The Liberals’ Struggle with Logic

The Liberals’ Struggle with Logic

Almost three months after the 2016 election, many liberals still cannot acknowledge Donald Trump’s victory. The most recent example of this incapacity is the growing list of members of Congress—68 at this point—who have refused to attend his inauguration.

One of the first refusers was John Lewis, who explained that he doesn’t “see this president-elect as a legitimate president.” When asked why, he said, “I think the Russians participated in helping this man get elected. And they helped destroy the candidacy of Hillary Clinton.”

Many others reportedly have refused for no other reason than that they supported Lewis. For example, Ted Lieu said, “For me, the personal decision not to attend Inauguration is quite simple: Do I stand with Donald Trump, or do I stand with John Lewis? I am standing with John Lewis.”

Similarly, Darren Soto said, “I am deeply disappointed with Trump’s attacks against civil rights hero John Lewis and will not be attending the inauguration as a result.” Rep. Yvette Clarke was even more succinct: ” When you insult [John Lewis], you insult America.”

The reasons these individuals offered for not attending the inauguration make no sense. Consider the errors in Lewis’ claim about the election. The Russians could not have hacked the election process because the data were in the voting machines rather than the Internet and couldn’t have been hacked. And even if the Russians had accessed and leaked John Podesta’s emails, they certainly did not write those emails and there is no evidence that they altered them. Similarly, if the Russians leaked damaging information about Hillary, it tortures logic to say that the act of leaking, rather than the damaging information itself, caused the voters to reject Hillary.

As for the idea that Trump insulted Lewis, the opposite is true. It was Lewis who labeled Trump illegitimate; all Trump did was respond that Lewis would be better off attending to the needs of his constituents than to cast aspersions at him.

Here are the explanations of some of the others who have refused to attend the inauguration, together with my comments on their logic:

Keith Ellison: “I will not celebrate a man who preaches a politics of division and hate.” Comment: The inauguration is not a “celebration of a man” but a formal government ceremony transferring the responsibility of an office.

Steve Cohen: “This president semi-elect does not deserve to be President of the United States. He has not exhibited the characteristics and the values that we hold dear.” Comment: There is nothing “semi” to his status. And the only sense in which deservingness applies is in having won sufficient electoral votes, which Trump did.

Raul Grijalva calls his non-attendance an act of “defiance at the disrespect shown to millions and millions of Americans by this incoming administration.” Comment: To be precise, the defiance can only be of the ceremony and its significance. Similarly, the incoming administration, not having yet been installed, cannot be said to have respected or disrespected anyone.

Barbara Lee: “Donald Trump has proven that his administration will normalize the most extreme fringes of the Republican Party. On Inauguration Day, I will not be celebrating. I will be organizing and preparing for resistance.” Comment: It is not possible to “prove” a future event because it has not yet happened. It is also unfair and unwise to organize and prepare for something that may not happen. Doing so can lead one to reject good ideas and programs without ever considering their merits.

Jose Serrano: “I will not attend the inauguration next week—[I] cannot celebrate the inauguration of a man who has no regard for my constituents.” Comment: Regard for one’s constituents is most clearly shown by actions and Trump has not yet been in a position to take action. Moreover, he has not suggested that he would harm any actual constituents. (One wonders if the Congressman mistakenly considers as constituents people who are here illegally.)

Maxine Waters: “I never ever contemplated attending the inauguration or any activities associated [with Donald Trump]. I wouldn’t waste my time.” Comment: Never even contemplated doing so? A congresswoman’s association with a man who will soon be president is a “waste of time”? How can members of Congress fulfill their constitutional obligations with such an attitude? Given the prescribed relationship of the executive and legislative branches of government, such talk is not only illogical; it is also irresponsible.

John Yarmouth: “I will not be attending the inauguration because I believe the office of the President deserves our respect, and that respect must begin with the President-elect himself.” Comment: in the case of an inauguration, the way to show respect for the office is to attend; non-attendance implies disrespect for the office. Moreover, untoward behavior of the president-elect does not suspend the Congressman’s responsibility to respect the presidency.

Larry Elder suggests that people who refuse to accept Trump as president suffer from “Trump derangement syndrome.” That is an apt assessment. However, I think there is a deeper problem. I would call it an attitude of intellectual entitlement, rather like the entitlement many people feel about their economic and social situations—for example, students feeling entitled to good grades, workers feeling entitled to high-paying jobs with generous benefits, and welfare recipients feeling entitled to government largesse.

Intellectual entitlement is the attitude that one has a right to be right—in other words, is entitled to confidence and even certainty about the validity of one’s feelings, beliefs, and judgments. This attitude derives from “relativism,” the view that truth is subjective—created by each person—rather than objective. Relativism originated several centuries before the time of Christ, became prominent again in the 1800s, was reasserted by Humanistic Psychology in the 1960s, and has since become a central tenet of mass culture.

Liberals tend to be more prone to this attitude than conservatives because they are more receptive to non-traditional ideas, a tendency that is fortunate when the ideas are sound and unfortunate when, as in this case, they are not. This attitude is common, not only among liberal politicians, but also among liberal celebrities, journalists, and professors. It is evident in the political tirades that have become de rigeur at movie, music, and TV awards shows, as well as in the commercials featuring actors chanting, “Trump is not our president” and in extravagantly biased editorials.

People afflicted with this attitude miss a crucial truth of the human condition. Though we have a right to our opinions (at least in a democracy), that fact does not guarantee that our opinions will be right—they could just as easily be wrong. By failing to acknowledge this truth, they stop asking the kinds of questions that open multiple paths of thought and stimulate critical analysis and judgment: Could I be mistaken? What evidence is my viewpoint based on? Does any evidence challenge it? What other interpretations are possible? Have I accounted for ironic or paradoxical possibilities? Are any of the other interpretations more reasonable than mine?

When this kind of careful, thorough thinking gives way to “I know I’m right so I don’t have to think any further than that,” arrogance rushes in. That is exactly what happened long before the 2016 election and may, in fact, have caused the voter disgust that led to Donald Trump’s victory. The fact that it is continuing among so many of our leaders does not bode well for America.

Copyright © 2017 by Vincent Ryan Ruggiero. All rights reserved

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Vincent Ryan Ruggiero