Advocates for science are familiar with an argumentative technique called the “Gish Gallop,” a term coined by Eugenie Scott of the National Center for Science Education.
Scott named the Gish Gallop in “honor” of creationist Duane Gish, who had a habit of laying out long strings of claims against evolution, one after another—all of which were either questionable, evidence-free, or simply dishonest.
If Gish had written just one or two of those claims, it would have been easy for the science advocates to point out exactly where he was wrong—but because he’d spew out a stream of them all at once, the amount of time and text required to refute his ridiculous claims made it extremely difficult to do.
I mention this because that’s what I see happening in the presidential election right now.
In the average day on the campaign trail, Little Donnie says at least ten things that would have been considered disqualifying from any other candidate—not just the racist, sexist, xenophobic, and Islamophobic stuff (which is utterly deplorable and disqualifying in its own right), but also things that would, by themselves, demonstrate that he is completely unsuited for the presidency.
- He idly suggested that federal bondholders should take a haircut—words that would spark a global financial meltdown if said by the President of the United States.
- He has called for a financial shakedown of NATO members to defend them from Russia (whose autocratic and anti-democratic tsar, Vladimir Putin, is the world leader Trump models himself after).
- In just the past few days, he has accused the Federal Reserve of being a tool of the Obama administration (it isn’t), called for the elimination of federal food safety regulations (seriously?), and put out an economic “plan” that not only requires “magical thinking” to add up, but also completely incompatible with his previous plans.
But because he does these things all at once—rather than one at a time, bit by bit, piece by piece—our narrative-chasing “journalists” don’t know which one thing to fixate on. As a result, they do not subject Trump to the same high standards of intelligence, knowledge, or coherency to which they’d subject an ordinary presidential candidate (and to which they’re subjecting Sec. Clinton). Meanwhile, liberals and progressives like me notice that the “journalists” are treating Trump with kid gloves, and complain about that—sharing Trump scandal after Trump scandal in hopes that maybe our media will start doing their job.
When conservatives and liberals are both talking about one candidate, who is getting ignored? The other candidate.
The Trump Gallop not only lets him get away with a thousand lies and a thousand offensive things, said in sequence so that no one thing is picked apart—it also lets him suck all of the oxygen out of the room. He plays the media like a drum, making the whole conversation about him.
Recent polling has showed that younger millennials in particular, who were energized by Sen. Bernie Sanders’s candidacy, are increasingly supporting third parties, in part because they don’t believe that the two real parties’ candidates are speaking to their needs. And there’s evidence that Little Donnie’s recent rebound in the polls has less to do with his persuading more people to vote for him, and more to do with decreasing enthusiasm and increasing negativity among supporters of Sec. Clinton.
Earlier this week, Sec. Clinton’s campaign rolled out a new policy proposal on student debt and tuition—one that kept many of the good ideas from her original plan, but also rolled in many more of the good ideas from Sen. Sanders’s proposals during the primary.
But because the Trump Gallop was sucking all of the oxygen out of the room, that policy proposal didn’t get the attention it deserved.
Surrogates from the Trump campaign weren’t challenged to defend his (lack of) plan for college affordability or student debt. Surrogates from the Clinton campaign weren’t given the opportunity to present an agenda that would help millions of American young adults. We didn’t have a discussion on CNN or MSNBC or the Nightly News about why tuition costs are so high or how the candidates are addressing this issue. Social media streams (where many millennials get their news) were abuzz with the latest Trump atrocity, and not with Sec. Clinton’s plan to help young adults who are financially struggling.
And as a result, the American people—and particularly young Americans—lost a chance to truly evaluate which party considers their opportunities and their success a priority.
So if you’re a supporter of Sec. Clinton—like I am—you have one job:
Every time you share an anti-Trump article on social media, share a pro-Clinton article too. Every time you talk about how terrible Little Donnie is to your friends or family, turn it around and talk about what Hillary Clinton wants to do.
Hillary Clinton is a progressive, exciting candidate. The Democratic platform was the most progressive party platform ever. We have good reason to be excited about what she’ll do as president. But we need to share that excitement and give people a reason to vote for her. Let’s do it.