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Arguing is easy; persuasion is hard: what Donald Trump teaches us about debate.

An illustrated look at flawed arguments and how to avoid them.

Ask a handful of Donald Trump supporters what first caught their attention about the GOP nominee, and you're bound to hear a few familiar responses — among them, the impression that the business tycoon "tells it like it is."

He's a "straight shooter" who comes off as lively and spontaneous at rallies, on social media, and at debates. He gives off the impression of being a man of the people despite the fact that he lives in a literal gold tower.

What many probably don't notice about Trump's arguments, however, is that they're bad. They're really, really bad.


Photo by Charlie Leight/Getty Images.

When you detach Trump's words from his bluster, what might seem like convincing arguments are actually just highly-rehearsed rhetorical tricks.

Stripped bare, Trump sidesteps having to argue his position by using common rhetorical devices instead. While persuasive (after all, he has millions of supporters), these arguments tend to be without substance and well ... bad.

See, not all arguments are created equal. In fact, some arguments are just plain bad. They use logical fallacies (flaws in thinking) to make a point that may not be true. And that's all the more reason to learn to identify them when you see them.

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images.

By learning to identify these fallacies, you'll be able to improve your own argument skills and — perhaps even better — you'll be better able to identify when someone is trying to use a bad argument on you.

Below are nine examples of bad arguments to keep an eye out for, as illustrated by Donald Trump:

1. The "straw man" argument

A straw man is when you deliberately misrepresent your opponent’s argument to make it easier for you to attack. Straw man arguments are usually deployed as a way of making your opponent seem extreme, making your own argument appear more reasonable by comparison.

“Hillary Clinton wants to abolish the Second Amendment,” Donald Trump said during a rally. “Hillary Clinton wants to take your guns away, and she wants to abolish the Second Amendment!"

Illustrations by Karl Orozco for Upworthy.

The truth is that while Clinton supports a number of gun safety measures — such as background checks and preventing members of the terrorism watch list from purchasing guns — there’s no reason to believe she would support repealing the Second Amendment.

Saying that she wants to abolish the Second Amendment, as Trump did, is a gross simplification of her actual position, and the perfect example of a straw man argument.

2. The ad hominem argument.

Basically, ad hominem is the strategy Donald Trump uses when he calls Marco Rubio “Little Marco,” refers to Hillary Clinton as “Crooked,” or says Elizabeth Warren is “Goofy.” The target of an ad hominem attack is the person you’re arguing against, rather than their ideas.

Look at that face!” Trump said about rival candidate Carly Fiorina in an interview with Rolling Stone in September 2015. "Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?! I mean, she's a woman, and I'm not s'posedta say bad things, but really, folks, come on. Are we serious?”

Rather than pushing back on Fiorina’s ideas, experience, or policy proposals, Trump focused on her appearance — something that should be irrelevant in a presidential election.

3. The "appeal to fear" argument.

Tapping into people's heightened emotions is a powerful rhetorical device, and when used in the context of arguments, it can be incredibly persuasive. Fear is an especially potent emotion to tap into during an argument. When we’re afraid, our decision-making skills are impaired; we don’t think clearly, and we don’t look at arguments from a rational perspective.

When Donald Trump says things like, “There is a great hatred toward Americans by a large segments of the Muslim population. It’s gonna get worse and worse. You’re gonna have more World Trade Centers,” he’s appealing to fear.

While there are questions about the facts involved (Is there a “great hatred toward Americans by large segments of the Muslim population”? Are we at risk of more World Trade Center-style attacks? Trump doesn’t provide facts to support either claim), our brains are conditioned to set those aside in favor of doing what he tells us will keep us safe: in this case, voting for Donald Trump.

4. The "personal incredulity" and "appeal to ignorance" arguments.

Leaning heavily on your own disbelief or ignorance on any given subject is a flawed approach to winning an argument. “I can’t believe x, therefore y must be true” makes for a pretty weak argument in most cases — especially when facts are left out of the equation.

“It’s coming from all over South and Latin America, and it’s coming probably from the Middle East,” Trump said in reference to illegal immigration. “But we don’t know 'cause we have no protection.”

If that sounds like word salad, that’s because it is. Trump’s whole argument rests on information he doesn’t have — and that he knows you don’t have either. When he says “we don’t know,” he really means that he doesn’t know.

5. The "bandwagon" argument.

Also known as appeal to belief, appeal to the masses, appeal to popularity, and other names, the bandwagon fallacy is an argument that rests on the belief that because a lot of people agree on something, it must be correct.

This is another favorite tactic Donald Trump uses during his rallies. “I only wish these cameras — because there is nothing as dishonest as the media, that I can tell you,” he has said. “I only wish these cameras would spin around and show the kind of people that we have here. The numbers of people that we have. I just wish they'd for once do it.”

His boastful argument is meant to suggest that because a lot of people come out to support him at his rallies, or that because he has a lot of Twitter followers, he would be the best president. In truth, while this may (or may not) be a decent predictor of whether he’ll receive a lot of votes, his popularity doesn’t mean that his policy proposals would be any more effective than his opponent’s.

Similarly, Trump has a tendency to appeal to authority (another logical fallacy) in citing his endorsements (such as those of religious leaders, basketball coaches, boxing promoters, and just broadly "many people"), to tie into the bandwagon argument, suggesting that if certain other people support Trump, you should too.

6. The "black and white" argument.

The world is filled with possibilities — that is, until you deploy to the black and white fallacy in an argument. Also known as a false dilemma, false dichotomy, false choice, or bifurcation, the black and white fallacy presents situations as only having two distinct options, when in actuality there are numerous possible outcomes.

“We’re going to start winning so much that you’re going to get used to winning instead of getting used to losing,” Trump said in a campaign video.

In this situation, the listener is being given two options: winning or losing. This quote was delivered in the context of trade deals, but has been used throughout Trump's campaign to contrast himself (a winner) with his opponents (losers). Now, of course, elections have winners and losers, but Trump was speaking in a more general sense that doesn’t necessarily support his argument.

7. The "slippery slope" argument.

Ever hear someone make an argument against something on the basis that if we let that thing happen, it’ll lead to something terrible down the road? That’s called the slippery slope, and it’s a wildly popular argument among politicians. This argument style combines an appeal to fear and a straw man argument, and it uses extreme hypothetical outcomes as evidence for why we should (or shouldn’t) do something.

“You know what’s going to happen,” Trump said during an October 2015 rally. “[Ford is] going to build a plant and illegals are going to drive those cars right over the border. Then they’ll probably end up stealing the car and that’ll be the end of it.”

In that example, Trump argues that if Ford builds a manufacturing plant in Mexico, its cars will be used to transport undocumented immigrants into the U.S. and cause a spike in crime. That’s a bit of a stretch, but it’s also a clear use of the slippery slope fallacy due to the fact that his conclusion (Ford shouldn’t move its plant to Mexico) isn’t even directly related to the argument’s premise (undocumented immigrants will steal cars).

Not to mention, Ford has denied Trump’s allegation that they’re considering a move to Mexico. When an argument rests heavily on the use of the phrase “probably will,” it’s a good sign that you might be listening to a slippery slope argument.

8. The "genetic fallacy" argument.

Also known as the fallacy of virtue or fallacy of origins, the genetic fallacy is an argument based on someone or something’s origin, history, or source. Similar to the composition fallacy — that falsely argues that because some portion of a group is one way, all members of that group are — the genetic fallacy relies on irrelevant stereotypes.

In June 2016, Trump went on CNN to defend statements he made about Gonzalo Curiel, a judge who was overseeing a lawsuit brought against Trump University.

“I have had horrible rulings,” Trump said, arguing for Judge Curiel to recuse himself. “I have been treated very unfairly by this judge. This judge is of Mexican heritage. I’m building a wall, OK?”

Here, Trump used the genetic fallacy argument to suggest that, because Judge Curiel (who was born in Indiana, for what it’s worth) is “of Mexican heritage,” he can’t objectively rule in any case Trump is involved in due to Trump’s plans to build a wall along the U.S./Mexico border.

9. The "anecdote" argument.

Stories are great, and when used correctly in the course of making an argument, they can be the key to persuasion. When used in lieu of hard data, however, anecdotes lose their luster.

To be sure, Donald Trump isn't the only politician to regularly rely on the use of anecdotes to make his points. Where Trump differs, however, is in how he deploys them: often without any data to back up his claim, using phrases like “many people are saying.”

Claims like “Many people are now saying I won South Carolina because of the last debate,” “I beat China all the time,” and “I will be the best by far in fighting terror” aren’t rooted in data, but rather in Trump's own feelings.

In many of Trump’s anecdotes, he combines fallacies, sometimes incorporating bandwagon thinking (“Many people are saying…”) or black and white arguments (“I beat China” implies there is a winner and loser in each trade deal — but there doesn't have to be! International trade doesn't need to be a zero-sum game! — and that if Trump isn’t elected, we’ll "lose" to China).

Fallacy-filled arguments like the ones Donald Trump uses are like candy bars: They taste good, and there’s nothing wrong with eating them, but they’re not exactly packed with nutrients.

The goal of being able to recognize these tactics is to merely be aware when people — especially politicians, presidential candidates, and people in positions of power — are making poorly-formed arguments. Identifying these arguments will give you time to look for facts to support whatever decision you’re making based on their argument and to make sure they aren't getting you to agree with something just because it sounds good.

If a bad argument is still persuasive, is it really a bad argument?

"A persuasive argument is one that does in fact succeed in convincing the audience that the conclusion is at least probably true," writes Eastern Kentucky University's Frank Williams. "Logically bad arguments are sometimes very persuasive!  And logically good arguments can fail to be persuasive!"

Photo by Mark Wallheiser/Getty Images.

In other words, just because something is technically a "bad" argument (for example, any of the above Trump arguments) doesn't mean that it won't be convincing. As Trump's supporter base can tell you, he's plenty convincing — even if his arguments are sometimes lacking in key components, like facts or substance.

Of course, there is something called the fallacy fallacy, which means assuming that because someone’s argument used a fallacy, the point they were making is automatically untrue or incorrect. In other words, just because someone makes a bad argument doesn’t necessarily mean they’re wrong.

Finally, a good argument consists of two parts: a conclusion (what you’re arguing for) and a premise (what you’re saying to support your conclusion). Good arguments hinge on believable, factual premises and good reasons for accepting the conclusion as true. It’s as simple as that.

Critical thinking skills are essential for making informed decisions.

To think critically is to examine reason, purpose, assumptions, facts, consequences, alternate viewpoints, and personal biases before choosing to take action, whether you’re in the voting booth or just talking to a friend. Hopefully, with the help of these examples of fallacies, it just got a little bit easier.

Images courtesy of Letters of Love
True

When Grace Berbig was 7 years old, her mom was diagnosed with leukemia, a cancer of the body’s blood-forming tissues. Being so young, Grace didn’t know what cancer was or why her mother was suddenly living in the hospital. But she did know this: that while her mom was in the hospital, she would always be assured that her family was thinking of her, supporting her and loving her every step of her journey.

Nearly every day, Grace and her two younger sisters would hand-make cards and fill them with drawings and messages of love, which their mother would hang all over the walls of her hospital room. These cherished letters brought immeasurable peace and joy to their mom during her sickness. Sadly, when Grace was just 10 years old, her mother lost her battle with cancer.“

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Losing my mom put the world in a completely different perspective for me,” Grace says. “I realized that you never know when someone could leave you, so you have to love the people you love with your whole heart, every day.”

Grace’s father was instrumental in helping in the healing process of his daughters. “I distinctly remember my dad constantly reminding my two little sisters, Bella and Sophie, and I that happiness is a choice, and it was now our job to turn this heartbreaking event in our life into something positive.”

When she got to high school, Grace became involved in the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and a handful of other organizations. But she never felt like she was doing enough.

“I wanted to create an opportunity for people to help beyond donating money, and one that anyone could be a part of, no matter their financial status.”

In October 2018, Grace started Letters of Love, a club at her high school in Long Lake, Minnesota, to emotionally support children battling cancer and other serious illnesses through letter-writing and craft-making.


Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Much to her surprise, more than 100 students showed up for the first club meeting. From then on, Letters of Love grew so fast that during her senior year in high school, Grace had to start a GoFundMe to help cover the cost of card-making materials.

Speaking about her nonprofit today, Grace says, “I can’t find enough words to explain how blessed I feel to have this organization. Beyond the amount of kids and families we are able to support, it allows me to feel so much closer and more connected to my mom.”

Since its inception, Letters of Love has grown to more than 25 clubs with more than 1,000 members providing emotional support to more than 60,000 patients in children’s hospitals around the world. And in the process it has become a full-time job for Grace.

“I do everything from training volunteers and club ambassadors, paying bills, designing merchandise, preparing financial predictions and overviews, applying for grants, to going through each and every card ensuring they are appropriate to send out to hospitals.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

In addition to running Letters of Love, Grace and her small team must also contend with the emotions inherent in their line of work.

“There have been many, many tears cried,” she says. “Working to support children who are battling cancer and other serious and sometimes chronic illnesses can absolutely be extremely difficult mentally. I feel so blessed to be an organization that focuses solely on bringing joy to these children, though. We do everything we can to simply put a smile on their face, and ensure they know that they are so loved, so strong, and so supported by people all around the world.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Letters of Love has been particularly instrumental in offering emotional support to children who have been unable to see friends and family due to COVID-19. A video campaign in the summer of 2021 even saw members of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings and the NHL’s Minnesota Wild offer short videos of hope and encouragement to affected children.

Grace is currently taking a gap year before she starts college so she can focus on growing Letters of Love as well as to work on various related projects, including the publication of a children’s book.

“The goal of the book is to teach children the immense impact that small acts of kindness can have, how to treat their peers who may be diagnosed with disabilities or illness, and how they are never too young to change the world,” she says.

Since she was 10, Grace has kept memories of her mother close to her, as a source of love and inspiration in her life and in the work she does with Letters of Love.

Image courtesy of Grace Berbig

“When I lost my mom, I felt like a section of my heart went with her, so ever since, I have been filling that piece with love and compassion towards others. Her smile and joy were infectious, and I try to mirror that in myself and touch people’s hearts as she did.”

For more information visit Letters of Love.

Please donate to Grace’s GoFundMe and help Letters of Love to expand, publish a children’s book and continue to reach more children in hospitals around the world.

Peter Dinklage in 2013.

Disney has taken another step toward diversifying its iconic princesses by casting Rachel Zegler to play Snow White in its upcoming live-action version of the Grimms’ fairy tale. Zegler’s mother is of Colombian descent and her father has Polish roots. The 20-year-old actress recently wowed audiences in Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story.”

Disney has also announced that Halle Bailey, a Black actress, will play Ariel in its upcoming live-action version of “The Little Mermaid.”

Disney’s big push toward inclusivity in the casting of its princesses is definitely a welcome move, but according to actor Peter Dinklage, the Mouse may be missing the forest for the trees.

Dinklage, who was born with a form of dwarfism named achondroplasia, criticized Disney on the “WTF with Marc Maron” podcast for being hypocritical for focusing on race while completely missing the ball when it comes to people with disabilities.

"There's a lot of hypocrisy going on, I've gotta say, from being somebody who's a little bit unique," Dinklage told Maron.

"Really? Like what?" Maron asked. "What do you see?"


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Images courtesy of AFutureSuperhero and Friends and Balance Dance Project
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The day was scorching hot, but the weather wasn’t going to stop a Star Wars Stormtrooper from handing out school supplies to a long line of eager children. “You guys don’t have anything illegal back there - any droids or anything?” the Stormtrooper asks, making sure he was safe from enemies before handing over a colorful backpack to a smiling boy.

The man inside the costume is Yuri Williams, founder of AFutureSuperhero And Friends, a Los Angeles nonprofit that uplifts and inspires marginalized people with small acts of kindness.

Yuri’s organization is one of four inaugural grant winners from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, a joint initiative between Upworthy and GoFundMe that celebrates kindness and everyday actions inspired by the best of humanity. This year, the Upworthy Kindness Fund is giving $100,000 to grassroots changemakers across the world.

To apply, campaign organizers simply tell Upworthy how their kindness project is making a difference. Between now and the end of 2021, each accepted individual or organization will receive $500 towards an existing GoFundMe and a shout-out on Upworthy.

Meet the first four winners:

1: Balance Dance Project: This studio aims to bring accessible dance to all in the Sacramento, CA area. Lead fundraiser Miranda Macias says many dancers spend hours a day at Balance practicing contemporary, lyrical, hip-hop, and ballet. Balance started a GoFundMe to raise money to cover tuition for dancers from low-income communities, buy dance team uniforms, and update its facility. The $500 contribution from the Kindness Fund nudged Balance closer to its $5,000 goal.

2: Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team: In Los Angeles, middle school teacher James Pike is introducing his students to the field of robotics via a Lego-building team dedicated to solving real-world problems.

James started a GoFundMe to crowdfund supplies for his students’ team ahead of the First Lego League, a school-against-school matchup that includes robotics competitions. The team, James explained, needed help to cover half the cost of the pricey $4,000 robotics kit. Thanks to help from the Upworthy Kindness Fund and the generosity of the Citizens of the World Middle School community, the team exceeded its initial fundraising goal.

Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team video update youtu.be

3: Black Fluidity Tattoo Club: Kiara Mills and Tann Parker want to fix a big problem in the tattoo industry: there are too few Black tattoo artists. To tackle the issue, the duo founded the Black Fluidity Tattoo Club to inspire and support Black tattooers. While the Brooklyn organization is open to any Black person, Kiara and Tann specifically want to encourage dark-skinned artists to train in an affirming space among people with similar identities.

To make room for newcomers, the club recently moved into a larger studio with a third station for apprentices or guest artists. Unlike a traditional fundraiser that supports the organization exclusively, Black Fluidity Tattoo Club will distribute proceeds from GoFundMe directly to emerging Black tattoo artists who are starting their own businesses. The small grants, supported in part with a $500 contribution from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, will go towards artists’ equipment, supplies, furnishings, and other start-up costs.

4: AFutureSuperhero And Friends’ “Hope For The Holidays”: Founder Yuri Williams is fundraising for a holiday trip to spread cheer to people in need across all fifty states.

Along with collaborator Rodney Smith Jr., Yuri will be handing out gifts to children, adults, and animals dressed as a Star Wars’ Stormtrooper, Spiderman, Deadpool, and other movie or comic book characters. Starting this month, the crew will be visiting children with disabilities or serious illnesses, bringing leashes and toys to animal shelters for people taking home a new pet, and spreading blessings to unhoused people—all while in superhero costume. This will be the third time Yuri and his nonprofit have taken this journey.

AFutureSuperhero started a GoFundMe in July to cover the cost of gifts as well as travel expenses like hotels and rental cars. To help the nonprofit reach its $15,000 goal, the Upworthy Kindness Fund contributed $500 towards this good cause.

Think you qualify for the fund? Tell us how you’re bringing kindness to your community. Grants will be awarded on a rolling basis from now through the end of 2021. For questions and more information, please check out our FAQ's and the Kindness Toolkit for resources on how to start your own kindness fundraiser.

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Imagine rummaging through secondhand finds in your local thrift store, only to find that some items include a bonus feline at no extra charge.

Montequlla the orange tabby had somehow not gotten the memo that he and his family were moving. As they dropped off furniture, including a big recliner chair, to the Denver Arc Thrift Store on New Year’s Eve, they had no idea that poor little Montequlla was tucked away inside.

Luckily, the staff began to notice the chair meowing.

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In a TikTok video that has now garnered more than 500,000 views, Vondy shared perhaps one of the most hilarious “mom fail” stories of all time: forgetting her son’s actual birthdate.
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