I’m taking a course in logic this semester — an intro course so I’m by no means an expert. It should be noted that logic views the world through a particular sort of linear, Western lens, but there are nevertheless many circumstances in which logic is indubitably useful: for example, in the evaluation of various political arguments, such as the claim that supporting Trump automatically makes one racist. But before it comes time for that discussion, it’s important to establish an understanding of what exactly logic is.
Though the words “logic” and “argument” have looser colloquial meanings, they also have more precise applications. Dr. David Kelley, who authored “The Art of Reasoning,” my textbook, defines the term “logic” in this stricter sense as “the study of the methods and standards of inference.” Another way to put it is that logic is the study of reasoning and evaluating arguments. With that, the term “argument,” insofar as logic is concerned, has a stricter definition as well meaning a logical argument refers to a set of premises that support a conclusion. For example, “All men are mortal” would be premise number one. Next comes “Adam Driver is a man” as premise number two. Lastly, the conclusion is “Therefore, Adam Driver is mortal.” Of course, this is a considerably skeletal depiction of arguments — if we wanted to probe around, there’s all sorts of different types of arguments, and intricacies within them, to dissect. But for our purpose, a simple understanding is sufficient.
While logic may, at times, become quite temple-rub-inducing and deep-exhale-begetting, it’s enormously valuable nonetheless. An ever-relevant piece of logic’s beauty worth highlighting is its neutrality. Sure, it can be employed to reach non-neutral ends. But logic itself is but an impartial means one can use to answer questions, solve problems or draw conclusions in circumstances where effectively doing such requires more than just direct observation. For instance, in the evaluation of the aforementioned argument that supporting Trump, by default, makes one racist. To provide a clearer insight as to how exactly this argument would work, let’s examine this argument in detail using basic procedural steps such as deconstruction, definition and the consideration of alternatives.
Firstly, there’s deconstruction, or breaking the argument into its components. How does one begin this process? This is actually kind of a trick question, because in this case the “argument” isn’t really an argument at all — it’s just a conclusion in the classic “If a, then b” form. We’re thereby missing our premises, but it’s not too difficult to find them. All we need to do is work backward to find propositions we can use to support our conclusion.
Let’s start by extending this conclusion, “If you support Donald Trump, you’re racist” to the broader sentiment behind it: “If you support a racist person, you’re racist too.” However, we still need another premise to connect these dots — how do we shift from referring to any racist person in the whole world to referring to Donald Trump? With this premise: “Donald Trump is racist.” With that, there’s the basic structure of this argument! Premise 1: “If you support a racist person, you’re racist, too.” Premise 2: “Donald Trump is racist.” Thus our conclusion is “Therefore, if you support Donald Trump, you are racist.”
Now, it’s time to evaluate the truth of the premises. Let’s start with the second one, “Donald Trump is racist.” There are a plethora of instances in which Trump has faced allegations of racial discrimination and made racially offensive statements. These date as far back as the 1970s, when the Trump Management Corporation, which Trump was then the president of, was sued twice by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) for alleged racial discrimination against prospective Black tenants. Trump refuses to condemn both white supremacists and hate crimes enacted by his supporters. Recently, he’s repeatedly referred to COVID-19 as the “kung flu,” implied a peaceful Black Lives Matter (BLM) protester deserved getting beaten because his actions were “absolutely disgusting” and perhaps most infamously, told the Proud Boys, a violent, far-right, neo-fascist group with ties to white supremacy, to “stand by” during the 2020 election. Unfortunately, this isn’t even half of it. Despite knowing this — perhaps out of oafishness, willful ignorance, lunacy or a charming combination of all three — there are some who insist nonetheless that Trump isn’t racist. For the majority of us, though, we can agree this information provides solid evidence for the proposition “Donald Trump is racist.” Thereby, we verify the truth of the second premise.
Doing the same for the first premise, however, is slightly more difficult. A good place to start is considering the main counterargument to our position — the notion that supporting someone doesn’t automatically attribute all their qualities to the supporter. A viral TikTok video articulated this position with an example: “If I support a Black person, does that make me Black?” You could go on like this for quite a while, even to the point of something absurd, like, if you support Kraft Foods, are you Kraft Foods? As entertaining it may be, this train of thought is prone to fallacy and is especially fallacious when related back to the issue at hand: Donald Trump. In other words, while the premises may be true, they don’t actually support the conclusion, though they may appear to.
The fallacy committed here is equivocation, also known as “doublespeak,” which occurs when a word switches meaning in the middle of an argument, either from one premise to another, or from a premise to a conclusion. An example would be something like, “Keanu Reeves is a real star. The sun is also a star. So, Keanu Reeves and the sun must share a lot of similarities.” The problem here is clear: when we refer to a celebrity as a “star,” we don’t mean they are literally a luminous ball of gas. The meaning of the word “star” is used differently in the first premise than in the second, and thus it goes without saying that these premises don’t support the subsequent conclusion. Similarly, the word “support” has different meanings in different contexts, too. When someone says “I support you”, they likely mean “support” in the sense of emotional support, validation and solidarity. However, when one supports a political candidate in a political context, they don’t mean they emotionally support that person.
So what does political support refer to? Definitions are fundamental to logic. In defining “political support”, a number of things come to mind — campaign donations, moral alignment, casting a ballot with a name bubbled in. Perhaps political support, then, is a combination of three definitions of “support” provided by Merriam-Webster: “(1) to promote the interests or cause of; (2) to uphold as valid or right” and “(3) to argue or vote for.” We’ve already verified our second proposition and as we saw, not only is Trump deeply racist, but he has repeatedly, over the course of decades, allowed his racism to manifest in real ways that harm racial minorities. With the relevant definition of “support” in mind, his supporters are willing to “uphold” these things “as valid or right” and “promote the interests or cause of” a thoroughly racist person. In other words, they’re enabling a racist person to act on behalf of this racism by putting him in a position of power — and not only a position of power, but the ultimate position of power as president of our country. To uphold racism as valid or right does indeed make you racist.
Still yet, this is tricky to prove logically because drawing lines can be difficult. Suppose someone is severely ignorant and casts a ballot for Trump solely on the basis of their belief that he was responsible for a long period of economic growth, and is unaware of anything at all he has done or said. Is ignorance an issue in itself? Of course. But can we say logically that this person is racist? To what extent can we hold voters accountable for the actions of their electorate? These questions are challenging to answer, unless we continue to add qualifiers to our conclusion, which I don’t have the word count to do properly — I’m already pushing it as is. In any case, even if you’re convinced that logic can’t prove supporting a racist person automatically makes the supporter racist, at the end of the day, they’re still supporting a racist. In other words, saying “I’m not racist just because I want a racist person in charge of my country” may be a logically accurate assertion, but you said it yourself — you still want a racist person in charge of your country. Is that truly any better?
May Braaten is a freshman majoring in philosophy, politics and law.