Passing Bull 90  –  The Validation Fallacy


Does the election of Donald Trump entail that his policies have been validated in some way?  No.  His winning the election means that he did well enough, without winning the popular vote, to be first past the post.  Even if he had won the popular vote, that would not in some way validate his policies.  His win means that more people preferred his case to that of his opponent.  It is like the result of a civil action heard by a jury.  Their verdict does not say what happened in fact – it says that on the balance of probabilities (say, 51 to 49)  they preferred the case of one side to that of the other side.  For this purpose, the jury represents the nation, and in each case the verdict is inscrutable.  We do not enquire about what passed in the jury room, and we have only the haziest notion of what went through the minds of some voters.  For example, we don’t know how many people voted for Donald Trump or against his opponent, but he doubtless got a lot of votes from people who disliked both him and his policies but who disliked even more both his opponent and her policies.

So, Trump has what is called a ‘mandate,’ which the Compact OED says is ‘the authority to carry out a policy regarded as given by the electorate to a party or candidate that wins an election.’  If he has the numbers in all the right places, he can turn his policies into law; if he does not, the mandate evaporates.  The process can get muddy where there are two houses of parliament, or where the executive branch is completely separate from the legislative branch, but in any event the result of an election does not say anything about the validity or goodness of the policies of the winner.  For example, the policies of Adolf Hitler were evil before he became Chancellor, and they remained evil after he became Chancellor.  If anything, they were more evil, because he then had the power to implement them.  But otherwise, the result of the election does not bear on the worth or validity of the policies, and it is wrong to say that people objecting to or protesting against those policies are rejecting or casting doubt on the results of the election.  If you believe that abortion is morally wrong, it does not become morally right just because your side loses an election.

Questions about the legal validity of the election process are of a different order.  An election may be invalid as a matter of law if a mandatory legal process has not been followed.  But the election does not become legally invalid just because the discussion was disturbed undesirably – by, say, the covert action of a foreign power, or the overt action of a government office, either of which obviously helped one side over another – unless that disturbance is itself unlawful, and the law entails that any breach of that law makes the election invalid.  If that extreme case arose, it would not be a case of awarding the win to the runner-up – there would have to be a new election.

These distinctions have not been observed by either side of politics here or in the U S.  People want to say that the policies of Trump are beyond criticism because he won.  That is just wrong for the reasons given, and its wrongness is now demonstrated by the fact that Trump fervently spruiks it.  Trump is what is called a populist who was popular enough to get enough of the popular vote to win.  People can then make their own assessment of the contribution of this exercise in populism to Western civilisation.

In 1936, the two most popular leaders in the world were probably Adolf Hitler and F D Roosevelt – although Hitler, like Trump, did not I think get to 50% in a straight out election contest.  Hitler probably had a higher approval rating than Roosevelt, but both he and his policies remained what they were.

While Trump gets less presidential every day, his assault on truth, sense and courtesy is disorienting the best.  The Wall Street Journal savaged the Muslim ban bit said this:

The larger problem with the order is its breadth. Contrary to much bad media coverage, the order is not a “Muslim ban.” But by suspending all entries from seven Muslim-majority nations, it lets the jihadists portray the order as applying to all Muslims even though it does not. The smarter play would have been simply to order more diligent screening without a blanket ban.

 Is the argument that if there are 15 Muslims in a room, and you only ban 10 of them from leaving it, then you have not imposed a Muslim ban?  That is a simple non sequitur.  And what do the last three words ‘a blanket ban’ mean?

No wonder the bad guys think that all their birthdays have come at once.  A declaration of war on Islam is a gift to them beyond price.

As to the infamous phone call, where the spoiled child became a rabid dog, there are three questions.  If I do a deal with BHP, that is what it is, and a change in governance does not affect it – why is it not the same with a deal with the U S?  Secondly, if the deal is open to renegotiation, will Trump, who doesn’t go for win/win, want troops or warships from us?  Thirdly, what does it tell you about the White House that they think this leak would be good for Trump, including the nonsense about the vote and the crowd?  What does it say about their view of their base?

Well, as Carlyle said of the French Revolution, ‘every dog has his day, even a rabid dog.’

This month’s poet of the month means that the poems of my colleague Chris Wallace-Crabbe have been sandwiched between the poetry of Virgil and Dante.  That’s my doing, not his.

Poet of the month: Dante, The Inferno, Canto 1.

MIDWAY upon the journey of our life
I found myself within a forest dark,
For the straightforward pathway had been lost.

Ah me! how hard a thing it is to say
What was this forest savage, rough, and stern,
Which in the very thought renews the fear.

So bitter is it, death is little more;
But of the good to treat, which there I found,
Speak will I of the other things I saw there.

I cannot well repeat how there I entered,
So full was I of slumber at the moment
In which I had abandoned the true way.

But after I had reached a mountain’s foot,
At that point where the valley terminated,
Which had with consternation pierced my heart,

Upward I looked, and I beheld its shoulders
Vested already with that planet’s rays
Which leadeth others right by every road.

One thought on “Passing Bull 90  –  The Validation Fallacy

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