kettle logic

Trump’s Freudian kettle logic

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Donald Trump recently posted a series of tweets slamming Jill Stein’s call for a recount. The contradictory nature of those tweets was a perfect example of “kettle logic.”

In “The Interpretation of Dreams,” Sigmund Freud used the term “kettle logic” to describe the series of mutually exclusive defenses put forth by a man who returns a kettle to his neighbor in a damaged condition:

“In the first place, he had returned the kettle undamaged; in the second place it already had holes in it when he borrowed it; and in the third place, he had never borrowed it at all.”

According to Freud, “A complicated defense, but so much the better; if only one of these three lines of defense is recognized as valid, the man must be acquitted.”

In a recent posting in The New Republic, Jeet Heer likens Donald Trump’s tweets about Stein’s recount effort to this very kind of “kettle logic.”

Donald’s tweets:

  • So much time and money will be spent [on the recount]—same result! Sad.
  • In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.
  • It would have been much easier for me to win the so-called popular vote than the Electoral College in that I would only campaign in 3 or 4-states instead of the 15 states that I visited. I would have won even more easily and convincingly (but smaller states are forgotten)!

What’s going on here? Trump frequently plays the larger game by throwing out lots of contradictory smaller untruths. Candy to distract a multitude of audiences. And, according to Heer, therein lies the real danger.

Fact-checkers typically look at individual comments a politician makes and judge them against known evidence. That’s fine so far as it goes, but it simply establishes the accuracy or inaccuracy of that one statement, rather than the pattern of deception or even irrationality at work….

To be able to constantly lie and get people to accept contrary statements is, after all, an assertion of power. And it’s a type of power Trump understands all too well.

What’s really wrong with Trump’s claim of widespread illegal voting fraud isn’t just that it is untrue but also that, when combined with his other comments, it shows Trump doesn’t care about rational logic at all.

As Heer points out, “Unless we analyze how he’s attacking not just facts but also logic, we can’t measure the full damage he’s doing and respond accordingly.”

Faulty logic can be much more dangerous than mere untruths. Sometimes we focus too much on the trees and miss the fact that the forest is on fire.

Bill Kesler Bill Kesler (24 Posts)

Before Bill Kesler retired in 2007 as vice-president of production for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, he worked for more than 20 years as a photojournalist.