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“Senator, when did you stop beating your wife?”

We learned in freshman English different types of logical fallacies and unfair techniques used both in political argument and sales, really any effort at “persuading” others to go along with a desired outcome.

The question above, of course, assumes that the senator has been beating his or her wife and that the only detail still uncertain is whether or not the behavior has stopped. It’s a loaded question.

A similar method we learned was to close a sales pitch with something like, “So did you want the five-year warranty or the seven-year warranty?” when the customer hasn’t yet agreed to either. By framing the question as if the major decision has already been made, and that the customer need now only choose minor adjustments, the sales associate has a better chance at closing the sale.

It’s easy for those on the left to disentangle the deceptive and manipulative messaging of conservatives, but many of us still have difficulty recognizing when “our side” uses the same methods.

We keep hearing conservatives say that Trump was “well within his rights” to bring dozens of lawsuits challenging the 2020 election results.

“Rush a donation to me today or my terrible Republican opponent will win!”

But are your policy positions significantly better than those of your opponents? The fact that I don’t want a right-wing candidate to win doesn’t automatically mean I want you.

Supposedly, any candidate even a millimeter to the left of a conservative must be supported at all costs, but since most of us have limited funds, we have the option of considering a third or a fourth or a fifth possibility. We can’t fund every campaign in every race in the country. So we give to candidates in specific races whose policies will serve the public.

If there are left-leaning millionaires out there with money to burn, they can donate to the candidate who is only minimally to the left of the conservative. We can donate to progressive groups that then start preparing a new slate of primary challengers and other candidates for the next election.

So let’s rephrase that manipulative fundraising request. Instead of “Rush a donation to me today or my terrible Republican opponent will win!” how about “Rush progressive policy changes to your website today or you won’t raise the money you need!”

We are not bound by the wording candidates and elected officials use to frame the issues.

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The same is true of “liberal” news anchors, who limit airtime to progressives and then editorialize using GOP talking points against them, misrepresenting facts and framing issues to slant both how elected officials and the public perceive them.

“Single-payer healthcare will cost trillions of dollars! How will you ever pay for that?”

Healthcare already costs trillions of dollars. Cost projections for single-payer healthcare show that we can instead save money. “A recent study shows that the U.S. could save two trillion dollars over ten years by adopting a single-payer system. Why do you oppose saving money, when doing so also guarantees healthcare for every American?”

What’s important is not to let others force us into a framework that doesn’t allow us to answer the questions that need to be asked.

We keep hearing conservatives say that Trump was “well within his rights” to bring dozens of lawsuits challenging the 2020 election results, that 147 members of Congress were “well within their rights” to challenge the Electoral College certification. Those are actions, they insist, protected by the Constitution. “You can’t say the President and these members of Congress are insurrectionists when they’re doing what’s allowed in the Constitution.”

Constitutional scholars who make such claims, however, are being dishonest or, at best, disingenuous.

Sometimes, an either/or scenario isn’t a logical fallacy.

After all, conducting a trial by jury is “well within” the rights afforded by the Constitution. But does that mean it’s lawful for people to intimidate members of a jury? That witness tampering is legal? Is obstructing justice acceptable as long as it’s done during a jury trial? Is it “well within the rights” of attorneys to present false evidence? Can perjury be condoned because trials are allowed under the Constitution? It’s OK for attorneys to call on a mob to storm the courtroom and terrorize or kill the witnesses?

When Trump and his enablers lied again and again, insisting they had “proof” but presenting none, they weren’t “well within their rights.” They were attempting to overthrow the results of an election and prevent the peaceful transfer of power. The Constitution does not grant that right to anyone.

Loaded questions, logical fallacies, and the presumptive close keep us from claiming rights which we do have, a denial preventing our realization of a just society.

Johnny Townsend

We must learn to recognize when we’re being manipulated—by anyone of any political persuasion—and reclaim the framing so that we aren’t always on the defensive but can instead take down the façades of those opposing progress and justice.

“Hey, DNC,” we might ask, “when did you stop beating your voters?”

Johnny Townsend