False Equivalence

[This blog post is the opinion of Greg Nooney and not necessarily the view of the First Unitarian Church of Sioux City.]

False equivalence occurs when two points of view are seen as deserving of equal consideration even though flawed or false reasoning is involved. For example, we know for a fact that the earth is a sphere. The evidence is incontrovertible. In spite of this, based on made-up scientific- sounding verbiage, there is a growing conspiracy traveling the Internet that the Earth is a flat disc. It would be false equivalence to argue that those who believe the Earth is flat should be given equal consideration to those who know the Earth is round. Another example would be comparing the theory of evolution to creationism. Evolutionary theory is the centerpiece of biological science. Creationism is a religious belief system that has been doctored up with scientific-sounding terminology to appear to the uneducated as a legitimate theory that ought to be given equal weight.

It has come to light recently that Facebook’s role in promoting hate speech, misinformation and disinformation in order to improve profits underscores the challenge of maintaining any semblance of useful public discourse. False equivalence, in my view, exacerbates the problem. In Ruben Navarrette’s opinion piece published in the Sioux City Journal on 10/21/2021, he argues that progressive’s use of the slogan “pay their share” in reference to wealthy Americans is equivalent to the alt right’s claim that under Biden we have “open borders.” Navarrette admits that this claim is a boldface lie when he stated: “There are too many agents, guns, fences, vehicles, sensors, lights, helicopters, boats, drones and holding cells for that to be true.”

It is a fact that many wealthy people pay a smaller percentage of their income to the IRS than hard-working Americans in the middle class, and that many billionaires pay no taxes at all. Based on these facts, I believe it is is reasonable to adopt the opinion that they are not paying their fair share, but this is an opinion. Navarrette is within his rights to form a different opinion, that people earning $400,000 a year are already paying their fair share in taxes. However, he offers no opinion regarding those who make ten or one hundred times that amount. He also offers no facts to support his opinion, except to note accurately that $400,000 doesn’t go as far in Boston than it does in Billings, Montana. In spite of the differences in opinion between Navarrette and myself, it would not be false equivalence for the two of us to argue our cases regarding this issue as long as we agree upon the same set of facts.

On the other hand, stating the opinion that wealthy people are not paying their fair share, based on undisputed facts, is not equivalent to lying about the U.S-Mexico border. One cannot compare opinions to lies and argue that we should give equal weight to each.

Similarly, the Big Lie promoted by Trump that the 2020 election was stolen from him through widespread fraud, which is believed by the vast majority of Republicans, cannot be seen as equivalent to the fact that this is not so. Just because millions of people believe a lie doesn’t stop it from being a lie. A lie or a series of lies, should never been seen as equivalent to the facts.

Representative Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, a staunchly conservative Republican, is among the few Republicans who have publicly refused to promote the Big Lie. Knowing he will be targeted in the upcoming primary by someone who promotes the Big Lie and can thus be supported by Trump, he has decided not to seek reelection. After he made his announcement, Trump said, “2 down, 8 to go.” He was referring to the ten Republican Congresspersons who voted to impeach Trump for his role in the January 6th insurrection, as Ohio Representative Anthony Gonzalez, who was one of the ten, also announced his retirement.

The current Republican party is beholden to Trump, refuses to accept that Biden won the election, and is working hard to change laws throughout the country to make it easier to actually steal elections. These are fascist behaviors. I understand how people become frustrated with the log-jam in Congress. However, to consider disagreements in the Democratic party whether to pass a $3.5 trillion or a $1.9 trillion bill as somehow just as bad as such fascist behaviors is false equivalence at its worst.

For decades we have seen our country as having a two-party system. The Republican party has been seen as primarily conservative and the Democratic party as primarily liberal. However there has been an underlying assumption that both parties, although having at times vastly different opinions as to which laws and policies to promote, stand by the underlying principles of democracy. This is no longer the case. Liz Chaney, Adam Kinzinger, Anthony Gonzalez, and a few others have remained in the Republican party while advocating for these principles. Unfortunately, they are a small minority, and the party has been overtaken by Trump and those who support his lies. It is time to call out the current Republican party as a fascist party that stands against democracy and the Constitution. We are now at a point in our history where it is false equivalence to consider the Republican party and the Democratic party as deserving of equal consideration.

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  • Greg Nooney