Rebuttal Trump Style: Counteraccusing and Confuting
Copyright 2017 Robert Thibadeau, Ph.D.
Carnegie Mellon University and Bright Plaza, Inc.
Is there an English word that exposes Trump for what he is and how he does it? Words do count. It is worth exploring to see if we have one or two. We begin with the obvious fact that he is constantly rebutting people who he perceives are against him. But what’s the word that describes his rebuttal style?
Rebuttal has three forms. Arguments based on reason (logos), based on emotion (pathos), and based on ethics (ethos: see http://www.niu.edu/wac/archives/files/rebuttal.html). Ethos rebuttals include ad hominin attacks (counterattacks against the character of the critic). Unfortunately, “rebuttal” isn’t the right word for Trump’s rebuttal style. We could try to characterize his rebuttal as ethos or pathos rebuttals which claim a basis in logos, even if the logos happened not to be true but made up (Obama was not born in the USA!).
Frankly, these words from debating theory don’t work very well. His method is to take a truth about himself and reflect that same truth back to the critic (She lies! She’s unstable, can’t be trusted!). Some people have called this a “reflection shield,” but this is just common English words that sort of capture what everybody sees. Also you can’t say “shield” without implying he’s a ‘good guy.’
Words like “bully” or “asshole,” which are true, are also too general and vague. People have nothing to understand; other than that he’s a bully or whatever. They think these qualities mean he must be a good negotiator.
So, is there an accurate phrase for what he does? Looking to psychology, we can say his rebuttal style is a narcissistic and psychotic transference of what he sees as the criticism, transferred onto to his critic. High minded psychological words like these are too many words for people to remember or care about. Too technical.
I wondered if there is an English word, or even short phrase, that seems to better capture his well-honed strategy. I found two candidates which seem to work! One describes what he does in one word. The other one describes the same thing, but also includes why he does it, aside from “winning the argument.” To wit.
Trump’s rebuttal style is counteraccusation. Yup, that’s an English word! It’s a counter of an accusation with a wilder accusation in rebuttal. Accusation means an allegation that a person is guilty of some fault, offense, or crime; an imputation. Usually he just turns the same accusation made of him, or that he thinks is being made of him, and makes the same accusation back but more strongly (“She’s unstable!” “U.S. leaders kill too!”). Sometimes, it is just a return accusation based on an untrue belief he has (“Obama was not born in the USA”). But, his method is always the same: it is extreme counteraccusation.
Interestingly, there is a better word in English but this word is so rarely used and so odd it seems like few people are going to understand it right off. Trump’s style of rebuttal is confutation. His rebuttals are confuting. Confuting means three things, and only the last one, nails him: 1. to prove to be false, invalid, or defective; disprove: to confute an argument. 2. to prove (a person) to be wrong by argument or proof: to confute one's opponent. 3. to bring to naught; confound.
Trumps rebuttal style is to confute the arguments that other people make of what he does. Unfortunately the right, third, meaning of confute,“brings to naught or confound” is considered obsolete by the dictionary. I guess that old meaning just hasn’t been needed for a long time. Confuting was possibly relegated to big brick buildings where the crazy people were not let out.
We watch Trump use counteraccusation to bring confutation to confound his critics. We watch him do this every day, in fact many times every day --on big matters, and major foes, and tiny matters, and minor foes without discrimination. This is why his refusal to confute the Russian arguments against the U.S.A., and his willingness to confute the U.S.A. for the Russian actions against us, are so loudly speaking to us.
So, unless we just want to press him on why he confutes everybody’s observations on him, the right question is why his rebuttal style is counteraccusation? Is it to confute? And why doesn’t he care if the perceived accusation or the declared counteraccusation is in the realm of reality or not? Guess that one is chalked up to his statement that he could murder a man on the street in front of everybody and nobody would care. Of course, that is better described as confutation based on his perception that people are accusing him of not being the smartest person on the planet. Boom.
Robert Thibadeau is a Ph.D. in psychology with a linguistics and computation background. He is also one of the founding Directors of the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University. He has long been a student of the meanings of words and how words and actions establish neural communication between people. His linkedin page is https://www.linkedin.com/in/rhtcmu/ .