The Lost Skill of Critical Thinking


WC doesn’t want to sound like a cranky old man, but what has happened to Americans’ critical thinking skills?

Recently, President Trump slipped General Kelly’s leash long enough to tweet out ad hominem attacks on Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn).

Senator Blumenthal had said, “Politicizing the Department of Justice for personal ends, I think, is a disservice to the law, and it’s also potentially a violation of the spirit of the First Amendment.”

President Trump, as he often does, chose not to respond to the merits of Senator Blumenthal’s comments, but instead directed a personal attack on the Senator: “Never in U.S. history has anyone lied or defrauded voters like Senator Richard Blumenthal,” Trump wrote on Twitter shortly afterward. “He told stories about his Vietnam battles and … conquests, how brave he was, and it was all a lie. He cried like a baby and begged for forgiveness like a child.”

Now it’s bad enough that a pathological liar like Donald Trump criticizes someone else for allegedly lying. But on his worst day, Senator Blumenthal was more truthful than Donald Trump on his best. And, unlike Trump. Blumenthal did serve in the U.S. military, in the Marines, while Trump was dodging the draft.

Set all that aside. Trump answered a policy issue with an ad hominem attack. It’s a logical fallacy. And it’s an implied admission that the Blumenthal’s criticism was accurate. After all, if Trump had a response on the merits, he’d have set it out. The inference is that he did not, and had to attack the person offering the criticism instead. It’s Trump’s standard response. A fallacy.

But the appalling, astonishing, depressing thing is that no one calls Trump out on it. No one criticizes the President for a tactic that would get a failing grade in a high school debate. Anyone with a minimal skill at critical thinking would immediately recognize the attack on Senator Blumenthal for what it is: Irrational in the primary sense of the word.

Unless the credibility of the speaker is the primary issue, and attack on the speaker’s credibility does not advance your argument. It’s really that simple.

How is it that Americans can reach adulthood, the legal age of voting, without knowing this? Without recognizing rhetorical incompetence when they hear it? When did we stop teaching critical thinking?

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3 thoughts on “The Lost Skill of Critical Thinking

  1. WC

    The ads on wordpress are becoming more aggressively irritating. It was a challenge to read this piece because the video ad continually forced itself to prominence even though I struggled to pull back to where I was trying to read. I had to manually hold the slider bar in position so that I could read the piece, resisting strong pressure from the video ad to pull back down to the ad.

    Paul Eaglin

  2. I don’t see the ad, not sure why, but anyway, I got here via Fatman, who put one of your terrific CA quail photos on his site. I’m in agreement, critical thinking is becoming a thing of the past…he just reacts, he doesn’t think at all, let alone critically. He’s not often called on that either. But maybe the media is just overwhelmed by his bizarreness – where does one start?

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