Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Trump and Political Philosophy (3): The Rhetorical Myth of Trump the Self-Made Billionaire

                                                       Trump's Business Bankruptcies

                                               The Story Behind Donald Trump's Wealth

             New York Times Reporters Breaking the Story of Fred Trump's Financial Bailouts of His Son

President Obama Roasts Donald Trump at the White House Correspondents' Dinner in 2011

Applying Aristotle's Rhetoric to Donald Trump's campaign rhetoric makes clear that Trump's primary rhetorical technique for his election campaign was the argument from the character of the speaker that stressed the prudence or practical judgment of Trump as a wildly successful businessman, which would allow him as president to Make America Great Again.

This argument can be put into the form of an enthymeme:
Major premise:  Because of stupid politicians, America no longer wins; and America will not win again until a successful businessman who knows how to win is elected president.
Minor premise: Donald Trump is unique in his business success and his prudence in knowing how to win, because he is a self-made multi-billionaire.
Conclusion:  Therefore, Americans need to elect Trump president.
Both of the premises are open to dispute.  Here I will challenge the minor premise by pointing to the evidence that Trump's business career shows many failures from his imprudent decisions, that he was saved from ruin by his father's life-long transfer of money to him, and so he is not the self-made billionaire that he claims to be.  I will also suggest that Trump's financial imprudence as a businessman has been continued in his financial imprudence as a president who has promoted reckless increases in the federal budget deficits and the national debt, which contradicts his promise in his campaign rhetoric that he would show his fiscal prudence as president.

One can see Trump's campaign enthymeme by reading Trump's campaign book Great Again: How to Fix Our Crippled America (New York: Threshold Editions, 2016), which brought together all of the recurrent language and themes of his campaign speeches.

From the very beginning of the book, Trump identifies his political opponents as all being incompetent.  They are "politicians who talk a great game in campaigns--and play like total losers when they try to actually govern because they can't govern, they don't know how to govern" (xi).  And "as for the presidency and the executive branch, the incompetence is beyond belief" (xii).

Instead of the failed leadership of these incompetent losers, America needs the leadership of a successful businessman who has shown he knows how to win.
". . . It needs someone with common sense and business acumen, someone who can truly lead America back to what has made us great in the past."
"We need someone with a proven track record in business who understands greatness, someone who can rally us to the standard of excellence we once epitomized and explain what needs to be done" (xiii).
"America needs to start winning again" (1).
So here's the major premise in Trump's argument from character:  all of America's political leaders in recent decades have lacked the political judgment necessary to lead America into greatness--"they don't know how to govern"--and the only good alternative is to turn to a successful businessman who has shown the "common sense and business acumen" that he can use to lead America back to greatness.

To support this major premise, he offered arguments from examples--examples of failed leadership (from the Carter years to the Obama years) in both domestic policy and foreign policy.

For the minor premise in his argument from character, Trump had to argue that his unique success as a businessman identified him as the prudent leader who knows how to govern so that America can win again.
"I'm not bragging when I say I'm a winner.  I have experience in winning.  That's what we call leadership.  That means that people will follow me and be inspired by what I do.  How do I know?  I've been a leader my whole life.  Thousands of my employees know that I'll deliver and help them deliver" (9).
To support this minor premise, Trump offers arguments from examples of his success in business.  His book ends with an "About the Author" section that gives a story of his business career in 16 pages, which begins: "Donald J. Trump is the very definition of the American success story, continually setting the standards of excellence while expanding his interests in real estate, sports, and entertainment.  He is the archetypal businessman--a deal-maker without peer."  So as the "archetypal businessman," no other businessman is equal to Donald J. Trump.

This story in the book concludes with a long list of 70 "properties" said to be "owned and/or developed and managed or licensed by Donald J. Trump," which includes everything from Trump Tower and The Estates at Trump International Gold Club (Dubai) to his Boeing 757 and 3 Sikorsky 76 Helicopters.

Look, Reader, at this stunning list of Donald Trump's luxurious properties!  Don't these examples of his pile of wealth prove that he's the only person who can lead you and Make America Great Again?

As Trump relentlessly repeated this rhetorical argument from character--insulting all professional politicians as losers and bragging about himself as the rich business genius who always wins--his opponents in the Republican primaries and in the general election were thrown into stunned confusion without finding any effective response to Trump's rhetoric.  If they had read Aristotle's Rhetoric, they could have understood Trump's rhetorical technique, and they could have found the best rhetorical counterattack that could have defeated him.  (If Trump had been running against Obama, then Obama might have employed his rhetorical skills in mocking Trump as he did at the White House Correspondents' Dinner in 2011.)

To understand the rhetorical argument from character, Aristotle explained, one must understand those circumstances that shape character in ways that are pertinent to rhetoric.  This includes understanding how character is formed by the experiences of good or bad fortune.  In particular, the characters of fortunate people can be distinguished into at least three groups--the nobly born, the rich, and the politically powerful (1391a20-1391b3).

Aristotle is bluntly critical of all three character types.  People favored by fortune, he says, are generally inclined to be arrogant and thoughtless.  Yet he also ranks these characters as better or worse, with a progression from the nobly born, who are the worst, to the rich, who are better, and then to the politically powerful, who are the best of these three types.  Political rule is elevating in a way that noble birth and wealth are not.

Aristotle says that wealthy people tend to be insolent, arrogant, and impulsive.  They think they possess everything that is good since they believe they can buy everything, and so they think they possess what all human beings seek.  They think that displaying their wealth proves their superiority.

Aristotle concedes that, insofar as many people do need the wealthy, there is some truth to their claims.  Even the wise, Simonides observed, are seen to wait at the doors of the rich.  Even so, the essential character of a wealthy man, Aristotle concludes, is that of a "fortunate fool."

Aristotle does add the qualification that those of long-established wealth are better than the newly wealthy.  But his point is not that the former are free of the vices of the latter, but only that they have these vices to a somewhat lesser degree.

The wealthy think that their wealth makes them worthy to rule.  But Aristotle makes it clear that the politically powerful are generally better than the wealthy.  The exercise of political rule requires that powerful men be "more manly," "more serious," and "more dignified" than wealthy men.  "They are more dignified rather than more pompous, for their reputation makes them more visible, so that they observe a mean; and the dignity is a mild and becoming pomposity" (1397a27-28).

Public responsibilities call forth exertions of human capacities and impose standards of conduct that are unequalled by the activities of wealthy men.  This is not to deny, however, that politically powerful men promote greater mischief than do wealthy men.  In fact, as Aristotle notes, precisely because powerful men are never satisfied with petty things, their injustices are never small, but always great.

One can see here suggestions as to how Trump's opponents should have answered his rhetorical argument from character--that his success in becoming wealthy proves that he is more qualified to govern than are all those professional politicians who are really stupid.  His opponents should have exposed the false and silly pretensions of this argument coming from Trump as the "fortunate fool," which would have required refuting his claims to business success that made him a self-made multi-billionaire.

In his book, Trump writes:
"There's nobody like me.  Nobody."
"I ask people to look at what I've done throughout my whole career.  Look at how successful I've been doing things my way.  So they have a choice.  They can pretend some impossible solution is actually going to happen, or they can listen to the person who has proved he can solve problems."
"I started in a relatively small real estate company based in Brooklyn and made more than $10 billion.  I now live on what is considered the best block of real estate anywhere in the world--Fifth Avenue between 56th Street and 57th Street , right next to Tiffany's in the heart of New York City."
. . . 
"Nobody understands business better than I do" (74-75).
 . . .
"During the recession of 1990 many of my friends went bankrupt, and never recovered.  I never went bankrupt."
. . .
"The money I've earned was the result of my own work--projects I created, deals I made, companies I bought and turned around" (80-81).
"I work hard, I've been honest and I'm very successful.  The billions I have?  I earned every penny.  When I was beginning my career, my father never gave me much money, but he gave me a great work ethic.  I always know a hater when they say my father gave me $200 million when I was starting out.  I only wish!" (98)
 "I never went bankrupt" is a lie.  In one of Trump's tweets (on June 19, 2015), he wrote: "Stop saying I went bankrupt.  I never went bankrupt but like many great business people have used the laws to corporate advantage--smart!"

What he means by "using the laws to corporate advantage" is that he was forced to put 6 of his properties into bankruptcy.  Trump's Taj Mahal Casino in Atlantic City filed for bankruptcy in 1991.  The next year, two other properties in Atlantic City and his Plaza Hotel in New York City went into bankruptcy.  In 2004, Trump Hotels and Casinos Resorts filed for bankruptcy.  In 2009, Trump Entertainment Resorts went into bankruptcy.  Trump has said that the first three bankruptcies count as only one, so that the total is not six but four.  And when he says "I never went bankrupt," this is his evasive way of saying that only his companies went bankrupt!  None of these bankruptcies are mentioned anywhere in his book.

And when he says "my father never gave me much money," he is lying about his dependence on the huge amounts of money his father gave him--beginning when Trump was 3 years old and continuing throughout his life whenever Trump needed to be bailed out from his failures.  The best evidence for this comes in an investigative report published in The New York Times on October 2, 2018.

The investigators for the Times studied over 100,000 pages of confidential tax records and financial records of Fred Trump and his children.  Some of these documents are attached to the article.  They found that Fred Trump transferred over $1 billion in wealth to his children without paying the tax rates for gifts and inheritances.  This included the equivalent of $413 million in today's dollars going to Donald Trump, much of this through secret transfers.  So the original source of Donald Trump's wealth was from his father.

President Trump refused requests to comment on the article.  One of his lawyers sent a letter to the Times denying much of what the article reported and threatening a suit for defamation, which has never been filed.

By age 3, the young Donald Trump was earning $200,000 a year in today's dollars as an employee of his father.  By age 8, Donald was a millionaire.

Over Donald's lifetime, there were over 295 streams of revenue to him from his father.  Whenever Donald started new building projects, his father increased the flow of money to his son, sometimes in the form of loans that were never repaid.

Whenever Donald's businesses began to fail, his father would give him more money.  In one of the most famous examples of this, Fred Trump once bought $3.5 million in casino chips to help his son make a bond payment on an Atlantic City casino.

The most dramatic discovery by the Times that has never previously been reported is how Trump family formed two companies--All County Building Supply and Maintenance in 1992 and Apartment Management Associates Inc. in 1994--through which Fred Trump transferred his wealth to his children without paying gift or estate taxes.

Throughout all of this, Fred carefully promoted the myth of Donald as the Self-Made Billionaire by telling reporters that Donald had done it all on his own.  This myth then became the basis for Trump's presidential campaign rhetoric--arguing from his character as the "archetypal businessman" who would use his genius for moneymaking to Make America Great Again.

The falsity of this rhetorical myth explains why Trump as president has failed to show the astute practical judgment for solving America's problems that he promised in his campaign speeches.  For example, in the campaign, he warned about the economic danger from federal budget deficits and the national debt:
"Right now this country is in serious financial trouble.  Our national debt is more than $19 trillion, and we're on our way to $20 trillion.  Even the most liberal economists warn that as we head past the $20+ trillion debt levels, we'll be in big, big trouble.  That's when our financial system really starts to falter and diminish our borrowing capacity as well as drive up the interest costs on our debt" (82).
In his campaign, Trump promised that he would be using his genius for financial management to balance the federal budget and pay off the national debt.  But today, the national debt is over $23 trillion and climbing, and the yearly federal budget deficit has risen to over $1 trillion.  Trump has even stopped talking about the national debt as being a problem.

Now President Trump can't rely on his father to bail him out of debt.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Trump and Political Philosophy (2): Aristotle on Trump's Campaign Rhetoric

Despite the broad coverage of political philosophy as applied to Trump in Trump and Political Philosophy, there is something missing--there is no thought about how Aristotle's Rhetoric could illuminate Trump's rhetoric.  There are some references to Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics and Politics--and Carson Holloway's paper on Book Five of the Politics is excellent--but there is almost complete silence about Aristotle's classic study of rhetorical theory.  (Leslie Rubin's paper does have one paragraph on Aristotle's Rhetoric in an endnote [vol. 1, p. 69].) That's too bad, because it's impossible to understand Trump's electoral success without understanding his distinctive rhetoric, and there has never been a better book on rhetoric than Aristotle's.  (I have written a series of posts on the Nicomachean Ethics that begin herehere, and here.)

It has always seemed odd to me that political scientists and scholars of political philosophy ignore Aristotle's Rhetoric, although politics is all about rhetorical persuasion, and Aristotle wrote the best study of the subject.  Moreover, much of Aristotle's book can be understood as political moral psychology, comparable to some of the recent evolutionary political psychology developed by people like Jonathan Haidt (as I indicated in a post here.)

After looking back at my book Aristotle on Political Reasoning: A Commentary on the "Rhetoric" (first published in 1981), I thought I would briefly sketch Aristotle's framework for rhetorical analysis and then apply it to one of the prominent examples of Trump's campaign rhetoric: his speech announcing his presidential run in June of 2015.


For the sake of brevity, I will have to be schematic without filling in the details.  (Hey, go buy my book, and buy extra copies for your family and friends.)

Rhetoric is reasoning from the common opinions of one's audience, so that the persuasive speaker starts with the common opinions (doxa) and then moves the audience to the conclusions that he favors.

Aristotle distinguishes the means of rhetorical persuasion into three broad categories:  the intellectual content (dianoia) of a speech, the style (lexis) of a speech, and the arrangement (taxis) of a speech.

The intellectual content has three elements: the arguments of the speech (logos), the character of the speaker (ethos), and the emotions of the audience (pathos).  A successful speaker must offer persuasive arguments in his speech.  He must show his own character to be persuasive.  And he must persuasively handle the emotions of his audience to move them to action or decision.

Persuasive arguments have formal and substantive elements.  The two formal elements are logical (deductive) reasoning through enthymemes and factual (inductive) reasoning through examples.  Enthymemes are syllogisms (reasoning from premises to conclusions), but often some of the steps in the syllogism are left unstated.  Examples can be either historical cases or fictional stories.

There are three substantive kinds of persuasive arguments corresponding to the three subject areas of rhetoric.  Political rhetoric consists of deliberative arguments about policies for the future that can be advantageous or disadvantageous for the political community.  Legal rhetoric consists of forensic arguments about past actions accusing or defending people in judging the justice or injustice of their actions.  Epideictic rhetoric consists of ceremonial arguments for praising people for their noble deeds or blaming them for their ignoble deeds.

We see political rhetoric when people are debating matters of public policy or constitutional issues concerning the institutional structure of a regime.  We see legal rhetoric when lawyers or judges are debating the application of law to particular cases.  We see epideictic rhetoric when in ceremonial occasions (such as funerals and the dedication of cemeteries), the past deeds of people are praised as honorable or blamed as dishonorable.

A speaker's persuasiveness depends not just on his presentation of persuasive arguments (logos), which Aristotle takes up in Book One of the Rhetoric, but also on his presentation of his moral and intellectual character through his speech (ethos), and on his moving his audience in their emotions (pathos), which he takes up in Book Two.

The character of a speaker is most persuasive when he displays prudence (phronesis), virtue (arete), and good will (eunoia).  A speaker shows his prudence when he shows his practical competence in judging the subject of his speech.  A speaker shows his virtue when he shows that he is trustworthy.  And he shows his good will when he shows that he cares for his audience.  A speaker who appears to be imprudent, untrustworthy, and uncaring is not persuasive.

A successful speaker must also be emotionally persuasive in understanding the emotions of his audience, so that he can stir those emotions that favor his position and calm those emotions that deny his position.  To achieve this, Aristotle lays out the social psychology of seven pairs of emotions that counter one another: anger and calmness, friendly feeling and enmity, fear and confidence, shame and shamelessness, kindliness and unkindliness, pity and indignation, and envy and emulation.

It might seem strange that Aristotle presents this account of the emotions as part of the intellectual side of rhetoric (or what Aristotle calls dianoia), because we often assume that reason and emotion are in oppositin.  But actually Aristotle suggests that the emotions are rational, in the sense that they arise from beliefs about the world that can be either true or false.  Consequently, a speaker can talk an audience into or out of an emotion by persuading them that their emotion is either reasonable or unreasonable as a response to their circumstances.  A rhetorician changes the emotions of his listeners by changing their minds.

So, for example, Aristotle defines anger as "a painful desire for a conspicuous revenge for a conspicuous slight of oneself or one's own, the slight being undeserved" (1378a32-33).  (Similarly, evolutionary psychologists like Debra Lieberman, who have developed a cognitive theory of the passions, will define anger as a painful response to perceptions of social undervaluation.)  Aristotle infers from this definition the various elements of anger--how angry people are disposed, with whom they are customarily angry, and in what circumstances they are inclined to anger.  With this knowledge of anger, he then shows how a speaker can arouse anger in his audience by persuading them that they have been slighted by someone undeservedly, and therefore they should seek revenge; or he can calm the anger in his audience by persuading them that their anger is not warranted by the circumstances.

Notice that the slight that arouses anger must be undeserved.  Human beings become angry when they think they are not being treated in accordance with their worth.  Anger, then, is a response to injustice in its fundamental sense of not receiving one's due.  Anger manifests a natural sense of justice.  Some of the prime causes of anger--such as ingratitude, refusal to reciprocate good for good, and failure to help one's friends--are the sort of things that Aristotle identifies as unjust by nature.  The human emotion of anger is the ultimate source of the legal concept of natural law.

By the end of the second book of the Rhetoric, Aristotle has explained all of the rhetorical "proofs" (pisteis) for handling the arguments of a speech, the character of the speaker, and the emotions of the audience.  It might seem then that he is finished.

But in the third and final book of the Rhetoric, Aristotle takes up the elements of oratorical performance that he has previously neglected--the style and arrangement of speeches.  He has denounced sophistical speakers for being so preoccupied with verbally charming and diverting their listeners that they ignore the primacy of "proof" and the "body of proof"--the enthymeme.  Now, in the third book, he seems to be introducing the same devices of verbal ornamentation that are favored by the sophists.

To devote so much attention to matters of style is necessary, Aristotle admits, only as a concession to corrupt listeners.  But still he accentuates the rational character of the subject.  Style can be proper if it is an integral part of the substantive proofs of a speech--if it's a style that is appropriate to the subject, that manifests the speaker's character, and that expresses the right emotion.

Style concerns not what one says but how one says it.  And so style has little influence with good listeners, because they are more interested in the substantive proofs of a speech than in its manner of presentation.  And "rightly considered," concentrating on style "is thought vulgar" (1403b37-1404a2).  But the "corruption of regimes" and the concomitant "corruption of the listener" make it necessary for the rhetorician to be careful about style.  Since it is important for speaking clearly and with the proper dignity, the rhetorician needs to consider it somewhat in any type of instruction.  It assumes great importance, however, only for the sake of diverting the listener with amusing imagery--"wherefore no one teaches geometry this way."

Through the clever use of an emotional style, Aristotle explains, a speaker can make his audience believe in what he asserts to be facts, even when his assertions are false:
"Style expresses emotion when a man speaks with anger of an insolent insult. . . . The appropriate style makes the fact appear credible: the mind of the listener makes a logical error in believing the truth of what the speaker says, because they in the audience feel the same emotions, so that they think the facts to be so, even if they are not as the speaker represents them; and the hearer always sympathizes with the emotional speaker, even though he says nothing.  As a result, many overwhelm their listeners by making noise" (1408a23-25).
If a speaker expresses an emotional style of anger as he asserts that he and his audience should be justifiably angry, because they have been slighted or injured by their enemies, and if the audience shares this emotion of anger with the speaker, the audience will believe the factual assertions of the speaker, even when these are false.  This is the fallacy of an emotional style of speaking: if the speaker speaks in the style of an emotion like anger, and if the audience sympathizes with that emotion, then the facts asserted by the speaker as justifying that emotion will appear to be true, even though they are false.  Because of this emotional style, "the mind of the listener makes a logical error."

This is what happens when a regime becomes utterly corrupt, resulting in the corruption of opinion, and then even the noblest rhetorician must turn his attention to style to hold the interest of his listeners.  Thus the character of a regime determines the character of rhetoric. And Aristotle wishes his rhetorician to know not only what would be possible in the best regime and what is commonly possible in most regimes, but also what is demanded in the worst regimes.

Like style, Aristotle prefers not to give too much importance to the arrangement of a speech.  In its simplest form, it's enough to arrange a speech into two parts--state the case and then prove it.  But many speeches might require at least four parts: a proem that catches the attention of the audience, a statement of the speaker's position, the proof for that position, which is usually the longest part of the speech, and then an epilogue that summarizes what has been said.

Aristotle's Rhetoric provides the entire toolkit for rhetoric.  Every possible technique for persuasion is included.  But different kinds of rhetoricians will tend to rely on different kinds of techniques.

Trump's rhetoric is certainly distinctive.  In his formal logic, he tends to rely more on reasoning from examples or factual claims than on reasoning by logical inference.  But like any persuasive speaker, there is always, at least implicitly, an underlying enthymematic deductive argument.  Trump's general enthymeme in his presidential campaign was clear: It would be good for America to be made great again.  I will make America great again.  Therefore, it would be good for America to elect me President.

In his substantive arguments, he engages mostly in political or deliberative rhetoric rather than legal or epideictic rhetoric.

In his rhetorical appeal to his good character, he emphasizes his practical judgment as a successful businessman, his trustworthiness as a leader, and his good will towards his supporters as he fights for them against their enemies.

In his emotional rhetoric, he stirs up the resentful anger of his audience as people who have been unfairly slighted by the elite ruling class, and he promises that he will take vengeance against those enemies of the people.  He also arouses his audience's fear of those who would attack and exploit them, such as foreign countries and illegal immigrants who take their jobs and threaten their lives and families, and he promises that he will defend them against those enemies.

The most distinctive feature of Trump's rhetoric is his style.  Aristotle thought that an excessive emphasis on style was vulgar.  And, indeed, Trump's rhetorical style makes him the center of attention because of its vulgarity.

This was made clear when some people complained that Trump's rhetoric was not "presidential," because it did not show the style of formal dignity and propriety that people expect to hear from a president, and Trump responded by saying that if he adopted a "presidential" style of speaking, this would be "too boring" for his audience, who need to be entertained.

                               At a Wisconsin Rally: Being Presidential "Would Be Boring"

There is, however, as I have indicated, a Teleprompter Trump who is more presidential and less vulgar in his style than the Turbulent Trump.  The Teleprompter Trump is displayed in speeches like his address in Warsaw in 2017, and these are the speeches favored by the intellectuals who support Trump--like the Claremont Straussians.


At Trump Tower in June 16, 2015, Trump announced his candidacy.  This is a full video of the speech.  A full transcript of the speech along with annotations can be found here at the Washington Post.

In this speech, Trump's primary mode of rhetorical persuasion is his appeal to his character as a successful real estate businessman who has shown his astute practical judgment for making deals that has made him very rich, which shows that as president he can make deals for America, so that America can become a winner again, after too many years of being a loser.

American politicians today don't have this competence because they are too stupid to make good deals for America: "politicians are all talk, no action."  After describing how China, Japan, and Mexico take American jobs and money, he asks: "How stupid are our leaders?  How stupid are these politicians to allow this to happen?  How stupid are they?"

"Our country is in serious trouble.  We don't have victories anymore.  We used to have victories, but we don't have them.  When was the last time anybody saw us beating, let's say, China in a trade deal? They kill us. I beat China all the time.  All the time"

Not only are the politicians too stupid to make good deals, they are also controlled by special interests, by political donors, and by lobbyists.  So the voters cannot trust them to care about what's good for America.  By contrast, Trump says, you can trust me to work for you because I am so rich that I don't need money from the special interests.  "I'm using my own money.  I'm not using the lobbyists.  I'm not using the donors.  I don't care. I'm really rich."

It's important, therefore, to impress his audience with how wealthy he is.  "I'm proud of my net worth.  I've done an amazing job."  He presents a written financial statement of his wealth that says that he has assets of $9 billion and 240 million dollars.

Remarkably, however, his financial statement gives no supporting evidence for this number.  And since he is famous for piling up huge debt that has forced him into multiple bankruptcies, many people are skeptical about his claims about his wealth.

Trump's political rhetoric about public policy in this speech depends mostly on reasoning from examples.  So to show the need for restrictions on international trade, he describes examples of trade that are bad for the United States.

"When did we beat Japan at anything?  They send their cars over by the millions, and what do we do?  When was the last time you saw a Chevrolet in Tokyo? It doesn't exist, folks.  They beat us all the time. When do we beat Mexico at the border?  They're laughing at us, at our stupidity.  And now they are beating us economically.  They are not our friend, believe me.  But they're killing us economically."

It is easy for the "fact-checkers" of Trump's speech to point out that although Chevrolet is not a popular car in Japan, there are Chevrolets in Tokyo.

"But I said, 'Don't hit Iraq,' because you're going to totally destabilize the Middle East.  Iran is going to take over the Middle East, Iran and somebody else will get the oil, and it turned out that Iran is now taking over Iraq.  Think of it.  Iran is taking over Iraq, and they're taking it over big league."

This has been one of Trump's most often repeated examples of his good judgment in foreign policy--that unlike most Republican and Democrat leaders, he warned against the American invasion of Iraq that began on March 19, 2003.  He used this both against his Republican opponents in the primaries and against Hillary Clinton.

But there is no evidence that Trump ever warned against invading Iraq before the invasion started, although he expressed concerns about the costs of the war after it started, and by 2004 he was publicly criticizing the war.

Newspapers like the Washington Post and organizations like FactCheck.org have regularly pointed out that many of Trump's examples in his speeches are either completely false or distortions of the truth.  Remarkably, Trump's response to this has been to repeat the same examples without ever admitting their falsity.

In some cases, the falsity of his examples is so obvious as to be preposterous.

"Last quarter, it was just announced our gross domestic product--a sign of strength, right? But not for us.  It was below zero.  Whoever heard of this? It's never below zero."

It's impossible for GDP to be "below zero"!  Apparently, he's referring to a quarterly report not about GDP but about the growth in GDP, which is often "below zero" in some quarters.

Here's another preposterous example: "A lot of people up there can't get jobs.  They can't get jobs, because there are no jobs, because China has our jobs, and Mexico has our jobs.  They all have jobs."

There are no jobs?  Actually, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of job openings at the end of April of 2015 was 5.4 million, which was the highest since December of 2000.  In recent years, there has been no shortage of jobs in America.  Instead, there has been a shortage of labor to fill the many job openings.

This is a critical point for explaining why people voted for Trump.  Did they vote for him because they were unemployed or otherwise economically disadvantaged, and they thought Trump would create good jobs for them?  Some surveys of his voters have indicated that most of them had incomes placing them in the top 50% of incomes.  If this is so, then it's not clear that voting for Trump was an expression of economic grievances.

The true motivation for Trump's voters might have been not so much economic as cultural--a response to Trump's emotional rhetoric of fear--the fear of dangerous foreign invaders.  Near the beginning of his speech, Trump provided the most memorable passage of his speech:

"When do we beat Mexico at the border?  They're laughing at us, at our stupidity.  And now they are beating us economically.  They are not our friend, believe me.  But they're killing us economically."

"The U.S. has become a dumping ground for everybody else's problems."


"Thank you.  It's true, and these are the best and the finest.  [He points to the crowd of people on the balcony above him applauding.]  When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best.  They're not send you.  They're not sending you.  They're sending people that have lots of problems, and they're bringing those problems with us.  They're bringing drugs.  They're bringing crime.  They're rapists.  And some, I assume, are good people."

"But I speak to border guards, and they tell us what we're getting.  And it only makes common sense.  It only makes common sense.  They're sending us not the right people."

So while "some" of the Mexican immigrants to the United States are "good people," most of them are drug-dealers, criminals, and rapists?

Amazingly, Trump and his supporters have never denied or apologized for this remark.  Instead, they have said that it really is "common sense" and an honest challenge to "political correctness."

In fact, immigrants to the U.S. generally show crime rates that are lower than for native-born Americans.  But still Trump can point to examples of immigrants who have committed crimes in the U.S.--like the infamous MS13 gangs and those who attacked the American families who were represented in the audience for Trump's first State of the Union Address, where he identified them as typical Americans who have faced violence from Mexican immigrants.

Trump is skillful in employing what Aristotle identified as the fallacy of emotional style.  Trump speaks in a style of anger in response to perceived slights from Mexico: "they're laughing at us, at our stupidity."  And he speaks in a style of fear in response to perceived attacks from Mexican immigrants: "They're bringing drugs.  They're bringing crime.  They're rapists."  And if his audience sympathizes with his emotions of anger and fear, then they believe his false facts justifying these emotions must be true.  Nothing said by the "fact-checkers" can negate the emotional power of this rhetorical fallacy over the minds of Trump's supporters.

I will have more to say in future posts about the rhetoric of Trump's speeches.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Trump and Political Philosophy: Is Trump's Rhetoric Lincolnian? The Teleprompter Trump Versus the Turbulent Trump

                                Trump's Teleprompter Speech in Warsaw, Poland, July 6, 2017

                                           Trump Tosses Out His "Boring" Speech Notes

I have been thinking about how political philosophy might help us understand Donald Trump.  I have been prompted to do that by my reading of Trump and Political Philosophy, a two-volume collection of papers edited by Angel Jaramillo Torres and Marc Benjamin Sable (published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2018).  This will be the first of a series of posts on the questions raised by those papers.

One of those questions is whether Trump's rhetoric can be rightly understood as following in the tradition of Abraham Lincoln.  This question is posed sharply by the contrast between John Burt's paper ("The Lesson of Lincoln in the Age of Trump") and Kenneth Masugi's paper ("The Great Emancipators Oppose the 'Slave Power': The Lincolnian--and Aristotelian--Dimensions of Trump's Rhetoric").

Burt argues that Trump rejects Lincoln's view of the Declaration of Independence as affirming a Kantian politics of human equality and liberty, and instead Trump promotes a rhetoric of resentment and grievance based on a Schmittian conception of politics as a battle between friends and enemies.  On the contrary, Masugi argues, Trump's rhetoric affirms Lincoln's vision of the Declaration of Independence in declaring that "making America great again" will renew America's devotion to the principles of Lincoln and the Declaration.

The reason for this disagreement is that they are looking at two different versions of Trump's rhetoric.  Masugi is looking at the rhetoric of the Teleprompter Trump, who reads off a teleprompter an eloquent and thoughtful speech written for him by others--like his speech in Warsaw, Poland, on July 6, 2017.  Burt is looking at the rhetoric of the Turbulent Trump, who tosses out the speech notes prepared for him because he finds them "too boring," and then launches into a rambling rant full of resentment, boasting, and lying as he attacks those he identifies as his enemies.

Once one sees this, then the question is which of these two Trumps is the true Trump?  Or must Trump's populist rhetoric always be a confusing mixture of both?  Or can Trump's two rhetorical styles be understood as different ways of expressing the same ideas?


Burt is the author of Lincoln's Tragic Pragmatism (Harvard University Press, 2013), which interprets Lincoln's political thought in the Lincoln-Douglas Debates as founded on Kantian liberal principles.  This connection between Lincoln and Kant runs through his paper in Trump and Political Philosophy.

Burt sees Lincoln's interpretation of the principles of the Declaration of Independence as based on the Kantian principle that all human beings are equal in their moral dignity as persons, and therefore that the legitimacy of government arises from the consent among equals who respect one another's worth as moral agents.  Against this is the contrasting view assumed by Stephen Douglas and elaborated in the writings of Carl Schmitt that politics is ultimately about the contest between friends and enemies.  Until recently, Burt believes, America has been on the side of Lincoln and Kant; but now Trump and his populist movement are pushing America to the side of Douglas and Schmitt.

Burt sees Trump as denying two ideas that have been core values for America until recently:
"1.  That America sees itself as destined to be an equal multicultural society that will root its sense of being a nation in a common political culture rather than in common blood; that in attempting to become a multicultural democracy America will blaze a path for democracy worldwide."
"2.  That America is committed to a world order founded upon multilateral agreements (as opposed to two-sided bargains of a temporary and transactional kind), to international institutions of collective security ruled by open covenants openly arrived at, in short to an order which extends to the world the political culture of liberal democracy" (215).
These two ideas are presented in Kant's writings--particularly, in his essay "Perpetual Peace."  The first idea comes from Declaration of Independence and Lincoln's interpretation of the Declaration as affirming the equal liberty of all human beings and of their right to establish governments to secure their rights by their consent acting as one people.  The second idea is the application of the first idea to international politics, which was expressed in Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points and elaborated by later presidents, as part of the post World War Two understanding of the liberal international order, in which equally sovereign nations would cooperate through international agreements to secure peaceful security, free trade, and human rights for the mutual benefit of all nations.

According to Burt, Trump's Schmittian populist rejects both of these ideas, because Trump sees both national politics and international politics as violent contests between friends and enemies.  As Trump sees it, American politics is a battle between the Elites and the People, and some Americans are not part of the American People because they are actually "Enemies of the People."  For example, Muslim Americans are not real Americans because they are in sympathy with foreign terrorists, as illustrated by the thousands of Muslims in Jersey City, New Jersey, whom Trump knows cheered the attack on the Twin Towers.  And Mexican Americans are not real Americans because most of them are rapists, drug dealers, and murderous gang members, although "some, I assume, are good people."  Consequently, American judges who are Muslims or Mexicans are "haters" of Trump who cannot be trusted to be fair judges.

For Trump, international politics is also a battle between friends and enemies, because in the competition between nations, there must be winners and losers.  Under the false appearance of an international order of globalist cooperation, the United States has been losing in its competition with other nations; and only now, with Trump's policy of America First, America is finally winning again.


While Burt supports his view of Trump's ugly rhetoric by citing Trump's inflammatory remarks at his campaign rallies, in his Twitter messages, and in some informal remarks, Masugi supports his view of Trump's noble rhetoric by reading three of Trump's formal speeches in 2017, in his first six months in office--his Inaugural Address (January 20), his first State of the Union Address (February 28), and his Speech to the People of Poland in Warsaw (July 6).  For each of these three speeches, Trump was careful in reading his prepared speech off a teleprompter.  Notably, Burt never mentions any of these speeches.

In his Inaugural Address, Trump began by acknowledging the presence on the platform of four former presidents--Carter, Clinton, Bush, and Obama--by thanking President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama for their gracious aid, and by noticing that "every four years, we gather on these steps to carry out the orderly and peaceful transfer of power."

But then he asserted that his inaugural ceremony was different from previous presidential inaugurations in a way that set the theme for his entire speech.
"Today's ceremony, however, has very special meaning.  Because today we are not merely transferring power from one Administration to another, or from one party to another--but we are transferring power from Washington, D.C. and giving it back to you, the American People."
"For too long, a small group in our nation's Capital has reaped the rewards of government, while the people have borne the cost."
"Washington flourished--but the people did not share in its wealth."
"Politicians prospered--but the jobs left, and the factories closed."
"The establishment protected itself, but not the citizens of our country."
"Their victories have not been your victories; their triumphs have not been your triumphs; and while they celebrated in our nation's Capital, there was little to celebrate for struggling families all across our land."
"That all changes--starting right here, and right now, because this moment is your moment: it belongs to you."
"It belongs to everyone gathered here today and everyone watching all across America."
"This is your day.  This is your celebration."
"And this, the United States of America, is your country."
"What truly matters is not which party controls our government, but whether our government is controlled by the people."
"January 20th 2017 will be remembered as the day the people became the rulers of this nation again."
"The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer."
"Everyone is listening to you now."
"You came by the tens of millions to become part of a historic movement the likes of which the world has never seen before."
"At the center of this movement is a crucial conviction that a nation exists to serve its citizens."
Here Masugi sees Trump condemning all previous administrations--both Republican and Democrat--as promoting what Aristotle and the American Founders called a "faction"--promoting the narrow interests of "the establishment" rather than the common good of the People.  But now as "the people became the rulers of this nation again," Trump reaffirmed the teaching of the Declaration of Independence and Lincoln's Gettysburg Address that just government must be of, by, and for the People.

The most often quoted passage of Trump's speech was his description of "American carnage":
"But for too many of our citizens, a different reality exists: Mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities; rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation; an education system, flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of knowledge; and the crime and gangs and drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential."
"This American carnage stops right here and stops right now."
In the middle of the speech, Trump uttered the one and only sentence in which he shifted from "we" to "I."
"From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land."
"From this moment on, it's going to be America First."
"Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs, will be made to benefit American workers and American families."
"We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies, destroying our jobs.  Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength."
"I will fight for you with every breath in my body--and I will never, ever let you down."
"American will start winning again, winning like never before."
So here Trump clearly identified himself as the one Leader of the People against the Elites who have exploited the People.

In some parts of this speech, Masugi sees Trump affirming what Aristotle called "political friendship"--the communal feeling or allegiance of all citizens to one another that creates a patriotic solidarity.
"At the bedrock of our politics will be a total allegiance to the United States of America, and through our loyalty to our country, we will rediscover our loyalty to each other."
"When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice."
"The Bible tells us, 'how good and pleasant it is when God's people live together in unity.'"
"We must speak our minds openly, debate our disagreements honestly, but always pursue solidarity."
So here, it seems, there need be no Schmittian division of the American people into friends and enemies as long as they live together in patriotic solidarity.

But notice how Trump did point to some divisions within the American People.  First, he set "the establishment" against the People, as what Masugi calls a "faction" that exploits the People.  And then when Trump identified the "tens of millions" who became part of "this movement," he was apparently referring to those voters who elected him, as opposed to those who voted for Hillary Clinton in opposition to "this movement."

Here we see the fundamental problem for all populist rhetoric that claims to speak for the People as opposed to the Elites.  Who are the People?  All of the citizens?  Or only some of the citizens--only those who support the populist leader against the Elites?  Is the contest not only between the People and the Elites but also within the People divided into opposing groups?

In his review of Trump and Political Philosophy in the Claremont Review of Books, Michael Anton said that Aristotle's distinction between "the many" and "the few" does not clearly apply to the United States, where there is no clear-cut "many" comparable to the demos of the ancient Greek cities.  Anton observed: "We instead have two popular classes: unmarried and mostly poor blue-state urbanites, and red-state, rustbelt, heartland blue-collar workers, middle managers, and homemakers."  Yet like the ancient city, "we have only one ruling class" that has chosen to take the side of "the urban mob."  So now we have three groups--the ruling class, the "urban mob" that supports the ruling class, and the rural or small town working class and middle class that supports Trump.

If Trump speaks for the American People, does that mean that those in the "urban mob" who oppose him are not real Americans?

As I have indicated in some previous posts (here and here), this analysis creates serious problems for those Claremont Straussians like Anton and Masugi who want to defend Trump.

According to Anton, the election of 2016 was a life-or-death war, with Trump fighting for the true Americans, the working class and middle class Americans, who are not Third World immigrants or urban poor minorities or cosmopolitan elites, and these Trump voters supported constitutional republicanism.  On the other side of the war, Hillary Clinton and the Democrats represented "half the country and all our elites," who wished to overturn the constitutional republic and replace it with one-party rule with absolute power to rule over the country.

Actually, "half the country" was a majority of the voters, because as Anton indicated, the Republicans have lost the popular vote for the presidency in every election since 1988 except for 2004; and in 2004, Bush won with only 50.7 percent.  And, of course, Trump  lost the popular vote to Clinton in 2016; and he lost again in the mid-term congressional elections in 2018, which Trump turned into a referendum on his presidency.

Anton and Masugi employ a populist rhetoric that presents a Manichaean war between good and evil--the Virtuous People versus the Evil Elites.  This becomes complicated, however, as soon as one notices that some of the People are evil, because they vote for the Evil Elites, and some of the Elites (like Trump, Anton, and Masugi) are virtuous because they lead the Virtuous People against the Evil Elites.  Doesn't this sound like Schmitt's Friends Versus Enemies?  Where's the "political friendship"?

That the Virtuous People who support Trump are a minority was suggested at Trump's Inaugural Address, because the crowd of people on the Washington Mall for the speech was smaller than the crowd for Obama's Inaugural Address.  Trump was so resentful about this that he had to lie by insisting that his crowd was the largest inaugural crowd in American history.

 The Crowd for Trump (Left) Was Smaller than the Crowd for Obama (Right)

The next day Press Secretary Sean Spicer declared: "This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration--period."  A photographer for the National Park Service was asked by the White House to crop out the empty space in the photographs of Trump's crowd to make the crowd appear larger than it was.

Five weeks later, in his first State of the Union Address, Trump continued to claim that he spoke for the People; and Masugi sees in this speech more evidence that Trump appeals to the principles of the Declaration of Independence as interpreted by Lincoln.  Masugi rightly points out that Trump placed his speech in the flow of American history from its founding in 1776 to its future 250th anniversary in 2026.

Trump began the speech by saying:
"In nine years, the United States will celebrate the 250th anniversary of our founding--250 years since the day we declared our independence.  It will be one of the great milestones in the history of the world.  But what will America look like as we reach our 250th year?  What kind of country will we leave our children?"
He then indicated that "in 2016, the Earth shifted beneath our feet," and "the chorus became an earthquake, and the people turned out by the tens of millions, and they were all united by one very simple, but crucial demand: that America must put its own citizens first.  Because only then can we truly make America great again."

Most of his speech was a summary of his policy proposals, which included a quotation from Abraham Lincoln as a congressman speaking for a protectionist trade policy.  It's certainly true that trade protectionism was part of Lincoln's Whig ideology.

In speaking about the need to build a great wall on the southern border to restrict immigration, Trump appealed to what Masugi identifies as "natural law":
". . . we will soon begin the construction of a great, great wall along our southern border.  As we speak tonight, we are removing gang members, drug dealers, and criminals that threaten our communities and prey on our very innocent citizens.  Bad ones are going out as I speak, and as I promised throughout the campaign."
"To any in Congress who do not believe we should enforce our laws, I would ask you this one question: What would you say to the American family that loses their jobs, their income, or their loved one because America refused to uphold its laws and defend its borders?"
Masugi says that this is a "natural law" stated in the Declaration of Independence in that it is natural for the people to establish government to secure their "safety and happiness."  But is it a matter of  "natural law" that we must agree with Trump's claim that undocumented Mexican immigrants are mostly "gang members, drug dealers, and criminals" who want to steal from and murder innocent Americans?  Or is it possible that the proportion of criminals among immigrants is actually lower than among native-born Americans?

At the end of his speech, Trump declared:
"When we have all of this, we will have made America greater than ever before--for all Americans.  This is our vision.  This is our mission.  But we can only get there together.  We are one people, with one destiny.  We all bleed the same blood.  We all salute the same great American flag.  And we all are made by the same God."
"When we fulfill this vision, when we celebrate our 250 years of glorious freedom, we will look back on tonight as when this new chapter of American Greatness began."
As Masugi indicates, Trump is suggesting here that in 2026, a year and a half after an eight-year Trump presidency, we will see how his "Make American Great Again" policies renewed the greatness of the American founding with the Declaration of Independence.  And while Trump does not explicitly affirm the Declaration's principle of human equality, there is perhaps an echo of "created equal" in Trump's "we all are made by the same God."

While Masugi respects Trump's rhetorical achievements in his Inaugural Address and his first State of the Union, he thinks "Trump's most profound speech of his presidency" (247) is the speech in Warsaw on July 6th, 2017.

In this speech for Trump's first presidential trip to Europe, the central theme was the survival of the Western world.  In the history of Poland in the 20th century, Trump saw the threats to the West coming from German Nazism and Russian communism and the noble triumph of the Polish people in prevailing against those threats.  But then he saw new threats both internal and external that will require the West to courageously and resolutely reaffirm its distinctively Western cultural identity.
". . as the Polish experience reminds us, the defense of the West ultimately rests not only on means but also on the will of its people to prevail and be successful and get what you have to have.  The fundamental question of our time is whether the West has the will to survive.  Do we have the confidence in our values to defend them at any cost?  Do we have enough respect for our citizens to protect our borders?  Do we have the desire and courage to preserve our civilization in the face of those who would subvert and destroy it?"
"We can have the largest economies and the most lethal weapons anywhere on Earth, but if we do not have strong families and strong values, then we will be weak and we will not survive.  If anyone forgets the critical importance of these things, let them come to one country that never has.  Let them come to Poland.  And let them come here, to Warsaw, and learn the story of the Warsaw Uprising."
 One of the new external threats to the West, Trump declared, is "radical Islamic terrorism."  And he said that he had called on more than 50 Muslim nations to join in defeating these shared enemies.

Other external threats include "new forms of aggression, including propaganda, financial crimes, and cyberwarfare."

He also mentioned the new threat from Russia:
"We urge Russia to cease its destabilizing activities in Ukraine and elsewhere, and its support for hostile regimes--including Syria and Iran--and to instead join the community of responsible nations in our fight against common enemies and in defense of civilization itself."
The new internal threat to the West is "the steady creep of government bureaucracy that drains the vitality and wealth of the people.  The West became great not because of paperwork and regulations but because people were allowed to chase their dreams and pursue their destinies."

To meet these new threats, the survival of the West, Trump claimed, would depend on a revival of the core values of the West.  He mentioned at least five values.  The first was "individual freedom and sovereignty."  The second was human rights: "above all, we value the dignity of every human life, protect the rights of every person, and share the hope of every soul to live in freedom.  That is who we are.  Those are the priceless ties that bind us together as nations, as allies, and as a civilization."

The third value was the agreement of "this great community of nations" in affirming that "it is the people, not the powerful, who have always formed the foundation of freedom and the  cornerstone of our defense."  This "community of nations" was manifest in the NATO alliance of "free, sovereign and independent nations" for the defense of our freedoms and our interests.  In support of NATO, Trump declared the continuing commitment of the United States to Article 5 of the NATO treaty--the mutual defense commitment.

He also repeated his often expressed desire that the NATO powers should do more in spending their fair share of money on defense, and he praised Poland for being one of the NATO members that has made the target of military spending that is 2% of its GDP.

The fourth crucial value of the West that Trump mentioned was what Masugi calls "the divine and transcendent":  Trump told the story of Pope John Paul II's visit to Warsaw on June 2nd, 1979, when one million Poles gathered for a mass with the Pope.
". . . every communist in Warsaw must have known that their oppressive system would soon come crashing down.  They must have known it at the exact moment during Pope John Paul II's sermon when a million Polish men, women, and children suddenly raised their voices in a single prayer.  A million Polish people did not ask for wealth.  They did not ask for privilege.  Instead, one million Poles sang three simple words: 'We Want God.'"
. . .
"As I stand here today before this incredible crowd, this faithful nation, we can still hear those voices that echo through history.  There message is as true today as ever.  The people of Poland, the people of America, and the people of Europe still cry out 'We want God.'"
Masugi sees this appeal to the divine as comparable to Lincoln's appeal to the Biblical God in his Second Inaugural Address.

Finally, Masugi also sees Trump invoking another distinctive value of the West--the Socratic philosophic longing for knowledge, including self-knowledge (251, n. 12).  "We debate everything," Trump observed.  "We challenge everything.  We seek to know everything so that we can better know ourselves."

If these values of the West are defended, then, Trump declared at the end of his speech, "the West will never, ever be broken."

Although he did not exactly so it, Trump implied that he was putting forth a new slogan--"Make the West Great Again."

This is a remarkable speech for Trump because it truly does--as Masugi argues--strike the chords and themes of a Lincolnian rhetoric.  And against Burt, it even suggests the principles of Kantian liberalism--equality of human rights promoted by a community of nations.

But then we must wonder--how do we resolve the apparent contradiction between the Teleprompter Trump of this elegantly written and thoughtfully composed speech and the Turbulent Trump who goes on incoherent rants full of lies, insults, grievances, and narcissistic boasting about himself as the "very stable genius"?

I have no good answer to that question.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Roger Scruton, 1944-2020: The Romantic Conservatism of Atheistic Religiosity

Roger Scruton died on Sunday at his home in England at the age of 75.  This picture was taken in 2016 when he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II.  The Washington Post has a good obituary.

Scruton was the preeminent conservative philosopher of his time.  During Margaret Thatcher's years as Prime Minister, he was often identified as her "court philosopher."  But he denied that he had much influence over her because her conservatism was more of the Hayekian free-market variety that was very different from his Kirkian traditionalist conservatism.

As is often true of the traditionalist conservative thinkers today, his thought was shaped by the Kantian Romantic tradition of the Nineteenth Century that saw a religious attitude as essential for a healthy moral order, so that traditional religious experience needed to be defended against a Darwinian science that claims to explain the place of human beings in the natural world without any reference to a transcendent realm beyond nature.  And yet--again like many traditionalist conservatives--Scruton did not believe in the literal truth of Christianity or any other religion.  He wanted to have a sense of the sacred that comes from religious emotions as expressed in great art, but without the need to believe any religious doctrines.  We know that God is dead, he suggested, but we also know that human beings need to satisfy their religious longings for transcendence and redemption.  In that way, he followed the lead of Friedrich Nietzsche in his early and late writings (as opposed to the Darwinian liberalism of his middle writings).

In various posts (here, here, and here), I have criticized the atheistic religiosity of Scruton's conservatism as incoherent self-deception.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Gay Marriage, the U.S. Constitution, and the Evolution of Human Sexuality

This fertilization of a woman's egg by a man's sperm might be seen as showing why the evolution of human sexuality has made the female human nature and the male human nature so different.  But then we must wonder whether gay men and lesbians show this same male/female difference, or whether homosexuality is itself a distinct human nature. And if so, does this mean that homosexual marriages must differ by nature from heterosexual marriages?

The evolution of mammalian reproduction through male insemination of a female and the internal fertilization of the female's egg inside her body means that the minimum parental investment of a mother is usually much greater than the minimum parental investment of a father, which creates a difference on average in the natural mating desires of males and females.  Throughout the evolutionary history of our human ancestors, women had to invest in each offspring at least nine months of pregnancy and many months if not years of nursing and caring for the infant, while men could potentially impregnate many women without any additional investment in the developing fetus or the newborn child.  Men can increase the number of their offspring by promiscuous mating, but women cannot.

If Robert Trivers (1972) is right in his Darwinian theory of mating strategies as determined by parental investment, we should expect that women will typically be more selective than men in choosing mates, and women will typically desire mates with resources that can support her and her children.

David Buss (2016) and others have surveyed the mating preferences of people around the world, and they have found that men prefer to mate with women who are young and physically attractive, while women prefer to mate with men who have economic resources and high social status.  Since the reproductive success of a man depends predominantly on the fertility of his mate, Darwinian theory predicts that the visual cues to fertility in nubile women--such as youth, smooth skin, luscious hair, regular facial features, and good body tone--are sexually attractive to men around the world.  Since the reproductive success of a woman depends predominantly on the ability and willingness of her mate to invest resources in her and her children, we can predict that the social cues to such resources in men--such as wealth, status, older age, and ambition--are sexually attractive to women around the world.

These natural differences in the mating preferences of men and women create conflicts of interests--the battle of the sexes.  Lifelong monogamous marriage is an attempt to strike a truce in that battle by finding a mutually beneficial compromise in which neither sex exploits the other.  A monogamous marriage benefits the wife because her husband agrees to invest emotionally and materially in her and in any children they produce without diverting his resources to other sexually attractive women.  A monogamous marriage benefits the husband because his wife agrees to give him faithful attachment and exclusive sexual access to her, so that he need not suffer from sexual jealousy, and he can be sure that his parental investment is going to his own children and not to children sired by another man.  In this way, her reproductive success becomes his, and vice versa.  For this to work, the man must sacrifice his natural male desire for sexual variety to satisfy his natural desires for conjugal bonding and parental care.  Turning away from the reproductive strategy of maximizing the quantity of his offspring through promiscuous mating, he must follow the reproductive strategy of maximizing the quality of those few offspring who benefit from his intensive paternal care.

If this Darwinian account of the natural sex differences between men and women, and of how heterosexual marriage forces a compromise of these differences, is correct, then we should see confirmation for this in the sex lives of homosexuals.  In The Evolution of Human Sexuality (1979), Donald Symons observed:
"There is no reason to suppose that homosexuals differ systematically from heterosexuals in any way other than sexual object choice . . . . I have argued that male sexuality and female sexuality are fundamentally different, and that sexual relationships between men and women compromise these differences; if so, the sex lives of homosexual men and women--who need not compromise sexually with members of the opposite sex--should provide dramatic insight into male sexuality and female sexuality in their undiluted states.  Homosexuals are the acid test for hypotheses about sex differences in sexuality" (292).
"Homosexual men behave in many ways like heterosexual men, only more so, and lesbians behave like heterosexual women, only more so" (304).
Here and throughout his book, Symons assumed that while heterosexual men and women manifested different human natures as shaped by the evolution of different reproductive strategies,  homosexual men and women did not show any evolutionarily distinct homosexual nature.  But in doing that, he left his readers wondering how homosexuality could have evolved as part of human nature if in fact homosexuality reduces reproductive fitness.  He offered no solution to what I have called the Darwinian puzzle of homosexuality (here).

Symons saw evidence that homosexuals show the natural male-female differences in many respects--including sexual arousal by visual stimuli, the promiscuous seeking of sexual variety, and the importance of physical attractiveness for sexual desirability.  As one indication of this difference, lesbians have no interest in the female nudity displayed in men's magazines like Playboy. And while the male nudity in a magazine like Playgirl is supposed to appeal to heterosexual women, there is reason to believe that the primary audience for Playgirl is homosexual men.

Like heterosexual men, gay males have a natural propensity for seeking out new sexual partners for one night stands.  And for both straight and gay men, purely physical attractiveness is their primary concern.  That's why homosexual men are so careful about their looks--with a emphasis on good grooming, nice clothes, and physical fitness--because they are like heterosexual women in that they can seduce men only if they are physically attractive.  And looking youthful is paramount, which is why gay men are like heterosexual women in their dread of ageing.

Unlike gay men, Symons argued, lesbians are like heterosexual women in that while the physical attractiveness of potential mates is important, at least as important is social intimacy with their mate.  As Symons put it, "among men, sex sometimes results in intimacy; among women, intimacy sometimes results in sex" (301).

Symons suggested: "heterosexual men would be as likely as homosexual men to have sex most often with strangers, to participate in anonymous orgies in public baths, and to stop off in public restrooms for five minutes of fellatio on the way home from work if women were interested in these activities.  But women are not interested" (300).

Symons implied that the institution of heterosexual marriage is an unnatural constraint on male desires imposed by women to satisfy female desires.  Symons is wrong about this, because despite the conflict between male and female desires, there is a fundamental complementarity in their desires for the stable arrangements of marriage and family life.  Even Symons recognized this complementarity in a few passages of his book.  "The desire for sexual variety," he wrote, "dooms most human males to a lifetime of unfulfilled longing; when the desire can be satisfied easily, as among many homosexual men, it often frustrates the satisfaction of other desires, such as those for intimacy and security" (228).

If marriage did not satisfy male desires, it would not be a universal practice of all societies.  If most men found the institution of marriage ultimately unsatisfactory, they would have abolished it long ago.  They have always had the power to do so, because every human society has been ruled by men.

Beginning as early as the 1950s and 1960s in the United States, some homosexuals began arguing for legalizing homosexual marriages as a way of providing social encouragement for homosexual monogamy, although some conceded that monogamous commitment is usually easier for lesbians than for gay men.  And yet many in the gay community have scorned the idea of gay marriage as contrary to the liberationist culture of gay life that should challenge the stultifying bourgeois norms of traditional marriage (Frank 2017).

The first governmental legalization of gay marriage occurred in the Netherlands in 2001, which was followed by some other European countries.  In the United States, Massachusetts was the first state to legalize gay marriage in 2003 through a decision of the Massachusetts Supreme Court (Goodridge v. Department of Public Health).  By the spring of 2015, 37 states allowed gay marriage; and at the end of June of that year, the Supreme Court of the United States declared gay marriage to be a constitutional right in Obergefell v. Hodges.  (I have written about Obergefell in June and July of 2015 and March and April of 2019).

So now, for the first time in human history, we are experimenting with legalized same-sex marriage.  The experiment will determine its success or failure.

Based on my argument for the Darwinian natural law of gay marriage--that it can satisfy the same natural desires for conjugal bonding and parental care that are satisfied in heterosexual marriage--I can predict at least partial success:  some gays (though maybe not most) will marry and sustain long-term monogamous commitments, but this will be more successful among lesbian couples than gay male couples; and many of these same-sex marriages will include parental care of children.  The critical question is what proportion of the gay male couples will manage to constrain the gay male propensity to promiscuous infidelity.

Depending on how one looks at it, we already have one case of a gay male couple that has been legally married for 48 years, and some historians consider them to be the first same-sex couple in history to be legally married.  On May 18, 1970, Michael McConnell and Jack Baker arrived at the Hennepin County Courthouse in Minneapolis, Minnesota, to apply for a marriage license.  Baker was a first-year law student at the University of Minnesota Law School, and he had noticed that the Minnesota statute on marriage licenses did not require that applicants identify their sex.  Having learned in law school the principle that "whatever isn't prohibited by law is permitted," he told McConnell that they had the legal right to marry in Minnesota.  When they arrived at the courthouse, news reporters and photographers were there, because they had alerted the press.  They wanted their filling out an application for a marriage license to be a public statement about the right of gays to marry (McConnell et al. 2016).

Gerald R. Nelson, clerk of district court, Hennepin County, refused to issue the marriage license.  A few months later, Baker filed for a writ of mandamus in Hennepin County District Court, which would have required the officials in Hennepin County to carry out their legal duties in issuing the marriage license.  Among their legal arguments, they claimed that if Minnesota law was interpreted as denying the right of gays to marry, this would violate the United States Constitution by denying them a fundamental right to privacy guaranteed by the Ninth Amendment and by depriving them of liberty and property without due process and of the equal protection of the law, both guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment.  In making these arguments, they knew that in the 1970s, a congressional statute said any interpretation of the federal constitution by a state court was entitled to automatic review by the U. S. Supreme Court.  So when the district court judge dismissed their case, they appealed to the Minnesota Supreme Court; and when their constitutional arguments were denied by that court in 1971, they were entitled for review by the U. S. Supreme Court.  This was the case of Baker v. Nelson.

In the Appellant's Jurisdictional Statement, in 1972, the lawyers for Baker and McConnell defended their constitutional right to marry by indicating that same-sex marriage was similar to heterosexual marriage in promoting the two natural ends of marriage--conjugal bonding and parental care--and thus they implicitly made the same natural law argument for same-sex marriage that would be made by Justice Anthony Kennedy in Obergefell v. Hodges in 2015.

To justify a governmental ban on same-sex marriage as consistent with the "equal protection of the laws" guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment, the lawyers argued, the Supreme Court's equal protection doctrine would require "a legitimate government interest which is so compelling that no restrictive means can be found to secure that interest, if there is one, than to proscribe single sex marriages" (p. 15).  One possible legitimate interest for marriage law might be to make marriage turn on marriage partners being willing and able to procreate and raise children.  But this purpose cannot justify banning same-sex marriage.  they explained:  "There is nothing in the nature of single sex marriages that precludes procreation and child rearing.  Adoption is quite clearly a socially acceptable form of procreation.  It already renders procreative many marriages between persons of opposite sexes in which the partners are physically or emotionally unable to conceive their own children.  Of late, even single persons have become eligible to be adoptive parents" (pp. 14-15).

Actually, of course, the marriage law in Minnesota and other states validates the marriages of childless heterosexual couples, and thus it recognizes the conjugal bonding of a couple as a natural purpose of marriage that stands independently of parental care as a sufficient ground for marriage.  But then to allow marriage for childless heterosexual couples while denying it for childless same sex couples violates the constitutional standard of "equal protection of the laws."

In support of this conclusion, the lawyers for Baker and McConnell cited the Court's recent decision in Reed v. Reed, 92 S. Ct. 251 (1971), which struck down an Idaho statute, which provided that as between persons equally qualified to administer estates, males must be preferred to females, as an unconstitutional violation of the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.  The lawyers quoted from that decision:
"In applying that clause, this Court has consistently recognized that the Fourteenth amendment does not deny to States the power to treat different classes of persons in different ways. [Citations omitted.]  The Equal Protection Clause of that Amendment does, however, deny to States the power to legislate that different treatment be accorded to persons placed by a statute into different classes on the basis of criteria wholly unrelated to the objective of that statute.  A classification 'must be reasonable, not arbitrary, and must rest upon some ground of difference having a fair and substantial relation to the object of the legislation, so that all persons similarly circumstanced shall be treated alike.'  Royster Guano Co. v. Virginia, 253 U.S. 412, 415 (1920)."
Since childless same sex couples are "similarly circumstanced" to childless heterosexual couples, they must be treated alike.  They must have an equal right to marry, because they are equal in their need for marriage to secure their natural desire for conjugal bonding: "how better may two people pledge love and devotion to one another than by marriage" (p. 7).

In their Appellee's Motion to Dismiss Appeal and Brief (Baker v. Nelson [1972], no. 71-1027), the lawyers for Hennepin County made six arguments for dismissing the appeal.  Their first argument was that this case did not present "a substantial federal question," because the power to regulate marriage was exclusively a power of the states, and therefore beyond the authority of the national government.  This turned out to be the decisive argument for the Court, because a law clerk for Justice Harry Blackmun drafted a one-sentence rejection of the appeal that was approved by the Court:  "The appeal is dismissed for want of a substantial federal question" (Baker v. Nelson, 409 U.S. 810 [1972]).  Years later, the man who had been Blackmun's law clerk in 1972 said "I just didn't think the Court was ready at the time to take on the issue" (Bravin 2015).  In subsequent years, this was cited by opponents of same sex marriage as a decisive precedent of the Court allowing states to ban same sex marriage.  Overruling this decision in Obergefell v. Hodges in 2015, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote: "The Court now holds that same-sex couples may exercise the fundamental right to marry.  No longer may this liberty be denied to them.  Baker v. Nelson must be and now is overruled, and the State laws challenged by Petitioners in these cases are now held invalid to the extent they exclude same-sex couples form civil marriage on the same terms and conditions as opposite-sex couples."

The second argument for dismissing the appeal was that the right to marry was not in fact being withheld from either Baker or McConnell, because each was free to marry as long as they married someone of the opposite sex (p. 5).  But this ignored the fact that the Court had rejected a similar argument a few years earlier in Loving v. Virginia (1967), when Virginia's law against interracial marriage was declared an unconstitutional violation of equal protection, which rejected the specious argument of the lawyers for the state of Virginia that blacks and whites had an equal right to marry as along as they married someone of the same race as they.  And, indeed, the lawyers for Baker and McConnell stressed the importance of the Loving decision in showing how the equal protection doctrine should uphold the constitutional right  not only to interracial marriages but also to same-sex marriages.  To refute this reasoning, one would have to show that while interracial marriages do not subvert the natural purposes of marriage, same-sex marriages do.

This points to the third argument for dismissing the appeal--the claim that same-sex marriage would "defeat and destroy" the institution of marriage (p. 6).  This claim has been developed by many of the opponents of same-sex marriage--such as Maggie Gallagher and Hadley Arkes.  Arkes has said: "It is not marriage that domesticates men; it is women" (1993).  Marriage domesticates men when they marry women, not when they marry other men.  If Symons is right about the socially destructive natural propensity of men to promiscuity, then heterosexual monogamous marriage is good for men and for social order generally because it forces men to constrain their restless desire for sexual variety by compromising with the demands of women for monogamous permanence and fidelity.  If "marriage equality" means that same-sex and opposite-sex unions are treated equally as marriages, then this is based on a lie about human nature--the lie that there is no natural difference between a union of two men or two women and a union of a man and a woman.  In fact, few male same-sex couples adhere to the norm of monogamous fidelity because they are free from the constraints of female sexuality.  Stretching the definition of marriage to include the same-sex marriage of men will therefore destroy the heterosexual marital norm of monogamous fidelity and permanence (Corvino and Gallagher 2012, 129-149).

But as John Corvino and others have noted, this ignores the fact that lesbian couples do seem to have a strong natural propensity to monogamous stability.  If it's good to marry a woman, it must be even better for women to marry other women!  Gallagher concedes this when she cites research showing "that whereas monogamy is correlated with relationship satisfaction for heterosexuals and lesbians--that is, having monogamy is associated with being in a happy relationship--for gay men, there's no association between sexual exclusivity and the satisfaction of the relationship" (Corvino and Gallagher 2012, 135).

So should we legalize heterosexual marriages and lesbian marriages, while banning gay male marriages, because legally recognizing the marriage of men would endorse male promiscuity and thus destroy the traditional norm of monogamy for marriage?  Or should we agree with Corvino that while we must grant that "on average, sexual exclusivity appears less important for gay men's relationship success (longevity, satisfaction, etc.) than it does for that of heterosexuals or lesbians," inferring from this that legalizing gay male marriage would destroy the norm of monogamous marriage is both implausible and unjust?

It is empirically implausible to claim that the traditional norm of life-long monogamous fidelity will be destroyed if we legalize gay male marriages, some of which will not be strictly monogamous.  Given the small number of gay men, and the much larger number of heterosexual men, there are probably many more heterosexual couples who become "swingers" in "open marriages" than there are promiscuous gay men.  And yet even with the large number of heterosexual people who ignore the norm of sexual exclusivity, monogamous fidelity is still for most people a marital norm, if only as an ideal often violated in practice.

It is also unjust to deny gays the right to marry because some gay couples will fail to be monogamous.  This is unjust because many heterosexual married couples choose not to embrace sexual fidelity as a norm for them, and yet they are just as truly married as any other legally married couple.  And, again, it is unjust to use the gay male propensity to promiscuity as a reason to deny the right to marry to lesbian couples who might enforce sexual exclusivity in their marriage, or to those gay male couples who do strive for monogamous fidelity.

Nevertheless, one might question the relevance of such moral arguments to the constitutional standards enforced by the Supreme Court.  And, indeed, the fourth argument of the lawyers in Baker v. Nelson for dismissing the appeal of Baker and McConnell was that there was no clear language in the Constitution of the United States giving homosexuals the right to marry.  The lawyers wrote: "The framers of our Constitution and the statesmen of the States of the Union ratifying the same, would have never conceived that the protections which were afforded the people under this historic document would ever be utilized in such a way as to bring about the result sought by the appellants herein" (p. 8).  This is undoubtedly true--that those who framed and ratified the Fourteenth Amendment never intended or anticipated that the guarantee of "equal protection" would be interpreted to mean that state bans on same-sex marriage were unconstitutional.  But it could also be said that they would never have foreseen that the Fourteenth Amendment would be read as striking down state laws banning interracial marriage as unconstitutional, as was done in Loving v. Virginia, a decision favorably cited by the lawyers arguing against the claims of Baker and McConnell.  Even if the decision in Loving cannot be grounded in the original understanding of those who framed and ratified the Fourteenth Amendment, it can be grounded in the original meaning of the words "equal protection of the laws" in that amendment, because we can see how laws prohibiting interracial marriage deprive interracial couples of equal protection in a way that does not rationally serve any legitimate interest of state government.  Similarly, we can see how laws prohibiting same-sex marriages deprive homosexual couples of equal protection in an arbitrary way that does not have any rational relation to any proper purpose of government.

The fifth argument against the appeal of Baker and McConnell invoked religious belief.  "Our country, and our Constitution, were founded upon basic religious principles and one of the most basic of such principles is that marriage is an institution ordained by God and that such institution is to be entered into by a man and a woman as husband and wife."  The lawyers for the appellees do not explain, however, where exactly those religious principles enter the Constitution.  Nor do they respond to the claim of the lawyers for Baker and McConnell that hostility to homosexuality in the Bible shows an unreasonable prejudice against homosexuals that has no constitutional status.

The final argument against Baker and McConnell's appeal points to one of the most peculiar facets of this case.  The questions raised by this appeal are said to be moot, because while Baker and McConnell claim they have been denied the right to marry, they did in fact marry each other on September 3, 1971, about six weeks before the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled against their appeal!

This marriage was made possible by some clever legal maneuvering by Baker and McConnell.  When they realized that adoption would give them about 90 percent of the benefits of marriage, because the adoptee becomes part of a family, they arranged to have Baker adopted by McConnell.  Also, in the process of adoption, they changed Jack Baker's name to Pat Lyn McConnell, so that the gender free name "Pat Lyn" would make it harder to identify them as two men when they applied for a marriage license.  They then moved for a short time to Mankato, Minnesota, in Blue Earth County, where they applied and received a marriage license for Michael McConnell and Pat Lyn McConnell on August 9, 1971.  They married a month later in Minneapolis.  They could then claim that when the state supreme court later ruled against their Hennepin County license, this would not deny the legality of their wedding.

In their book about their life, published in 2016, six months after the Obergefell ruling, McConnell and Baker tell the story of a marriage that has now lasted for 48 years.  While recognizing that most gay men seek only short-term relationships, they decided that they would be one of those few gay male couples who would make a lifelong commitment to one another.  They admit, however, that they did not see this marital commitment to one another as requiring sexual exclusivity.  They agreed that they would be free to date other men (McConnell et al. 2016, 15, 38-39, 50-51).  Here then they confirmed Symons' point about the promiscuity of male homosexual sexuality.  But they also indicate that as they grew older, the gay bars and bathhouses were less appealing to them, and they settled into a largely monogamous marriage lasting a lifetime.  They thus achieved the first natural end of marriage--conjugal bonding, or what Corvino has called the "mutual lifelong caregiving" function of marriage (Corvino and Gallagher 2012, 14-18).

                                      A Video on the Gay Marriage of McConnell and Baker

They also sought the second natural end of marriage--the parental care of children.  For over two years, they tried to adopt a child.  They decided that they would be open to adopting any child under the age of 6, even one that might need special care.  But when all of their applications at the adoption agencies failed, they finally decided that their marriage would be childless.

Michael McConnell and Jack Baker have not achieved the ideal marriage of a couple with lifelong perfect monogamy and the rearing of children.  But it's hard to believe--as many opponents of same-sex marriage would say--that this is not a "real marriage."


Appellant's Jurisdictional Statement, Baker v. Nelson, U.S. Supreme Court docket no. 71-1027.

Appellee's Motion to Dismiss Appeal and Brief, Baker v. Nelson, U.S. Supreme Court docket no. 71-1027.

Arkes, Hadley. 1993. "The Closet Straight." National Review, July 5.

Bravin, Jess. 2015. "Supreme Court Clerk Remembers First Same-Sex Marriage Case." The Wall Street Journal, May 1.

Buss, David. 2016. The Evolution of Desire: Strategies of Human Mating. Revised and updated edition. New York: Basic Books.

Corvino, John, and Maggie Gallagher. 2012. Debating Same-Sex Marriage. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Frank, Nathaniel. 2017. Awakening: How Gays and Lesbians Brought Marriage Equality to America. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

McConnell, Michael, Jack Baker, and Gail Langer Karwoski. 2016. The Wedding Heard 'Round the World: America's First Gay Marriage. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Symons, Donald. 1979. The Evolution of Human Sexuality. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Trivers, Robert. 1972. "Parental Investment and Sexual Selection." In Bernard Campbell, ed., Sexual Selection and the Descent of Man, 1871-1971, 136-79. Chicago: Aldine.