Four years of listening to Donald J. Trump as putative and elected president of the United States of America – a personal intelligence project which I initially began with interest in the candidate but which soon descended into an inexorable education in politics – I have shamefully only now acknowledged that there is some muster to Trump’s bluster. Or as is so often regurgitated, “It’s not just what you say, it’s how you say it!”
There is however an unsettling corollary to this seemingly positive declaration. In a word, not every success based upon deceit is laudable.
Circular reasoning (Latin: circulus in probando, “circle in proving”; also known as circular logic) is a logical fallacy in which the reasoner begins with what they are trying to end with. The components of a circular argument are often logically valid because if the premises are true, the conclusion must be true. Circular reasoning is not a formal logical fallacy but a pragmatic defect in an argument whereby the premises are just as much in need of proof or evidence as the conclusion, and as a consequence the argument fails to persuade. Other ways to express this are that there is no reason to accept the premises unless one already believes the conclusion, or that the premises provide no independent ground or evidence for the conclusion.
What is critical to understanding the definition of circular reasoning is that its false facts promote false conclusions.
In the run-up speeches to the presidential election in 2016 Hillary Rodham Clinton made the correct but politically indelicate observation that Trump supporters were “deplorables” – a hitherto infrequent if not indeed entirely absent nominative usage. Even crediting Clinton with the generosity that her criticism was directed only to some but not all Trump supporters, the accusation stuck to an Olympic degree. I have since discovered from seeing what were no doubt strategically chosen clips of Trump rallies by CNN, MSNBC and other “fake news” media a collection of ill-spoken, peculiarly dressed, manifestly uneducated Trump supporters who naturally heighten not only Clinton’s quip but also Trump’s perverse but marginally successful circular reasoning.
To characterize Trump’s so-called rhetoric as an argumentative victory is beyond the pale. All that’s missing for the final appeal is, “Gotcha!” What lingers more predominantly is the possibility that Trump’s circular reasoning represents a political triumph. Fortunately the evolution of this latest generation of politicians has not yet excluded people who practice a different method of election. I am reminded that in addition to the value of voting alone there is the complication of having an inadequate candidate. Small wonder that so much of the current election campaign has become a battle of personalities quite apart from the substantive issues.