From The Ethics Alarms “Blathering Makes You Incoherent So That Those Who Bias Has Made Stupid Think You Are Stupid, Making Them Look Stupid” Files: The Sweden Affair

Here is something apparently nobody noticed from the past two years: Donald Trump doesn’t speak in linear fashion, use words with precision, or think about what he’s saying until it has already left his mouth. Did you not know that? I’ve been complaining about it here for, oh, about five years. (That YouTube video above is Exhibit A) Yet every time he says something garbled and seemingly confused,  journalists and bloggers instantly take what he said literally, and go on a spree. Now, when most politicians say something that makes no sense, as when President Obama’s tongue slipped and he said there were 57 states or Joe Biden, who makes head-scratching comments almost every day, announced at the Radio and Television Correspondents’ Dinner on March 17, 2010, “Barack Obama is the first African-American in the history of the United States of America!” ( Joe forgot that key word, “President”)  it prompts a brief mention, if at all. With politicians whom the news media has decided to take down, however, like Dan Quayle, Sarah Palin, and now the President, there is no such break. Of course these conservative fools meant what they said to express the most senseless thought imaginable.

Now Trump is President, so he is obliged to choose his words especially carefully, and be clear in his meaning. Well, he can’t. He’s communicated in this slovenly, stream-of-consciousness word cloud all his life, and its made him rich, famous, and President. He’s not going to stop. Now, by all means criticize him for this, but not for alleged statements that are bad guesses at what he might be trying to say.

This brings us to The Sweden Affair.

The President was talking about how  the “open border” policies of many European countries had led to terrorist attacks, and then his mind, because this is how he thinks, free associated to something he saw on TV, saying

“Here’s the bottom line we have to keep our country safe…When you look at what’s happening in Germany, when you look at what’s happening last night in Sweden — Sweden. Who would believe this? Sweden. They took in large numbers, they’re having problems like they never thought possible.”

Trump then started listing  several European cities that have had high profile terror attacks, including Paris and Brussels.

Now, I don’t blame someone for assuming that if a President mentions Sweden in the midst of talking about European terrorist attacks, he’s saying that there was a Swedish terrorist attack….unless 1) there hasn’t been such an attack, and 2) one has heard Trump do this thousands of times, and know that his blathering often makes communication perilous. In that case, the fair and rational reaction is to think, “There he goes again! What the hell is he trying to say?” Occam’s Razor, basic fairness and the benefit of the doubt dictates that we assume that the statement came out wrong. Then you ask for a clarification.

Ah, but if you are biased, and assume that he is a compulsive liar (which he is not) while hating his guts, and you just can’t wait to find another reason to bash him, you leap to the most ridiculous assumption, which is that the President made up a terrorist attack in Sweden. Never mind that you can’t get away with claiming there was a terrorist attack that nobody noticed. Never mind that the assumption that Trump would be lying about Sweden or hallucinating a terror attack makes no sense. Thus many news outlets stated outright that Trump had alluded to an attack in Sweden. Raw Story had this headline: “Trump cites non-existent terrorist attack ‘last night in Sweden’ to justify Muslim ban at Florida rally” ( “Vice President Says Obama First African American in US!”) and social media had a field day.

What Trump was trying to say was this:

“When you look at what’s happening—I saw this report last night– in Sweden, where they are in the middle of a crime wave — Sweden, of all places, now has a problem with Muslim immigrants committing crimes!. Who would believe this? Sweden. They took in large numbers, they’re having problems like they never thought possible.”

Now this statement has its own problems, and they are serious.  The Fox News report Trump was referring to had made broad assumptions based on a single Swedish city, Malmo,  where the police chief had issued a desperate plea for help  in dealing with a violent crime wave. In addition to increased numbers of rapes and murders, Malmo had 52 hand grenade attacks in 2016 , a jump from 48 attacks in 2015, according to figures provided by the Swedish Police Authority. 32 % of Malmo’s occupants are migrants, and the crime wave coincides with their swelling numbers, but the assumption that Muslims are the reason for the crimes is not based on any data.

But Tucker Carlson, on Fox, leaped to that conclusion, and Trump took his word—Carlson is an ideologue, not a reporter—as fact.

What Trump really did was to repeat a half-baked assumption that Swedish Muslims were causing violent crimes, and Sweden denies that. This is a post  hoc ergo propter hoc logical fallacy: “After this, therefor because of it.” The sloppy, ad-libbed reference to Sweden caused an international flap, and to my ears sounds like anti-Muslim bigotry, a real example of what Trump is accused of saying (but didn’t) about Mexicans. He was saying in Florida, if anyone could have puzzled it out, that when you allow Muslims to enter your country, you get crime waves.

Now that’s worthy of criticism. But the news media was so focused on mocking Trump that they didn’t bother to find out what he was trying to say. The fake news—“Trump claims imaginary Swedish terror attack!” blinded Trump’s critics to the real news.

Good job, everybody!

 

34 Comments

Filed under "bias makes you stupid", Around the World, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media, Leadership

34 responses to “From The Ethics Alarms “Blathering Makes You Incoherent So That Those Who Bias Has Made Stupid Think You Are Stupid, Making Them Look Stupid” Files: The Sweden Affair

  1. Wayne

    Well as much as Trump talks like a hysterical 5th grader and confuses terrorism with violent crime, there is evidence of a significant rise in in rapes of women in Sweden by Muslim men: https://majorityrights.com/weblog/comments/muslim_rape_wave_in_sweden/

    • Chris

      Good lord, Wayne–Fjordman? Why not cite David Duke for stats on the black crime rate?

      Sweden changed its legal definition of rape in the early 2000s, and now has the broadest legal definition in the world. Naturally, it prosecutes rapes at a much higher rate. Couldn’t that account for the increase without using refugees as a scapegoat?

      • Wayne

        Chris, just look at what happened in Hamburg recently to numerous German women. Norway has dealt with this problem by deporting the perpetrators. I’m not a big fan of multiculturalism btw: Follow our laws or leave!!

      • Isaac

        Not really Chris, at least not if you subject that explanation to any scrutiny.

        Would WOULD do away with the possibility of scapegoating refugees would be simple data about their rates of criminality, which the Swedish government refuses to gather or share. What little data has been released, however, does not bear out your theory about a broad legal definition.

        It seems safe to me to assume that if particular refugees were not behind Sweden’s rape problems, it would be in everyone’s best interest (especially those of the refugees) for the government gather and present that information. Hiding reality and facts does not fight racism; it emboldens it.

        • Chris

          You make the mistake of thinking racists care about facts. There are still many people in the US who believe our own immigrants have caused a crime wave; many voted for Donald Trump on this premise. Actual statistics show that this isn’t true. Some misrepresent statistics in order to make it appear that immigrants are committing crimes at a greater rate than the general population, but for the most part, opposition to them is not based on statistics but on feelings,

          • Margie

            “Some misrepresent statistics in order to make it appear that immigrants are committing crimes at a greater rate than the general population, but for the most part, opposition to them is not based on statistics but on feelings,”

            No. ILLEGAL ALIENS are committing crimes at a greater rate, because entering the U.S. illegally is a crime. There is no opposition to legal immigrants that I know of. Immigration is a legal process. Those who come here without following that process are not immigrants. They are illegal aliens, and are criminals by definition. No feelings in play here whatsoever.

            • Prescient comment, M, given the fake news headline in the Times this morning that “more immigrants” can be deported under the President’s new order.

            • Chris

              No. ILLEGAL ALIENS are committing crimes at a greater rate, because entering the U.S. illegally is a crime.

              Come on. You know that’s not what I meant, nor is it what most people mean when they say illegal immigrants are bringing in a crime wave. The idea is that Mexico is sending their drug dealers, and their criminals, and their rapists–and only some are good people. But that is not even remotely based on facts. All evidence suggests that illegal immigrants. much like legal immigrants, commit less crime (notwithstanding the initial offense of illegally being in the country) than the general population.

              There is no opposition to legal immigrants that I know of.

              You may want to watch the news. There was a little-known executive order passed a few weeks ago that restricted previously legal immigration from seven countries, and stopped legal immigrants with green cards from entering the country. It didn’t get a whole lot of press or anything so I totally understand why you haven’t heard of it.

      • Margie

        Chris, speaking of David Duke, did you know that Duke publicly endorsed Keith Ellison as chairman of the DNC? If not, why not? Could it be that your media doesn’t tell you what it doesn’t want you to know? Who has demanded that Keith Ellison denounce David Duke? All I hear are crickets.

        • Chris

          Yes, I knew that, but I learned it here.

          Ellison has denounced Duke in the past:

          Ellison and his chief collaborator, an undergraduate named Chris Nisan who was active with the Socialist Workers Party, attracted the attention of Forward Motion, a small socialist journal. Their interview ran with a photo of Ellison clutching a megaphone, a headband wrapped around his forehead. “People are coming face-to-face with their own oppression,” Ellison said. He was alarmed by the rise of white supremacist David Duke. “Eight years of mean-spiritedness of the Reagan era have encouraged fascist and racist forces to come out again. A Ku Kluxer was just elected in Louisiana. We see a rise in police brutality all over the country.” Ellison envisioned a unified front of young black people, white progressive students, organized labor, and American Indians pushing back against the evils of capitalism and white supremacy. “The more the right attacks, the more we have to respond.”

          Ellison, unlike Trump, has absolutely no history of engaging in bigotry, and there is no reason to take Duke’s endorsement seriously; more likely it is meant to further white supremacists’ strategy of pitting Muslims and Jews against each other. Don’t fall for it.

            • Chris

              I’d agree if you were referring specifically to anti-Jewish or anti-black bigotry. You’ve documented his anti-Muslim bigotry yourself. And I think he has engaged in anti-Mexican bigotry too, though I know you disagree.

              I still don’t take the Ellison endorsement seriously. Everything he advocates publicly is inimical to Duke’s interests. Are we to believe the KKK wants open borders and multiculturalism? Also, in my experience these guys hate Muslims even more than they hate Jews. No, this is cynical opportunism, like everything Duke does. The stink stuck to Trump more closely because his immigration policy, which was the centerpiece of his campaign and now the signature issue of his presidency, is in the KKK’s interest, even though he obviously is nowhere near as extreme as they are.

              • Oh, I don’t think any candidate, Trump or Ellison, should have to apologize, explain, refuse or repudiate an endorsement, even if it’s from Satan. That kind of one-way guilt by association game is inherently unfair. I’ve warned political clients to check their official Facebook pages, to make sure despicable public figure has “liked” their page.

  2. Chris

    Fair analysis, Jack. I think it was fair to assume Trump was referring to a recent terrorist attack at first, but the clarification from the Trump administration makes sense to me. I do wonder why they keep misstating these things, though. Is it all just mistake? Three separate mistakes, all implying the same thing, from three separate people in the administration strikes me as bizarre.

    I do appreciate that you named this what it is, though: anti-Muslim bigotry.

    • I have to say, I’ve been waiting to use that Darth Vader video, which is a perfect and stunning example of Trump-speak, but I wouldn’t have predicted a bigoted anti-Muslim statement mistaken for an insult to Sweden would be the opportunity I’ve been seeking.

  3. Isaac

    A single city in Sweden had 53 hand-grenade attacks? Their gun-control laws must be REALLY good.

  4. Greg

    It’s worth remembering that MOST PEOPLE talk the way Trump does, in a “slovenly, stream-of-consciousness word cloud.” I was a business lawyer for most of my professional life, and very quickly discovered that this was the way that most of my clients talked, serious businesspeople with MBA degrees from top schools who had risen to the top of major companies. A central part of my job was to decipher the meaning of their “incoherent blathering,” or to keep pestering them with questions until I could.

    Yet the fact is that they, and Trump, were not unusually bad communicators. They were actually considerably better than average, otherwise they couldn’t have risen to the important jobs that they held, just as Trump could not have been elected president. Their meaning might not have been expressed elegantly, but anybody whose job or profits depended on understanding that meaning would usually be able to figure it out. That’s why I don’t worry very much about some random Trump tweet setting off an unwanted confict with China or Russia. They have a vested interest in understanding him, and they won’t hesitate to ask for clarification when they don’t. Things are different with Trump-haters in the media and elsewhere: Their joy comes from misinterpreting him and they refuse to make a good-faith effort to understand what he means.

    The job of president is an almost uniquely demanding one, and doing the job well requires extraordinary abilities possessed by very few people, not even by Donald Trump, who although perhaps not quite measuring up to the job of president, is by ordinary measures a remarkably accomplished man.

    • Again, that’s an important insight. We are used to our leaders being skilled communicators, and communications is a core leadership concept. And this is an elitist bubble too: I literally don’t know people who are as inarticulate as Trump; most of my associates are lawyers and actors, who are communicators by trade. And it is a bias:

      “An Englishman’s way of speaking absolutely classifies him; the moment he talks he makes some other Englishman despise him.”

  5. Keith Walker

    I’m a bit confused, I guess. Does Trump get a pass because he’s an ineffective communicator who can’t string coherent thoughts together just because the media has it out for him? I think it’s important that the president of the US be able to speak without being interpreted by several other people before we actually know his meaning. I also remember plenty of conservative radio, TV, and blog posts going nuts when Obama said “57 states.” I’m missing the ethics point on this one.

    • I don’t know why you are confused. This…

      “Now Trump is President, so he is obliged to choose his words especially carefully, and be clear in his meaning. Well, he can’t. He’s communicated in this slovenly, stream-of-consciousness word cloud all his life, and its made him rich, famous, and President. He’s not going to stop. Now, by all means criticize him for this, but not for alleged statements that are bad guesses at what he might be trying to say.

      …seems pretty straightforward to me. Do “he is obliged to choose his words especially carefully, and be clear in his meaning” and “by all means criticize him for this” mean “give him a pass” to you?

      • Joe Gagliardi

        It seems to me that the best course of action is to simply ignore the daily random non-issues caused by the president’s manner of communication and instead wait for a time where this carelessness causes a real problem. Getting needled in the press by Sweden (when there are legitimate problems there with mass immigration, perhaps not in the way that Trump saw on TV, but regardless) is largely irrelevant and can be seen as both saving face and piling on.

        I don’t agree with Trump’s tactics or many of his policies, but he’s being treated unfairly by the press. Allowing him to be a martyr over his manner of speaking (which is how most folks talk) is a massive mistake.

        • “It seems to me that the best course of action is to simply ignore the daily random non-issues caused by the president’s manner of communication and instead wait for a time where this carelessness causes a real problem.”

          BINGO!

          Now, could you manufacture 50 million 8 foot tall bright flashing neon signs and install each one in front of every Left-winger’s house? Maybe 16 foot tall for members of the media?

  6. fattymoon

    What is this madness? Watching Darth Trump, I am seized with empathy and giggles. Stop. Just stop!

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