“The Bandwagon Effect”: How Trump’s Dog Whistles Work
The headline from an article by Jill Colvin and Matthew Daly caught my eye: Trump: ‘A Lot Of People’ Feel That Black Lives Matter Is ‘Inherently Racist.” Here’s the context:
Trump also had harsh words for the Black Lives Matters movement, which has organized some of the protests. Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, a Trump adviser, labeled the group “inherently racist” over the weekend in an interview with CBS News.
“When you say black lives matter, that’s inherently racist,” Giuliani said. “Black lives matter. White lives matter. Asian lives matter. Hispanic lives matter. That’s anti-American and it’s racist.”
Asked whether he agreed with Giuliani’s assessment, Trump said the group’s name is “divisive.”
“A lot of people agree with that. A lot of people feel that it is inherently racist. And it’s a very divisive term,” he said. “Because all lives matter. It’s a very, very divisive term.”
We could talk about the racism being expressed by both Giuliani and Trump in that exchange. But the framing of Trump’s statement is something he does very often; “A lot of people agree with that. A lot of people feel…” It is a logical fallacy called argumentum ad populum.
…a fallacious argument that concludes that a proposition is true because many or most people believe it: “If many believe so, it is so.”
We sometimes call this the “bandwagon effect” captured by the Chinese proverb, “three men make a tiger.”
“Three men make a tiger” refers to an individual’s tendency to accept absurd information as long as it is repeated by enough people. It refers to the idea that if an unfounded premise or urban legend is mentioned and repeated by many individuals, the premise will be erroneously accepted as the truth.
Jenna Jones noticed Trump’s attachment to this fallacy about a month ago and documented how he used it to spread his conspiracy theories. For example, when he was asked to explain a statement about how President Obama doesn’t understand Muslim terrorists, he said this:
“Well,” Trump said on the “Today Show” Monday morning, “there are a lot of people that think maybe he doesn’t want to get it. A lot of people think maybe he doesn’t want to know about it. I happen to think that he just doesn’t know what he’s doing, but there are many people that think maybe he doesn’t want to get it. He doesn’t want to see what’s really happening. And that could be.”
Here’s what he said in an attempt to insinuate that the Clintons were involved in the death of Vince Foster:
“I don’t bring [Foster’s death] up because I don’t know enough to really discuss it,” Trump said in an interview with The Post in May. “I will say there are people who continue to bring it up because they think it was absolutely a murder. I don’t do that because I don’t think it’s fair.”
Jones points out that this is how Trump maneuvers in order to be able to backtrack when circumstances require him to do so.
Trump frequently couches his most controversial comments this way, which allows him to share a controversial idea, piece of tabloid gossip or conspiracy theory without technically embracing it. If the comment turns out to be popular, Trump will often drop the distancing qualifier — “people think” or “some say.” If the opposite happens, Trump can claim that he never said the thing he is accused of saying, equating it to retweeting someone else’s thoughts on Twitter.
What is important to remember is the part about why he does it in the first place. It is a way for Trump to give a wink and a nod to white supremacists and conspiracy theorists to say, “I hear you, I’m with you.” That is his way of doing dog whistle politics.
By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, July 12, 2016
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