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!