During the 2016 Democratic and Republican National Conventions, presidential candidates Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump delivered speeches full of informal fallacies as they made their cases against each other. Informal fallacies often entail bringing incorrect and irrelevant information into a speech or an argument (Texas State University, 2020). They contain reasoning errors, ambiguous evidence, and insufficient or irrelevant information. The most common types of informal fallacies found in the two speeches are ad hominem, prevarication, and appeal to ignorance.
Ad hominem happens when a speaker launches a personal attack at another instead of responding to or criticizing the points they have raised. Instead of addressing someone’s position on an issue, one of the interlocutors irrelevantly attacks the other directly (Texas State University, 2020). Sometimes during a debate or an argument, one of the parties may find themselves unable to argue against the position expressed by their rival. They respond by attacking the attributes of the other party, which are unrelated to the debate.
In one part of the speech, Trump says, “America is far less safe –, and the world is far less stable – than when Obama decided to put Hillary Clinton in charge of America’s foreign policy. Let us defeat her in November. I am certain it is a decision President Obama truly regrets”. Trump launches a direct attack on Clinton, unfairly accusing her of causing insecurity in the United States and instability worldwide. He also says she should be defeated in the presidential race due to the accusations he has made against her. Instead of addressing the merits and demerits of Clinton’s policies and manifesto, Trump attacks her directly.
When Trump says that he is certain that President Obama regrets putting her in charge of foreign policy, he paints her as an inefficient bureaucrat who has failed her employer.
Whereas Trump should have responded to Clinton’s proposed foreign policy and security agenda for the country, he attacks her, trying to rally the public against her as a person and not her manifesto or proposed policies. This statement is an informal fallacy because it brings irrelevant information about another candidate instead of discussing the direction the country should take in the future. Trump focuses on attacking Clinton’s character instead of her position on different issues.
In Clinton’s speech, one of the most dominant informal fallacies is prevarication. It refers to skirting around the truth or trying to lie in a fancy way (Texas State University, 2020). Prevarication is the deliberate misstatement of a fact with the intention of creating an incorrect impression of something or someone. It happens when a person speaks falsely or misleadingly in a way calculated to cast aspersions on a subject. Clinton uses this informal fallacy while responding to Trump’s statement about fixing the system alone.
Clinton says, “And most of all, do not believe anyone who says, “I alone can fix it.”… Really? I alone can fix it? Isn’t he forgetting? … He’s forgetting every last one of us. Americans don’t say, “I alone can fix it.” We say, “We’ll fix it together.” Notably, Clinton has taken Trump’s words out of context and is trying to lie to the audience about what Trump has said before. When Trump said, “I alone can fix it,” he referred to his position as an outsider coming to manage a broken political system. Besides, he meant that he is the leader of the movement that aimed to fix American politics.
In this context, the word “I alone” means his position as a leader of many people who wanted a change in the United States of America. However, Clinton takes the phrase beyond its original context to portray Trump as a person who pretends to fix the system alone. This statement is an informal fallacy because it uses ambiguous evidence, as Clinton takes advantage of the ambiguity of Trump’s statement to skirt around the truth. Clinton wants to lie to the audience about what Trump said but in a fancy way.
Finally, the appeal to ignorance is highly evident in Clinton’s speech at the Republican convention. The fallacy occurs when a person makes a statement that seems to be true because there is no evidence against it at that moment. The burden of proof is shifted to the listener (Texas State University, 2020). In some cases, when speakers are addressing an audience, they say things that are either logically wrong or make promises that are impossible to implement because they are aware that the audience does not have evidence against their statements at that moment. Therefore, their statements appeal to their ignorance.
Towards the end of Clinton’s speech, she says, “And if necessary, we will pass a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizen’s United.” The statement appeals to people’s ignorance that the political climate of gridlock in the United States makes it hard to amend the constitution. It may not be clear to the people at that moment that constitutional change in America is almost impossible. After they analyze the recent history, the evidence becomes clear to them.
Recently, the two leading parties have had an almost equal number of legislators. Clinton knew that proposing an amendment requires at least a two-thirds vote in the congress or two-thirds support of the states. Yet, she promises a constitutional amendment because people are not aware of the complexities that make it almost impossible for one to succeed. This statement is an informal fallacy because it contains several reasoning errors. Clinton fails to reason that it is impossible to change the United States constitution due to the current political culture of gridlock.
Texas State University (2020). Illogical fallacies. Web.