September 14, 2020
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Footnote to the Impeachment Effort

Footnote to the Impeachment Effort

Two fundamental errors in logic have been evident in the movement to drive President Trump from office. One is the fallacy of judging, without a crystal ball, what someone will do in the future. The other is the fallacy of divining the intentions behind someone’s behavior without evidence. The second is less obvious and more interesting, so that is the one I will examine.

The Democrats claimed over and over in the Senate presentation that the sole purpose in President Trump’s requesting that the Ukraine president investigate the corruption in that country was to impugn Joe Biden and thereby gain an unfair advantage in the 2020 Presidential campaign.

How should a fair-minded, thinking person react to that claim?

First, by acknowledging that it is possible for a person, in this case President Trump, to have had a single intention for doing something, but equally possible for him to have had more than one intention. Secondly, by considering what other intentions the President could reasonably have had. Finally, by determining what evidence is relevant and, in light of that, deciding whether the claim against the President is well founded. Here’s how that thinking process would proceed:

What evidence did the Democrats offer to support their claim that the President’s only purpose was to impugn Joe Biden? None at all other than conjecture and presumption.

What evidence did the President’s defense team offer to establish that the President had another purpose? The President’s assertion at the time that he wanted to determine whether the government in Ukraine was or was not corrupt before supporting them with U.S. tax dollars. This assertion was credible because the President had previously investigated other countries receiving American aid in a similar way. (Example, South Korea.) Also because U.S. intelligence agencies reported that Ukraine had serious and continuing problems with corruption. Moreover, that the New York Times and the Washington Post had reported that while Senator Biden was in charge of U.S. relations with Ukraine, his son Hunter took a highly paid position on the Board of Burisma, a Ukrainian firm whose owner was under criminal indictment. (Trump defense team member and former Florida Attorney General, Pam Bondi documented these facts during the Senate Impeachment trial.)

The President’s team, notably Professor Alan Dershowitz, argued that the Constitution and legal precedent support the President’s position. My focus here, however, is not on the views of legal experts, but on the conclusion of elementary logic and common sense. That conclusion is that the Democrats’ claim is not credible and the President’s claim is credible.

As I write, all indications are that the Senate will acquit the President of the charges against him. I understand, of course, that many people, including members of Congress, firmly believe that the President is guilty of grave offenses even if there is no evidence supporting that belief. Some are even convinced he will commit offenses in the future. I find this reliance on wishful thinking troubling, and not just because it disrespects logic, common sense, and legal process, but also because it has become common in the broader culture.

To cite but one example, students at numerous prestigious colleges often demand that the administrations cancel lectures, notably those by political or philosophical conservatives, because they claim to know (presumably by some gift of clairvoyance) what the speakers will say before they say it, and they also know (by the same gift) that hearing it will offend and in some existential way harm them. Worse, administrators often bow to such student demands, thereby ignoring the wishes of students who are unafraid of genuine learning.

Whenever I have read of such cases, and when I watched the impeachment hearings, I could not help recalling what happened almost every time (or so it seemed) I drove my young children to a vacation spot. One of my sons, but never my daughters, to their credit, would begin screaming as if mortally wounded.

“Dad,” he’d yell, “tell him [his brother] to stop it. I can’t stand it.”

Struggling to keep my attention on the road, I’d respond, “Why? What did he do?”

“He looked at me.”

“But what did he DO? Did he hit you or threaten you?”

Exasperated that I didn’t grasp the enormity of the presumed offense, he’s say, “No, he didn’t DO anything. He just LOOKED at me, but I could tell he was thinking of doing something to me. I want him punished.”

I’d then offer what seemed the only appropriate response. In the gravest tone I could muster, I said: “OK Ralph [not his real name], please stop looking at your brother as if you want to do something to him.”

Now, I understand that the impeachment of a President is a considerably more significant matter than the protest of an overwrought child. Yet I believe the appropriate responses are very similar. The U.S. Senate should have done us all the favor of saying to the House Impeachment managers at the outset:

“We know you hate the President and even though you can’t prove that he has done anything wrong, you are determined to find him guilty of thinking of doing something wrong, but we will not validate that mission. We will however, issue this proclamation (with a resounding drum roll, if you wish): ‘We hereby admonish President Donald J. Trump to cease offending his enemies by thinking of doing something wrong.’”

Copyright © 2020 by Vincent Ryan Ruggiero. All rights reserved

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Vincent Ryan Ruggiero