Trump lawyers offer a new theory: Maybe Trump is like Galileo?


I have to admit that at no time in my life – and especially 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 to associate him with Galileo Galilei to compare.

But 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 report compares Trump’s claims of voter fraud to the rejection of one of the pivotal advances in the history of science. Because why not?

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Lest you think I’m exaggerating or exaggerating, here is the relevant excerpt – focusing on Galileo’s early 16th century argument that the earth revolves around the sun and not vice versa.

“[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 dropped off a laptop full of incriminating evidence at a Delaware repair shop. Galileo spent his remaining days under house arrest for spreading heretical ideas, and thousands of dissidents are now being arrested or killed by despotic governments eager to suppress ideas they disapprove of. But that’s not the American way. We believe that by exposing all ideas to resistance, debate and discussion, the road to truth is paved. Trusting in the wisdom of the American people, we believe that ideas that survive the holly of criticism will thrive and those that don’t will be left behind. E=mc2 revolutionized physics, not because it got thousands of likes on Facebook, but because it withstood scathing criticism from acknowledged experts.”

Let us refrain from the pedantry of suggesting that the Catholic Church’s objections to Galileo’s claims may have been more centrally rooted in his rejection of the idea that the wine and bread were transubstantiated into the literal blood and body of Jesus Christ. Or at least let’s do that in one sentence.

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

The point is precisely that allegations of voter fraud are rooted in the same kind of mythology and unsubstantiated “evidence” that led the Catholic Church to require Galileo to abandon the idea of ​​heliocentrism. Galileo conducted a careful analysis of the evidence and came to a conclusion that ran counter to the fables and assumptions of state leaders, a group that overlapped with church leaders. This was the beginning of the scientific method, the process of offering and testing hypotheses to construct a concept of the world that is attached to demonstrable reality. Of course, part of the reason Einstein’s work was so hotly contested was that it challenged the notion that observed reality was necessarily fixed.

What Trump is doing with his allegations of voter fraud doesn’t resemble Galileo, it resembles the Church. He doesn’t carefully examine the evidence while evaluating his theory that the election was stolen; he operates on the basis of belief, a logic constructed of allusions and signs. This is certainly not meant to disparage religion by association. Instead, it should be noted that Trump’s lawyers present the situation in exactly the opposite way.

In the broadest sense, this is not a new argument. The idea that there is an indescribable process by which public debate scrutinizes and rejects theories and claims – a process by which claims survive “scathing criticism” – is an ongoing part of the defense against sharing nonsense or hate speech online. What we’ve learned over the past decade is that social media is far better at protecting untruths than challenging them. Far better at spreading dishonesty than dismantling it. That’s because claims like Trump’s can nestle in a comfortable, safe community of supporters working together to treat them as serious and accurate. The leadership of the Catholic Church in the 17th century was largely inaccessible to the outside world; On social media, you can build your own similar bastion of faith and organize followers ready to stand by your side.

Let’s be blunt. Who is Trump more like: the leader of an emerging religion or a scientist solidly assessing the available evidence?

Perhaps the most telling part of the lawsuit, however, is how the attorneys describe the efforts Twitter has made to stamp out misinformation on its platform. Twitter sees little business in getting advertisers to see its platform as a good way to reach potential customers when organic communities are spreading misinformation to their users. (Any 17th-century analogue is crude, for obvious reasons. Maybe Twitter is the type of guy who wants people to run ads in their newspaper, but realizes that people don’t want them to appear alongside claims of how werewolves do that Eating babies’ brains.)

So before comparing Trump’s claims to Galileo, the lawyers criticize social media companies for wanting to “suppress opinion and information about matters that Americans believe are vital — including those that turn out to be correct or at least controversial.”

See how this works? You can’t censor bad opinions or false statements because they’re “controversial” – like literally everything. And that debate is the only way to avoid the kind of state-level repression that results in “dissidents” being “arrested or killed.”

But then let’s just stop and consider Trump’s specific claims about the election. More than two years later we can say very clearly and very confidently that they are wrong. They have been debated to the point of confusion and categorically rejected – certainly not by the Church of Trump, but by the thousands of Galileos pointing to the apparent relationship between Earth and Sun.

Trump’s own claims show that the debate-it-only system presented in the filing does not work to challenge and dismiss false claims.

I have been pursuing false allegations of voter fraud long before the 2020 election. What has always struck me is how simple logical tests show that the claims have nothing of substance, that the whole idea is based around the idea that the election was stolen, and then work to find evidence to support that. It is a teleological argument for the supposed existence of fraud.

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