2] It stops you from smoking.

[3] (It) brightens your smile.

[4] It’s repulsive, revolting and wrong chewing and chewing all day long.

[5] [Cows chew gum all day long.]

[6] [Gum should be chewed in moderation.]

Diagram: the diagram for this argument seems pretty straight-forward to me. Two reasons to say gum chewing is okay in moderation and one to show that it’s bad to chew gum too much. These two combine together to suggest a general proposition about doing the one and not the other.

Note that an alternative approach might be to spell out a more explicit negative statement about the need to avoid excessive gum chewing. This would perhaps capture the immediate significance of the lesson directed at Viola in the wake of her blueberry gum fiasco, but it has the down-side of complicating the signifcance of the counterpoint (that gum chewing is good when done in moderation), so I have opted here to treat the point as a more general lesson. Either approach seems plausible to me.

Discussion: This argument raises the following themes; Analogy, Appeal to Emotion, Causation, Missing Assertions, Moral Reasoning, Voicing.

Analogy: The Oompa Loompas compare shewing gum to the behavior of a cow chewing cud. Whether or not this is a good reason to avoid chewing gum is another question.

Appeal to Emotion: The main thrust of the analogy to cows chewing cud appears to be an appeal to emotion.

Causation: Both statements 2 and 3 suggest a causative relationship between chewing gum and some desirable effect. Whether or not these claims are justified is open to question, but they are sufficient to suggest that this argument involves a degree of causal reasoning, unsupported as the argument is in it’s current form. (Damned Oompa Loompa’s never cite any peer-reviewed papers!)

Missing Assertions: As is common in a great deal of reasoning, the actual conclusion of this argument is unstated in the original song. There are a couple different ways to think about what that final conclusion would be, but in its original form, the implications are left unstated.

Moral Reasoning: As the argument in question here is about how people (and in particularly children) should moderate their fum-chewing, it raises familiar questions about what it means to say that someone should or should not do something.

In this tune as well as the others, the Oompa Loompas seem to emphasize the negative effects of the behavior in question which suggests that this argument might be best construed in consequentialist terms. They are suggesting that excessive gum-chewing will make someone look foolish, or at least cowlish.

Voicing: I think it’s fair to suggest that the Oompa Loompas speak for the show in this and their other songs, in effect providing a moral lesson directed specifically at the children in the viewing audience. When Viola and the others produce arguments expressing their own vies on these topics, they appear to be voicing the imagined voices of children in need of correction. The events of the story then reveal the foolishness of their actions, and the Oompa Loompas arrive to drive the point home with a specific moral lesson. That moral lesson is a real lesson directed at children who may be trying to decide how to deal with issues such as how much gum should I chew.

Evaluation: I’m not going to do a complete evaluation here, but I will mention a couple of specific themes.

Statement 2: As part of a lesson directed at children this is an odd point to make at the very least, but presumably it could be interpreted as a claim relevant to the conduct of adults which would also be a concern to children. Either way, we could ask whether or not chewing gum actually stops people from smoking. That those trying to kick a smoking habit often chew gum in place of it would seem to suggest that there may be some connection here, at least in this specific context, but it is by no means clear that gum chewing in general serves to keep people from smoking,

Statement 3: I am not at all sure that this statement is true, either in general or in specific contexts such as right after a meal.

5->4: This inference is questionable at best. Presumably, the point of the analogy is to suggest that one would not wish to behave as a cow does, but it isn’t clear that there is any objective reason for this preference. Neither is it clear that moderate gum-chewing would be any less comparable to chewing cud than constant gum-chewing. Arguably this is a pretty naked attempt to trigger an emotional reaction.

Final Thoughts: The temptation to finish with an Oompa Loompa tune about good reasoning is very strong here, but I am going to show restraint, and I think the Oompa Loompas would be proud.

Sharice Davids Calls for the 25th

Introduction: On January 6th, 2021, U. S. Representative Sharice Davids of Kansas posted the text below on twitter in support of calls to invoke the 25th Amendment and thus remove President Donald Trump of office.

Key Facts: On January 6th, 2021 Congress met for the purpose of verifying the certified votes of the 2021 Presidential election. Joe Biden had received the majority of certified votes, making him the presumed President elect, though Donald Trump had challenged the election in a number of court cases as well a variety of popular fora. He consistently lost the court challenges before election officials and courts, but successfully developed a significant following of his own base unwilling to accept the legitimacy of the election.

On January 6th, Congressmen from several states challenged the legitimacy of votes reported from their own states Outside, as they were expected to do, thus triggering a debate within Congress. Donald Trump spoke to a rally of his own supporters which he had encouraged to come to Washington DC on the day in question. Following his own speech, Trump supporters stormed the Congressional buildings and shut down Congress. five people were killed and process of confirming the votes was delayed for a time. This is a rather dry description of events, but it must be stressed that the riots included a number of disturbing events, and the rhetoric of Trump and his supporters leading up to the event contained many elements suggesting violence intent all along. Some have suggested that this riot would be better described as an insurrection, an attempted coup, or even domestic terrorism. At least some of the participants do appear to have come prepared to engage in acts which would normally be described as domestic terrorism. In the wake of all this, many have argued that Trump incited the riot himself, and that this is grounds for impeachment.

As a House Representative, Davids would be among those called upon to vote on a motion to impeach the President. She would have no such role in the decision to invoke the 25th Amendment.

The relevant portion of the 25th Amendment reads as follows:

“Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.”

There is also a procedure by means of which a President may seek to resume office. The full text of the 25th Amendment can be found here.

Text: This example uses 2 separate tweets, one posted as an immediate subtweet of the other by the same author) as a single argument. Each tweet appears below as a separate paragraph.

“For the first time in history we have a President who should be impeached twice but because of the time constraints and inaction of Senate Republicans, I urge the Cabinet to invoke the 25th Amendment now.

“We will have a new President on January 20th, but we cannot trust Donald Trump to uphold his oath of office over the next 14 days. Our democracy, safety, and security is at stake.”

ANALYSIS

Comments: The argument raises some practical questions about the wisdom of removing a President with less than 2 weeks remaining in his term and the most appropriate means of doing so. On course it also raises questions about whether Donald Trump deserves removal and/or whether his continued presence in office poses a threat to the nation.

As a political reality, it may be difficult to resolve those questions to the satisfaction of all interested parties. This is as true for any small group looking at an argument like this as an exercise in critical thinking as it is for the nation as a whole. My point at present is that the differences in political outlook could provide a sticking point her for using the argument as a tool with which to teach logic. I won’t pretend I am neutral on these questions myself, but I can envision contexts in which one might agree to disagree with others for purposes of keeping the conversation from breaking down along partisan lines. I can of course envision others in which I would happily accept such consequences. Simply put, the difference depends on whether my focus is on the politics or on the critical thinking.

Statements: The relevant statements have been produced below. Note that statements 2 and 3 are both derived from sentence fragments in the initial text. In both cases, I believe the text below reflects Davids’ intent, but she refers to each consideration without spelling it out. My efforts to flesh out the details could be mistaken. Statement 8 is an implied intermediate conclusion of the argument.

[1] For the first time in history we have a President who should be impeached twice.

but because of [the fact that]

[2] [There is not enough time to impeach the President before he leaves office.]

[3] [Senate Republicans will not act to impeach.]

[4] I urge the Cabinet to invoke the 25th Amendment now.

[5] We will have a new President on January 20th

[6] we cannot trust Donald Trump to uphold his oath of office over the next 14 days.

[7] Our democracy, safety, and security is at stake.

[8] [Impeachment will not work.]

Diagram: I can think of 2 very different ways of diagramming this argument. One approach renders it in the form of a convergent argument containing one deontological case for the 25th and one consequentialist argument. The other makes the entire argument consequentialist in nature.

Both versions of the argument are sketched out in the illustration here.

Discussion: This argument raises the following themes: Convergent Arguments, Linked Arguments, Micro-Reasoning, Missing Assertions, Moral Reasoning.

Convergent Arguments / Linked Arguments: Statements 2 and 3 are best regarded as a convergent argument for the truth of statement 8, because either one would be sufficient in itself to make a case for it. Statement 1 plus 8 combined together to make the case for statement 4. Without each other, neither would support it. This combination of factors makes this kind of a good argument to illustrate the difference between convergent and Linked Arguments.

Micro-Reasoning: Although Davids uses a follow-up tweet to clarify some ambiguities in her first message, this is still an awful lot of information in a short space. That leaves a lot of room for ambiguity and increases the likelihood that analysis of this argument will go astray.

Missing Assertions: The whole point of this argument is that the 25th Amendment must be invoked because impeachment will not work. Davids produces reasons to believe impeachment will not work, and she draws conclusions from it, but she provides no specific statement clearly summarize this point which is clearly part of her reasoning. For this reason, the statement has been spelled out in order to place it in the relevant argument diagrams.

Moral Reasoning: One of the interesting questions about this argument is how we should interpret the meaning of ‘should’ in statement 1. It is possible to interpret this as a moral ‘ought’ in the sense that it would be the right thing to do regardless of the consequences. The deontological take on the word would mean that removal from office is an end in itself regardless of consequences. Alternatively, the word could be viewed as an expression of rational self-interest, as a description of a step needed to prevent the unfortunate consequences of leaving Trump in office. This consequentialist argument would be more susceptible to concerns about timing and the practical effects of pursuing either the 25th Amendment or impeachment.

At least some of the points Davids makes are clearly consequentialist in nature (statements 5, 6, and 7), but it is at least possible that she means to say that trump’s removal is a moral end in itself. Arguably, this would mean that impeachment was the best course of action regardless of the time frame, but it is at least possible that she regards removal (and not necessarily impeachment) as an end in itself.

Depending on how we interpret that first ‘should’ in Davids’ argument, we either get an argument which is entirely consequentialist (Version II of the diagram) or one in which Davids produces one argument based on deontological reasoning and one argument based on consequentialist reasoning (version I of the diagram).

Evaluation: I’m not going to give a complete evaluation of this argument. I will just call attention to a couple significant questions that would go into making that evaluation.

Questions about whether or not Donald Trump deserves impeachment would go directly to the truth value of statement one. Those about whether or not he poses a danger to the nation could be applied to the truth of statement 1 and statement 6. The big battle about Donald Trump’s responsibility for the riot goes to the truth of these two claims.

There are some specific details about the possible pace of impeachment and/or behind-the-scenes arrangements with interested parties (such as national security) that would affect the truth value of specific claims made in this argument and/or the cogency of inferences drawn within it, but I have no special insight into either of these matters.

Final thoughts: Honestly, I agree with Davids.

Every Man Should Know

Introduction: In 1980, the southern rock band, Blackfoot, released the album Tomcattin’ which included the song “Every Man Should Know (Queenie).” The song features a range of moral lessons, many of which come with implicit threats for those who transgress against them.

Key Facts: N/A.

Text: These are the first 2 lines of the song.

“Don’t mess with my queenie.

Or I’ll mess with your nose.”

ANALYSIS

Comments: This is a pretty simple argument. It poses 2 interesting problems at best; the need to rewrite the second line, and the question of whether or not it an example of the fallacy “appeal to force.”

The word “queenie” might be taken to refer to a transgendered individual. In this case, that is probably not the intended meaning. Whether or not that would substantially change the meaning of the lyric is another question.

Statements: Read at face value, neither of the two lines in this argument are statements. Each may be rewritten so as to express a statement consistent with the gist of the argument. In the first line, this means change a command [1a]to an expression of moral obligation [1b]. In [1b] the slang ‘queenie” has also been changed to a more common term. In [2b], the second line has been changed into a conditional statement using the substance of line 1 as the antecedent and the threat in [2a] as its consequent.

[1a] Don’t mess with my queenie.

[1b] [One should not mess with my girlfriend.]

[2a] or I’ll mess with your nose.

[2b] [If you mess with my queenie,] I will mess with your nose.

Diagram: This one is pretty easy.

2 -> 1.

Discussion: Minor rewrites aside, the only interesting feature of this argument is the question of whether or not this constitutes an example of the fallacy “appeal to force (ad baculum).” The appeal to force also makes this argument an example of interactional eclipse.

Ad baculum: It’s easy to see an appeal to force in this argument. The second line is literally a threat. What isn’t as clear here is the question of whether or not this particular appeal to force is fallacious. It is not clear that there is any underlying factual question or moral principle which is evaded by means of the threat in the argument. In expressing the threat, the author of the song effectively creates the conditions which serve as a reason for accepting the conclusion of the argument. He does not merely describe them.

Does that settle it? No.

One additional question relates to the meaning of the first statement. As originally stated in the song [1a], there is no objective content to line 1. When rewritten, we get a claim about what one ought to do that could be considered true or false and at least some approaches to morality might attribute objective reality to the nature of that obligation. (Others might interpret what one ‘should’ or ‘should not’ do as purely a function of self-interest. Arguably, this could mean we shouldn’t rewrite the line that way in the first place, but the context of the song makes it clear that the author is suggesting there is some underlying moral principle at stake in this and the rest of the lessons urged in the song. (“To own a body you got to own a soul
So every man should know…”) It’s not exactly complex ethical philosophy, but the song does suggest the issue here is more than just a series of threats.

If the author means to suggest, as he appears to, that there really is a moral principle at stake in the notion that one ought not to mess with his queenie, then the threat itself does constitute an ad baculum fallacy.

Interactional Eclipse: As the argument includes a direct threat, it constitutes a good example of interactional eclipse. It’s a song of course, but it’s a song that evokes as much fear as it does moral reflection. The one tends to drown out the other.

Moral Reasoning: As questions about what to make of the initial command in this argument lead to questions about whether the author intends to suggest a moral imperative or simply appeal to the self-interest of those to who he mighty be singing (see above), this argument is an interesting example of moral reasoning.

Evaluation: Insofar as it uses the ad baculum fallacy, the stated reason provides no support for the conclusion of this argument. It is therefore unsound.

Final thoughts: I’m still not taking the song of my favorites playlist.