Trump Lawyers Offer New Theory: Maybe Trump Is Like Galileo?


I must admit that at no time in my life – and particularly at no time in the more than seven years that Donald Trump has been at or near the center of American politics – has it ever occurred to me mind to compare him to Galileo Galilei.

Yet that’s precisely the analogy drawn in a new brief by attorneys arguing for Trump and several other plaintiffs in a lawsuit against Twitter. First reported by Politico, the memoir compares Trump’s claims of voter fraud with the hindsight of one of the key advances in scientific history. Because, why not?

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Lest you think I’m exaggerating or exaggerating the point, here’s the relevant excerpt – centering on Galileo’s argument from the early 1600s that the Earth revolves around the sun and not the other way around.

“[C]rackpot ideas sometimes turn out to be true. The earth revolves around the sun, and it was Hunter Biden, not Russian disinformation agents, who dumped a laptop filled with incriminating evidence at a Delaware repair shop. Galileo spent his last days under house arrest for spreading heretical ideas, and thousands of dissidents today are arrested or killed by despotic governments intent on suppressing ideas they disapprove of. But that’s not the American way. We believe the path to truth is forged by exposing all ideas to opposition, debate and discussion. Trusting in the wisdom of the American people, we believe that ideas that survive the gauntlet of criticism will thrive and those that don’t will fall by the wayside. E=mc2 revolutionized physics, not because it got thousands of likes on Facebook, but because it survived scathing reviews from proclaimed experts.

Let us forego the pedantry of pointing out that the Catholic Church’s objections to Galileo’s assertions may have been more deeply rooted in its rejection of the idea that the wine and the bread transubstantiated into the literal blood and body of Jesus- Christ. Or, at least, let’s expedite that in one sentence.

Let’s focus instead on the sheer ridiculousness of comparing conspiracy theories, including that “the 2020 election was stolen” with the works of Galileo and Einstein.

The fact is precisely that allegations of electoral fraud are rooted in the same kind of mythology and baseless “evidence” that led the Catholic Church to demand that Galileo renounce the idea of ​​heliocentrism. Galileo conducted a careful analysis of the evidence and came to a conclusion that contradicted the fables and assumptions of state leaders, a group that overlapped with church leaders. This was the dawn of the scientific method, the process of offering and testing hypotheses to construct a concept of the world affixed to demonstrable reality. One of the reasons Einstein’s work was so hotly contested, of course, was that it challenged the idea that observed reality was necessarily fixed.

What Trump is doing with his voter fraud allegations is not Galileo-like but church-like. He fails to carefully examine the evidence as he weighs his theory that the election was stolen; it operates on faith, on a logic made up of allusions and signs. It’s not meant to denigrate religion by association, certainly. Rather, it is to note that Trump’s lawyers are taking the situation precisely backwards.

Broadly speaking, this is not a new argument. The idea that there is an ineffable process by which public debate scrutinizes and rejects theories and claims—a process by which claims survive “faded criticism”—is a constant part of defenses against sharing nonsense. or hate speech on the Internet. What we’ve learned over the past decade is that social media is much better at protecting lies than challenging them. Much better for spreading dishonesty than for dismantling it. That’s because demands like Trump’s can nestle in a comfortable and secure community of adherents who collectively work to treat it as serious and accurate. The leadership of the Catholic Church in the 17th century was largely impervious to the outside world; on social media, you can build your own stronghold of similar beliefs and organize adherents willing to stand by your side.

Let’s be frank. Who does Trump resemble more: the leader of an upstart religion or a scientist rigorously evaluating the available evidence?

However, perhaps the most telling part of the legal brief is how the attorneys describe Twitter’s efforts to root out misinformation on its platform. Twitter, in an effort to get advertisers to see its platform as a good way to reach potential customers, finds it less than helpful to have organic communities spreading misinformation to its users. (Any analog to the 17th century is rough, for obvious reasons. Maybe Twitter is the guy who wants people to post ads in his newspaper but realizes people don’t want them to appear alongside claims about the way werewolves eat babies’ brains.)

So before comparing Trump’s claims to Galileo, the lawyers criticize social media companies for wanting to “suppress opinions and information on matters that Americans consider to be of vital interest – including those that prove correct or at least debatable”.

Do you see how it works? You can’t censor bad opinions or misrepresentations because they are “questionable” – as is literally everything. And that debate is the only way to avoid the kind of state-level repression that leads to “dissidents” being “arrested or killed.”

But then we stop and consider Trump’s specific claims about the election. More than two years later, we can say very clearly and with great confidence that they are fake. They have been debated to the point of inconvenience and rejected outright – not by Trump’s Church, admittedly, but by the thousands of Galileans pointing out the obvious relationship between the Earth and the sun.

Trump’s own claims show that the system of fair debate presented in the dossier does not work to challenge and dismiss false claims.

I hunt down false claims of voter fraud long before the 2020 election. What has struck me repeatedly is how simple logical tests reveal that there is nothing substantial in the claims, that the whole idea stems from the idea that the election was stolen and then works to find supporting evidence. This is a teleological argument for the presumed existence of fraud.

Trump is the pontiff of this religion, not its challenger.


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