The Greek Comedian Aristophanes once said: “Under every rock lurks a politician.” It would probably take more than a boulder to cover Donald Trump, or rather his ego, but his name remains one of the most popular search terms on Google for the past few months. Trump is an indomitable businessman with incomparable negotiation tactics, and it would seem unlikely that one could find a relation between the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer and this presidential hopeful. The connection between them is a sarcastic treatise on Dialectics called, “The Art of Being Right: 38 Ways to Win An Argument” written by Arthur Schopenhauer himself. In it, he identifies what appear to be the most common techniques and the clever yet fallacious distortions of truth that the argumentative man will employ. Argumentative reasoning is inherent to the structure of conveying ideas persuasively in philosophy, yet we have to be extremely careful not to be carried away and mislead by these frequently used fallacious techniques. Perhaps we can curtail Trump’s progress when we realise how many of these incorrigible and sophistic tactics that he applies in every political debate hitherto.
#1: If your opponent has taken up a line of argument that will end in your defeat, you must not allow him or her to carry it to its conclusion. Interrupt the dispute, break it off altogether, or lead the opponent to a different subject. – Schopenhauer
This particular video (from 6:46-7:04) displays this classic yet ultimately fallacious argumentative technique of interrupting your opponent when you clearly have no clue what you’re talking about. When Donald Trump suggested that the birth-right citizenship was not in the constitution he was completely wrong and simply pettifogged the issue with the following response to Chuck Todd’s point:
“If you read and if you look, and if you go to the real scholars, like different people that I can give you, they will tell you.”
If in fact, Trump did refer Todd to the real scholars, he would have been seriously humiliated, yet Donald is not altogether suffering and this can again be attributed to his prowess with regards to winning arguments. This is just one of Schopenhauer’s 38 ways to win an argument. Trump’s constant diversions and dismissals of potentially damaging arguments is just textbook.
#2 Another trick is to become personal, insulting and rude as soon as you perceive that your opponent has the upper hand. – Schopenhauer.
Regardless of where one stands on the political spectrum, in this video we see Jeb Bush clearly has the upper hand on Trump when he discusses his realistic strategy and lays out his goals with reference to increasing military spending to counter ISIS. In this debate, Donald Trump’s prior accusation of Bush as being ‘weak’ is seeming to falter and right as Bush concludes his point, Trump superfluously says: “With Jeb’s attitude, we will never be great again.” Trump presents no argument as to why Jeb’s attitude would hinder the greatness of America, but instead leaves a negative impression on the audience. Bush’s fairly competent strategy is therefore undermined because Trump resorts to being insulting and personal. Schopenhauer clearly saw the potential of this ad hominem argumentative strategy and Donald Trump seems to see its value as well. Instead of working the opponent, he is working the audience.
#3 If you know that you have no reply to an argument that your opponent advances, you may, by a fine stroke of irony, declare yourself to be an incompetent judge. -Schopenhauer.
Another technique that Schopenhauer identifies is the peculiar effect of claiming that an argument against your position is beyond your own understanding. This will subliminally show that your opponent’s argument is not actually that relevant. When discussing the Iran Deal with Chuck Todd (until 16:50), Trump brings up that the ’24 days’ only applies to when they actually begin the system of removing nuclear material. Todd brings up that the process is quite difficult and Trump ‘effectively’ replies by saying: “you don’t know that, I don’t know that.” Todd clearly “knew that”, but Trump’s assertion has the effect of making Todd’s argument seem irrelevant to the subject at hand.
#4: Make your opponent angry. An angry person is less capable of using judgement or perceiving where his or her advantage lies. – Schopenhauer.
The most popular technique that Donald Trump has at his disposal is upsetting his opponents. In this particular clip (from 2:14-2:50), we see heated interchanges between both Bush and Trump, where Bush had a point which could potentially make Trump rethink his argument. Trump simply launched some insults at Bush and as we can see, this method of angering your opponent is particularly effective. This is evidenced by a complacent Bush gruffly replying with a pathetic ‘yeah’. Bush was simply unaware of where his advantage because Trump successfully clouded his judgment. Once again, we see the importance of argumentative strategy in debates and how easily one can be mislead by ad hominem.
Why would Schopenhauer be so concerned with argumentative reasoning or dialectics? Schopenhauer realised that extensive treatises have been written on the rules of logic – prolifically by Kant and Hegel – but the darker and more manipulative art of dialectic seems to be neglected. It is no coincidence that Schopenhauer and Trump place serious importance on negotiation tactics since they each authored two texts with very similar purposes; “The Art of Being Right” (Schopenhauer) and “The Art of the Deal” (Trump). These days, arriving at the truth of an assertion is quite difficult when opinions are being equated to facts and reasonable arguments. The political implications of these 38 ways to win an argument are controversial and severe; what people choose to believe changes election results and entire states. We should be on our guard against fiercely deceptive rhetoric, especially since dialectics, as Schopenhauer points out:
” [Dialectic] treat[s] of the intercourse between two rational beings who, because they are rational, ought to think in common, but who, as soon as they cease to agree like two clocks keeping exactly the same time, create a disputation, or intellectual contest.” – Arthur Schopenhauer, The Art of Being Right.