Trump, the Media, and Personal Attacks

Mark Tiller
5 min readJun 30, 2017


Trump’s defense of his tweets against Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski is essentially they started it. Deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders asks why we aren’t concerned about all the press criticism of Trump. She says Trump’s supporters agree with his tough unwillingness to be “bullied by the liberal media.” This sounds like a student calling his teacher vulgar names because the teacher criticized his plagiarized essay. “But mom, the teacher started it; just look at my grade!”

Sanders says it’s all about Trump “defending himself.” But a proper defense would be a refutation of his adversaries’ claims, just as the student could instead try to show his teacher how he really did write his own essay.

This isn’t the first time Trump has personally called out and attacked members of the press, and we should remember he has called them “the enemy of the American people.”

Let’s be clear about this: There’s a fundamental difference between an attack on someone’s argument versus an attack on someone personally or about their circumstances or background. If an individual’s policies, abilities, character, honesty, or comments are attacked, it is a fair argument. If individuals — rather than their arguments — are attacked personally or circumstantially, this is an illogical argument, or the Fallacy of Ad Hominem.

So, Mr. Trump, let’s look at some of the “attacks” made against you, and ask: Are they personal attacks on you rather than your argument?

I’m sorry, but if you claim your inauguration crowd and electoral margin were higher than they really were, this makes you both blind and incompetent at math, or a liar. In other words, if you contradict hard evidence, it is not an ad hominem to point out your error.

If you say 3–5 million illegal aliens voted for Hillary Clinton, we have a right to question your common sense. If you admit to sexual assaults, this makes it fair to call you a predator. If you tell us you will release your tax returns but do not, or claim you cannot because of an audit, this means you have broken your promise. If you say you have evidence that Obama was born in Kenya but will not prove it, this means you have shamelessly tried to manipulate us. If you posit “nobody has more respect for women than I do — nobody” it’s not unfair that we laugh. If you claim Mexico will pay for an American budgetary choice, it’s fair to say you are naïve. If you claim you will eliminate the national debt in eight years, this makes you ignorant of the national budget. If you mock and ridicule a disabled reporter’s flailing arm gestures, this means you are heartlessly demeaning him. If you say you saw crowds of New Jersey Muslims celebrating 9–11, it means you are delusional. If you call Mexicans rapists and accuse your judge of being unfair because he is “a Mexican,” this is the definition of racism. If you incite your supporters to violence at rallies, you are partly responsible for their behavior. If you tell us “I just don’t know anything about [David Duke],” it means you are either lying or suffering from dementia. If you promise students education, but leave them only with massive debt, this means you are a fraud. If you don’t honor your debts or pay your contractors, you don’t deserve our honor. If you confuse budget deficits with trade deficits, it’s reasonable to challenge your knowledge of trade pacts. If you speak irrationally and ignorantly about nuclear weapons, it’s fair to say you are dangerous. If you consistently insult our allies and praise dictators, we have a right to say you are wrecking our foreign policy. If you display all of the classic symptoms of narcissism, it’s reasonable to question your mental state. If you are disinterested in a foreign country interfering in our election, it’s fair for us to be suspicious and question your motives. If your own staff is confused and afraid of your erratic behavior, it’s reasonable to question your administrative and leadership abilities. If you govern impulsively based on your insecurities and ego, you should expect the public to be alarmed (see “Policy-Making by Whim”). I could go on…

Mr. Trump, these arguments are grounded in logic with substantial evidence as premises, and most are not about you personally, but rather about your policies and behavior. When they are about you, it is because you (your character) are precisely the issue — this is not a distraction from the argument. They are therefore NOT ad hominem attacks.

On the other hand, when people ridicule your hair, skin tone, weight, accent, and age, that is completely different. Those are indeed ad hominem attacks. So yes, Mr. Trump, it’s fair to condemn those attacks on yourself, if you must. But that’s not what Scarborough and Brzezinski were doing; they were attacking your leadership, competence, and honesty.

In fact, I’ve seen very few professional journalists — not bloggers, comedians, media personalities, of course — use ad hominems against you. Yes, it happens occasionally to the American president — just ask the radical socialist Muslim Nazi abusive heathen homosexual communist terrorist Kenyan baby-killing racist traitor Barack Obama about it.

Mr. Trump, I wish Mika Brzezinski had not responded to your tweet with her own ad hominem about your “tiny hands.” However, I can hardly blame her, given what you tweeted. Now here’s a thought: Instead of getting into the dirt with your adversaries, how about acting like a president? It’s not being “tough” to be so fragile as to feel the need to personally attack citizens who disagree with you. Should the teacher swear at the unruly student? Did Bill Clinton say the Republicans in Congress were also horn-dogs? Did G. W. Bush continually name-call his critics, who mercilessly called him stupid? Did Obama retaliate against your relentless and unfounded birther attacks by saying your family’s wealth originated with your brothel-owning immigrant grandfather?

Is your policy “When they go politically low, we go personally lower?”