Edited by Gavriel D. Rosenfeld

Edited by Gavriel D. Rosenfeld

Monday, November 28, 2016

Donald Trump's Counterfactual Fantasy Tweets

Want to know one more thing that Donald Trump has in common with Vladimir Putin?  A fondness for counterfactual reasoning.

In a post on this site a few months ago, I noted how Russia's leader endorsed historical "what ifs," arguing that they could help bolster popular empathy for the Russian historical experience.

Now Trump has explicitly employed counterfactual reasoning in his latest controversial tweets about the recent election, arguing:

"In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally."  (In other words, if people had not voted illegally, he would have won the popular vote."

More explicitly counterfactual was his claim that:

"It would have been much easier for me to win the so-called popular vote than the Electoral College in that I would only campaign in 4 states instead of the 15 states that I visited.  I would have won even more easily and convincingly (but smaller states are forgotten!).

This echoes a counterfactual claim he made on November 15th, to wit:

"If the election were based on total popular vote, I would have campaigned in N. Y. Florida and California and won even bigger and more easily."

It doesn't take much interpretation to see that Trump's counterfactuals reflect a sense of insecurity about the legitimacy of his "landslide" win in the Electoral College.  Most counterfactual fantasies imagine the alternate past being better than the real past in order to compensate for some dissatisfaction with the present.

There is little doubt that the President-elect is seeking to spin his electoral performance in whatever positive way he can.  And since he cannot marshal any facts (there is no evidence of "illegals" having voted for Hillary Clinton to the tune of two million people), he has to resort to hypotheticals.

The brilliance of the ploy, of course, is that counterfactuals are unverifiable.  They are wholly rhetorical.  So chalk up another victory for the incoming rhetoritician-in-chief.


  1. Interesting commentary on the tweet heard round the world. BTW, love the new background.

  2. Thanks Matt, I've been trying to upgrade the website's look. But I'm stuck in a 49 year old's body without coding skills. So it is what it is....But thanks!!