As much as I hate Donald Trump, I was elated when he compared George Washington to Robert E. Lee. How would the corporate media respond?

"It's a ridiculous conflation," said Professor Alice Fahs of the University of California, Irvine. "He's not a founding father, and it's as though Trump thinks he is. It's really astonishing. It's amazing."

Scholars say Trump went afoul in lumping Lee with founders

Though I haven't followed this story in any detail, I never had the sense that Trump was casting Robert E. Lee as a founding father. He simply made a valid comparison; Robert E. Lee and George Washington were both slave owners.

One could argue that we could solve the problem by treating Robert E. Lee with respect. Or we could tear down statues of George Washington.

In the meantime, what kind of fallacy are the "scholars" perpetrating here?


Wow, this has turned into an interesting question. I did some more independent research, then found a forum specializing in fallacies. So I posted my question there, and the consensus is that this is "a classic strawman fallacy."

If Trump never said they were both founding fathers and then the media saying that was the issue Trump was implying...I think that is a straw man.

Another poster:

I am assuming here that Trump never said anything about Lee being a founding father. In this case, it is a classic strawman because Professor Alice Fahs is responding to an argument Trump never made.

But there are likely two or more fallacies at work here...

Alice Fahs is accusing Trump of false analogy, Fahs commits fallacy of special pleading in his response. . . . He's essentially saying Washington gets a pass from owning slaves since he's a founding father and Lee isn't.


Trump [could be] implying a 'slippery slope' because Lee had similar things in common with Washington. Therefore tearing down one guys statue means that the "mob" will eventually get to Washington...thats a slippery slope fallacy i believe.

Again, I'm not a Donald Trump fan. This incident simply reminds me of his "fake news" comments. I was focusing attention on the slave owner on Washington State's flag long before Trump, and Trump is dead on when he dismisses the media as fake news. Of course, Trump should know - he's a willing participant in the media's games.

At any rate, this has been a very educational thread. There are some good comments below.

  • 2
    None, they pointed out that person A compared two things that shouldn't be compared because they don't both have the properties that were attributed to them by person A. They could be wrong and person A could be correct that the two things do have the property, but that doesn't mean they committed a fallacy, that just means they're mistaken about something. There's no catch all fallacy of "you're wrong about something".
    – Not_Here
    Aug 17, 2017 at 1:50
  • 2
    there is a difference between being a slave holder at the time of the nation's founding and fighting to destroy that nation four score and seven years later so as to preserve slavery. we can let Germany honor the SS at some cemetery (they really shouldn't) but we don't need to honor the SS ourselves (yet Reagan still visited). what Combover said, what Combover is is an obscenity. the sooner that asshole is brought down the better for everyone. Aug 17, 2017 at 2:39
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    Here is Somin:"One crucial distinction it misses is that few if any monuments to Washington, Jefferson and other slaveowning Founders were erected for the specific purpose of honoring their slaveholding. By contrast, the vast majority of monuments to Confederate leaders were erected to honor their service to the Confederacy, whose main reason for existing was to protect and extend slavery... Despite longstanding mythology to the contrary, Robert E. Lee was no exception. He was a staunch supporter of slavery who... denounced the Emancipation Proclamation as a “degradation worse than death.”"
    – Conifold
    Aug 17, 2017 at 3:48
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    Any comparison between people in different historic periods must be done with some care, lest we incur in anachronisms. Washington was a slave owner at a time most people would not blink an eye about this. Lee was a slave owner at a time people would go to war to end that. The media or the academy may be adding their own fallacies or misrepresentation, but Trump's is a statement that is either ill-informed or in bad faith. Oct 20, 2017 at 14:39
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    @Dunk - I wasn't aware there was strong anti-slavery sentiment during Washington's time; I'll have to look into that. In the meantime, I'm amazed at the number of presidents and Revolutionary War heroes who owned slaves, including Patrick "Give me liberty or give me death" Henry. Sheez. Oct 25, 2017 at 22:33

4 Answers 4


As your other forum pointed out, the fallacy Trump is being accused of is False Analogy. The commonality he is seeking to draw is slaveowner --> therefore tear down the statue. However, the actual primary argument typically advanced for tearing down the statues is enemy of United States AND symbol of slavery and racism --> tear down the statue. In other words, Robert E. Lee's statue is a symbol of slavery, erected in explicit defense of slavery, whereas slaveholder is merely an incidental property of Washington, unrelated to the reason the statue was erected in the first place.

It is a false analogy to imply that both statues are standing for the same reason. It is also misleading to suggest that there are not valid reasons for taking down one statue and leaving the other. With all that said, it is also true that there are people opposed to both statues, and who view having held slaves as itself a disqualification for being honored by the United States. So while Trump has deliberately chosen a weaker argument to attack, this cannot technically be called a strawman because there do exist people who hold it. Trump's claim might be considered a slippery slope argument, but that depends on whether on not you find it plausible that a significant number of people will switch from the first justification (enemy of the state, symbol of racism) to the second one (slaveholder).

On the other hand, it is not certain that Professor Fahs can be accused of a fallacy either, because it is far from clear that Trump either actually does understand the significant difference between honoring the founder of a country that you belong to, and honoring the leader of a violent separatist group that attempted to dissolve the government (and that further explicitly stands for an ideology that was decisively repudiated), OR that he honors that distinction in the case that he does understand it, OR that he acknowledges that this is a key part of the reason the majority of the people who support removing the statues do support it. To put it another way, Trump is seemingly aligning himself with a backdoor effort to re-enshrine as a part of the national fabric and collective history an ideology that is rejected by the majority of Americans, and that the nation as a whole fought a costly and self-destructive war in order to defeat.

  • I'm not a logical fallacy expert (yet), but false analogy really resonates with me. Oct 22, 2017 at 2:13
  • @Chris - Your answer while well-reasoned is absolutely not valid in any way, shape or form in this instance. The overwhelming majority of people wanting to tear down Lee's statue couldn't care less about Lee's participation in a 'violent separatist group' as you call it. It is all about the slave symbolism, unless you choose to ignore what the actual protesters say themselves. Thus, Trump has more than a valid point. He is absolutely correct and you'll see in your lifetime that many of the founders statues are going to be torn down.
    – Dunk
    Oct 25, 2017 at 22:59
  • @Dunk I think we're simply referring to different groups. You are referencing the highly visible but relatively small group of vocal activists leading the charge to take down statues, I'm referring to the significantly larger but more silent group of people --myself among them --who agree the Confederate statues should be removed, but are not active in doing so. My contention is that the majority of this second group does (currently) draw a clear distinction between honoring American and honoring Confederate founders, even if the activists (and Trump/Bannon) do not, Oct 26, 2017 at 13:29
  • @ChrisSunami-In hindsight ANYBODY could poke holes in something somebody says by reframing the argument, just as you have done. Your "second group" has zero applicability in the context of this discussion because Trump wasn't talking about your "second group". He was talking about the protesters. Once it was pointed out how ridiculous the protesters position was then the 'sympathizers' decided to get to work and try to save them by reframing the argument. Gullible people fall for that kind of chicanery. Informed people see the deception for what it is.
    – Dunk
    Oct 26, 2017 at 17:25
  • @Dunk If you read carefully, you'll see that I said false analogy is what Trump is being accused of by Professor Fahs. I did not say he actually committed it. I also explicitly noted that he deliberately did direct his attacks narrowly against protestors holding the weaker position, not the stronger one. Therefore, your objections are misdirected. Oct 26, 2017 at 17:48

I could relate it to three fallacies:

  1. Scarecrow argument: Trump never implied that he believes Lee is a founding father.
  2. Moving the goalposts: From what I have read, one of the primary reasons that people want to tear down this statue is that Lee was a slave owner, so pointing out that these same people are seemingly okay with statues of other historical slave owners would point out a contradiction in those people's criteria for what is acceptable in a statue. To then demand that Lee and Washington be also similar in this OTHER [frabricated] way seems like moving the goalposts to me. Trump addressed a specific concern and (in your quote) was criticized for not addressing some other concern, which may even be irrelevant...
  3. Irrelevance: People want the statue down because Lee owned slaves, not because Lee owned slaves AND wasn't a founding father. Some would say this last condition is implicit. We'll know for sure if/when the first Washington statue gets taken down.
  • I upvoted your answer for introducing the scarecrow argument. I have to give the other two points some thought. This sentence is particularly confusing: "To then demand that Lee and Washington are also similar in this OTHER [fabricated] way..." WHO suggested they're similar in another way, and in what other way are they similar? Aug 18, 2017 at 23:08
  • You're actually actively promoting new fallacies, as well as factual inaccuracies with this answer. The idea that the current majority of people who oppose the statue oppose it strictly on the grounds that the figure represented was a slaveholder is false propaganda. Oct 20, 2017 at 19:45

The comparison is flawed. Robert E. Lee is honoured because he supported slavery. Because he fought the Union. Because he was a Confederatist.

He is honoured because of things people today believe should not be honoured.

In comparison, George Washington is honoured due to his beliefs in democracy, in god, in unity of the nation and freedom of the American man.

He is honoured because of things people today believe should be honoured.

This is exactly what one means when one says that Robert E. Lee was not a "founding father", because that term, "founding father", is often synonomous with democracy, rights, freedom, and so on.

No fallacy has been committed here.

  • Thanks, user29170, but it isn't that simple. How can you say George believed in democracy when he OWNED SLAVES? And what does believing in God have to do with anything? Do you suppose Robert E. Lee, believed in God too? I could go on, but you get the point - if you can logically think through my argument. Oct 20, 2017 at 12:29

There is no fallacy in Trump's comparison; it just takes a while for mere mortals to catch up with his quit wit.

Both men defended their way of life by taking arms against the government - this is why both men deserved respect. If the government doesn't serve the people, then the people have no obligation to respect the government - this is the most precious part of American spirit.

If the younger man's statue should to be torn down because his way of life included slavery, the older man's statue should to be tear down also because the older man's way of life is exactly the same as the younger man's.

Both men had quarrel's with the government due to property disputes. One was infuriated by a government that dug into his pocket, the other was annoyed by a government that tried to deprive him of his men. Both men used war to settle disputes; both fought for what they thought was theirs; both tried to teach the government its position; both believed the government should serve the people, not the other way around. If there is any reason to respect either man, it is the defiant spirit both men stood for, the spirit of taking arms against an oppressive government to stake out a way of life.

Both generals cherished freedom; both owned slaves; both defended slavery; both resented government interference of their way of life; both fought against governments that emancipated slaves; both were traitors in arms. One created a slave masters' paradise, the other tried but failed to preserve this paradise. Therefore, both men stood for the ideology that freedom is worth fighting for and it is OK to enslave others. Any reason to tear down one statue is sufficient to tear down the other. That scholar seems to believe that being a founding father can absolve Washington.

At the face of it, this professor committed straw-man fallacy. But anyone who knew a thing or two about culture revolution will instantly recognize the most important hidden message: "I am not a Trump sympathizer!" She is absolutely not as dumb as she appears.

  • Whether or not Trump committed false analogy, you are absolutely committing it. Oct 20, 2017 at 19:46
  • If there had been no American revolution, the whole world would have been a paradise 150 years ago, like Canada. Oct 20, 2017 at 20:34
  • Call me bigoted. I have not found a single revolution in the past 300 years that is worth it. Oct 20, 2017 at 21:05
  • Thomas Babington Macaulay gained what the Americans and the French fought for by means of eloquence. Although Macaulay didn't kill anyone, those who heard him speak thought they had died and went to heaven. Oct 25, 2017 at 16:32
  • America today is founded on antiquated useful lies, the manifestation of which is that American patriots would have no scruple to commit censorship to protect the big lie. Paradoxically, if a lie justifies censorship, it is definitely not a useful lie; a system that facilitates censorship is definitely reactionary. Jan 14, 2018 at 20:27

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