Reductio ad absurdum is a form of argument where you demonstrate that a statement is true by showing that a false, untenable, or absurd result follows from its denial, as with global warming, or you demonstrate that a statement is false by showing that a false, untenable, or absurd result follows from its acceptance – if everyone had guns we’d all be safer, or lowing taxes to next to nothing means tax revenue will soar, or that austerity produces immediate prosperity. Play out the scenario. You can’t get there from here. It’s absurd.
It may be a bit more complicated than that – there’s the principle of non-contradiction and the principle of explosion and paraconsistent logic – but it’s really not all that complicated. Someone says something bold – if we do this then wonderful things will happen – and someone else says fine, but if we do that, wouldn’t this happen, and then this other thing, and then this other thing? Do you really want to invade Iraq?
Yes, Republicans have become impervious to this form of argument, no matter how rigorously and logically the near certain dire scenario is presented. They don’t buy it. Nothing is certain. You never know – if things fall out just so, and if we keep our resolve, and with a bit of luck, and with God on our side, that wonderful thing really could happen. Well, it could. Why not be bold?
And yes, Republicans are bold. That’s what they’ve been selling America for fifty years. It started with Barry Goldwater – extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice and moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue and all that – although back in 1964 no one was buying that notion. But Democrats are wimps. Republicans are bold. Everyone knows this, and people vote for the bold, eventually. Republicans count on it, and that might explain this:
Donald J. Trump called on Monday for the United States to bar all Muslims from entering the country until the nation’s leaders can “figure out what is going on” after the terrorist attacks in San Bernardino, Calif., an extraordinary escalation of rhetoric aimed at voters’ fears about members of the Islamic faith.
Yes, he went there:
Mr. Trump, who in September declared “I love the Muslims,” turned sharply against them after the Paris terrorist attacks, calling for a database to track Muslims in America and repeating discredited rumors that thousands of Muslims celebrated in New Jersey on 9/11. His poll numbers rose largely as a result, until a setback in Iowa on Monday morning. Hours later Mr. Trump called for the ban, fitting his pattern of making stunning comments when his lead in the Republican presidential field appears in jeopardy.
In short, Ted Cruz was suddenly ahead of him in the polls, so it was time to apply more boldness, but that’s not how he explained it:
Saying that “hatred” among many Muslims for Americans is “beyond comprehension,” Mr. Trump said in a statement that the United States needed to confront “where this hatred comes from and why.”
“Until we are able to determine and understand this problem and the dangerous threat it poses, our country cannot be the victims of horrendous attacks by people that believe only in jihad, and have no sense of reason or respect for human life,” Mr. Trump said.
Asked what prompted his statement, Mr. Trump said, “death,” according to a spokeswoman.
That’s blunt, and bold, and, some thought, absurd:
Repudiation of Mr. Trump’s remarks was swift and severe among religious groups and politicians from both parties. Mr. Trump is “unhinged,” said one Republican rival, former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida, while another, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, called the ban “offensive and outlandish.” Hillary Clinton said the idea was “reprehensible, prejudiced and divisive.” Organizations representing Jews, Christians and those of other faiths quickly joined Muslims in denouncing Mr. Trump’s proposal.
“Rooting our nation’s immigration policy in religious bigotry and discrimination will not make America great again,” said Rabbi Jack Moline, executive director of Interfaith Alliance, putting a twist on Mr. Trump’s campaign slogan.
Cute, turn his words against him, and consider this:
Experts on immigration law and policy expressed shock at the proposal Monday afternoon.
“This is just so antithetical to the history of the United States,” said Nancy Morawetz, a professor of clinical law at New York University School of Law, who specializes in immigration. “It’s unbelievable to have a religious test for admission into the country.”
She added: “I cannot recall any historical precedent for denying immigration based on religion.”
Putting the policy into practice would require an unlikely act of Congress, said Stephen Yale-Loehr, a professor of law at Cornell and a prominent authority on immigration.
Should Congress enact such a law, he predicted, the Supreme Court would invalidate it as an overly restrictive immigration policy under the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.
There seems to be a reason no one thought of this before, but politics are at play here:
Several Republican strategists and politicians said they believe that Mr. Trump’s maneuver against Muslims was partly a challenge to Mr. Cruz and other Republicans to stake out positions on terrorism that were as audacious as his own. But they also said that the ban reflected anxiety and anger among many voters that the federal government was not acting aggressively enough to protect them at home.
This is good politics, of at least effective politics:
While several Republican presidential candidates have called for increased intelligence gathering and more aggressive investigations of suspected terrorists, as well as a halt to Muslim refugees entering the United States from Syria, Mr. Trump’s pointed suspicions about Muslims have been in a category by themselves.
At his campaign rallies, he has drawn strong applause from thousands of voters for his calls on the government to monitor mosques, and he has refused to rule out his earlier proposal to enter names of Muslims in America into a database. He has also made a series of ominous comments about President Obama’s leadership in fighting terrorism, suggesting that there was “something going on” with Mr. Obama that Americans were not aware of.
All he needed was a source:
In his statement, Mr. Trump quoted a poll by the Center for Security Policy, whose president and founder, Frank Gaffney, has claimed that President Obama is aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood, an extremist political movement born in Egypt, and that agents of the Muslim Brotherhood have infiltrated the U.S. government, the Republican Party and conservative political organizations.
Talking Points Memo provides some detail on those guys:
CSP’s founder Frank Gaffney is a former Reagan administration official who has suggested U.S. officials have ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, and that the appointment of Justice Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court was a move by the “stealth jihad” movement, and that President Obama is secretly a practicing Muslim.
CSP’s outside general counsel is David Yerushalmi, who according to a 2011 New York Times profile, has also represented Pam Gellar, of the anti-Muslim bus ad fame. The Times credited Yerushalmi for spearheading the legal battle against so-called “creeping Sharia” which has, in turn, rippled into presidential politics – not just this cycle, but in 2012, when Newt Gingrich and Michele Bachmann were railing against Sharia law from the campaign stump.
And there’s this:
Gaffney himself, as well as his think tank, maintain some connection to Washington’s neo-con universe, while being ostracized by other Republicans. He was banned from the conservative confab CPAC for accusing other participants — specifically Suhail Khan and Grover Norquist — of bringing about a Muslim Brotherhood infiltration.
Even the hardest of hard-assed conservative Republicans finally would have nothing to do with Frank Gaffney, but Trump doesn’t care, and the neo-Nazi Stormfront folks are happy:
Barring non-citizen Muslims from the United States has drawn support from organizations like the Society of Americans for National Existence and the Daily Stormer, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has described as hate groups.
Others were not impressed:
“Oh, for the love of God,” said Jonathan Turley, a constitutional law expert at George Washington University. “This would not only violate international law, but do so by embracing open discrimination against one religion. It would make the United States a virtual pariah among nations.”
He was not alone:
The GOP presidential candidate on Monday called for a “total and complete shutdown” of Muslims entering the United States, including immigrants, tourists and even Muslims who are U.S. citizens and travel abroad. His plan to bar U.S. citizens drew particular ire from legal experts, some of whom fumbled for words as they tried to explain its illegality, since none had considered the matter before.
“That’s blatantly unconstitutional if it excludes U.S. citizens because they are Muslims. It’s ridiculous,” said Richard Friedman, a law professor at the University of Michigan. He cited the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection clause and the First Amendment’s doctrine of freedom of religion.
Barring Muslims who are not U.S. citizens from entering the country may not violate U.S. law in the same way, the experts said, because the Constitution’s protections generally do not apply to people outside the nation’s borders. But that’s irrelevant, they said, because Trump’s plan would break many principles of international law and agreements the U.S. has signed with other nations.
“We have treaties, all sorts of relationships with other countries,” said Palma Yanni, a D.C. immigration lawyer and past president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.
“I’m sure it would violate innumerable treaties if we suddenly started banning citizens of NATO countries, of Southeast Asian countries.”
Then add this:
Beyond the legal problems, Trump’s plan would also likely be doomed by practical factors, such as the difficulty and intrusiveness of questioning potential immigrants based on factors such as their surname. And religion “is not on any passport that I’ve ever seen,” said Yanni, who labeled the plan “impossible.”
That does make keeping immigrants, and tourists, and although Trump later walked it back, Muslims who are US citizens and travel abroad, and Muslim members of our Armed Forces deployed abroad, from entering the country, for a few years until we figure out who hates us, a bit difficult.
That may not matter:
MOUNT PLEASANT, S.C. – When Kathy Grimes heard Donald Trump had proposed a ban on Muslim immigrants, she didn’t believe it – even when shown the press release.
“It is inflammatory. It’s polarizing. Islam is supposed to be the religion of peace,” said Grimes, a 67-year-old California resident who came to Trump’s rally Monday here while in the area for vacation. Perhaps, she said, one of his staff members got the details wrong in writing the statement.
But when Trump himself read the release, word for word, to a standing-room-only rally aboard the USS Yorktown, much of the crowd stood and applauded.
He knew what they wanted:
Trump cited a questionable online poll conducted by the Center for Security Policy, an organization with an anti-Muslim reputation. The poll found 25% of Muslim-American respondents thought violence against Americans is justified. “These are people who are here, by the way,” Trump said.
“They’re in Detroit!” a man yelled, referencing the sizable Middle Eastern population in Detroit’s suburbs. A few people chuckled.
“Send them all home!” others in the crowd shouted. Then, a protester, one of around ten removed during the event, called the proposal “racist,” which resulted in boos and yells from the rest of the crowd.
At least they didn’t beat the crap out of the protesters this time, even if Trump says he has no problem with that, but he did say this:
“You don’t have to worry about (racial) profiling,” Trump said. “I promise: I will defend you for profiling.”
That might be seen as license to go kick some Muslim ass, and others see that:
The country’s largest Muslim advocacy and civil rights organization tonight condemned Donald Trump’s call for barring Muslims from the United States as “bigoted remarks.”
“This is outrageous from someone who wants to assume the highest office,” Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), said at a Capitol Hill news conference, adding that Trump’s newly stated position is “un-American.” …
He added: “Donald Trump sounds more like the leader of a lynch mob than a great nation like ours…”
There you have it. Demonstrate that a statement is false by showing that a false, untenable, or absurd result follows from its acceptance – like roving bands of Trump enthusiasts looking for someone to stomp, those who think this is dangerous nonsense, or perhaps random Muslims.
Who saw that coming? Slate’s Josh Voorhees saw this coming:
For starters, Trump has already suggested the government may need to shutter U.S. mosques and create a mandatory registry to track Muslims in the United States. While many of his rivals took issue with those remarks, they don’t sound all that different from him on the stump. Many have called for the same type of no-Muslims religious test for Syrian refugees looking to resettle in the United States. Ben Carson has proposed a similar test for future presidents (while also likening Syrian refugees to “rabid dogs”). And Ted Cruz has vowed to “shut down the broken immigration system that is letting jihadists into our country.” The common conservative refrain on the campaign trail, meanwhile, has long been that the first step in fighting ISIS is to define it as “radical Islamic terrorism.” (Republicans feel noticeably differently, however, about terrorist attacks committed by Christians.) The GOP field, then, is already on the record that they believe the Islamic faith itself poses a threat to the United States. Trump’s proposal is the logical conclusion to the type of illogical belligerence that Republicans have increasingly directed at Muslims in the wake of last month’s terrorist attacks in Paris and last week’s massacre in San Bernardino, California.
Furthermore, Trump’s new position is cut from the same cloth as his old one – the anti-immigration demagoguery that has been the centerpiece of his unexpectedly durable campaign from the get go. This summer he went from late-night punch line to late-night-punch-line-who-is-leading-the-GOP-polls thanks in no small part to branding many Mexican immigrants as rapists, murderers, and drug dealers. One of the bigger differences between his wall-building and deportation-heavy plan and this no-Muslims-allowed one is that he’s not promising to make Muslims pay to implement the latter.
This started a long time ago:
Baseless worries that ISIS terrorists would travel to Mexico and then sneak in over the United States’ southern border predate this campaign. Rick Perry suggested back in 2014 that there was a “very real possibility” that members of ISIS or other terrorist groups were entering the U.S. illegally via Mexico. Scott Walker made a similar case this summer when he said that Islamic terrorists were “most likely” smuggling themselves across the Mexican border. Once Trump learned he had an immigration hammer, it was only a matter of time before he saw every Muslim as a nail.
This, then, was inevitable:
Despite the GOP establishment’s well-documented fear about alienating Hispanic voters as Mitt “Self-Deportation” Romney did four years ago, Trump’s theoretically more sober-minded rivals have been willing to entertain the ideas of building a 1,989-mile along the Mexican border and tracking foreigners like they’re FedEx packages. Even Jeb, a man who only a year earlier described coming to the United States illegally as “an act of love” people undertook for their families, began using the derogatory term “anchor babies” while his party talked opening about repealing the 14th amendment.
So we have the logical, and absurd, conclusion to all this, now. None of the other Republican candidates really disagrees with him. They just say they do, but none of them was bold enough to take what they themselves had been saying to its logical conclusion.
Trump did, but now the wrong people have noticed, like Southern Baptist leader Russell Moore:
The United States government should fight, and fight hard, against radical Islamic jihadism. The government should close the borders to anyone suspected of even a passing involvement with any radical cell or terrorist network. But the government should not penalize law-abiding people, especially those who are American citizens, for holding their religious convictions.
Muslims are an unpopular group these days. And I would argue that non-violent Muslim leaders have a responsibility to call out terror and violence and jihad. At the same time, those of us who are Christians ought to stand up for religious liberty not just when our rights are violated but on behalf of others too.
Make no mistake. A government that can shut down mosques simply because they are mosques can shut down Bible studies because they are Bible studies. A government that can close the borders to all Muslims simply on the basis of their religious belief can do the same thing for evangelical Christians. A government that issues ID badges for Muslims simply because they are Muslims can, in the fullness of time, demand the same for Christians because we are Christians.
Reductio ad absurdum hits home, on the Christian right, but two can play this game:
A Florida mayor says he’s banning Donald Trump from his city after the Republican presidential candidate called for the U.S. to stop Muslims from entering the country.
Playing off of Trump’s earlier words, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman tweeted Monday that he was banning Trump “until we fully understand the dangerous threat posed by all Trumps.”
A little humor helps, but not much. Donald Trump has now reduced the Republican Party to an absurdity, by taking the party’s arguments to their logical conclusions. Now he wants to do that for all of America, after we’ve worked so hard to reverse all the absurdities of the Bush years. We’ll end up absurd anyway. It hardly seems fair. But who’s going to stop him? Reductio ad absurdum.