Two men walk into a television studio. One is a well-known celebrity with a sharp tongue, the other slow with a distant gaze. The first one claims the Earth is flat. The second one says the Earth is round. The journalist, maintaining professionalism and neutrality, states that opinions are divided. Welcome to the world of political showbiz.

Allow me to clarify upfront: I do not engage in political commentary. That is the realm of my colleagues in political marketing. However, I’m still interested in politics.

The Biden & Trump debate fascinates me for professional reasons, given the significant implications the election of a new U.S. President could have on Europe, including Poland. Paradoxically, Americans can, in a way, decide the fate of the next decade while being moderately interested in this part of the world.

In any live television debate, the first impression matters most. This can be both a disadvantage and an advantage. For the young, beautiful, slim, and dynamic, it’s advantageous as they appear more credible. The grumpy, fat, crooked, or hunched look decidedly worse. Unfortunately, this is the law of visuals. The second element that stands out is known as attractors and magnetizers. Attractors are statements, attacks, or defenses that capture attention. This is the essential tool of verbal duels taught by public relations and public speaking professionals, like in boxing – guard and counterattack. These debates are verbal duels, and the art lies in using buzzwords that people will remember and the media will repeat.

The Biden vs. Trump debate had an exceptional number of such buzzwords. A few examples:

  • “China is robbing us” (Trump, implying Biden is to blame)
  • “More people died under Biden’s administration than under ours” (Trump)
  • “They don’t respect us. We’re a Third World country” (Trump)
  • “Shame. Biden is destroying healthcare. He’s personally doing it” (Trump)
  • “Everything that comes out of his mouth is a lie” (Biden)
  • “Separated babies from their mothers” (Biden)
  • “They come from prisons and psychiatric institutions, and he left the door open for them” (Trump, referring to immigrants)
  • “Everything he says is a lie” (Biden)
  • “The biggest nonsense I’ve ever heard (…) Pile of nonsense” (Biden)

This is an ad hominem culpans sophism, which assigns blame. Sophisms (Sophistry) are arguments or reasoning that are flawed but often seem correct or are used to mislead. Debates, rhetoric, and propaganda use them to persuade others to a particular perspective despite being logically flawed. These are visible and audible in all political debates or discussions. The problem is that live discussion time is limited, and media laws are relentless. In the world of clickbait, the media often won’t show a wise statement but one that “clicks” best, i.e., the most controversial one.

Ad hominem culpans involve attributing blame to someone for something beyond their control. For example: “I blame you for taking babies from mothers’ breasts.” This is exceptionally vivid and emotional. Instantly, we envision the scene. It sticks in our brains. The result? You’ll know little about the candidates’ political programs, but remember the image of children being taken from mothers. Such buzzwords are pure sociotechnics. Sophisms can be challenging to detect because they often appeal to emotions, prejudices, or authorities rather than solid logic. This is why they are widely used in politics, advertising, and other fields where persuading people is crucial.

Another popular sophism in the Biden & Trump debate was the contradictory premises fallacy. Both sides say something mutually exclusive to each other:

  • “Our economy thrived” (Trump)
  • “The economy was terrible under Trump” (Biden)
  • “Biden is destroying healthcare” (Trump)

In this case, each argument is perceived as valid despite being contradictory. This type of sophism does not lead to any constructive conclusion because two contradictory theses cannot both be true. And here begins the main problem of such debates: the inability to verify in real-time.

Everyone knows what VAR is. For those who don’t, VAR is the Video Assistant Referee, a system used in football to support referees’ decisions by analyzing critical match situations through video replays. The VAR system aims to increase the accuracy and fairness of decisions made by referees on the pitch. The VAR model is also used in tennis (Hawk-Eye), basketball (Instant Replay System), and volleyball (Challenge System). Introducing “political VAR” would require recording debates, dividing them into parts, and then recording the verification of the debaters’ words, i.e., fact-checking. In the world of contemporary media, this is unfortunately unrealistic, and fact-checking occurs only after the event. The question is, who reads, listens to, or watches it? Nevertheless, in my opinion, the media should invest in such formats and promote them vigorously.

Since there is no political VAR, we cannot verify whether the numbers and words on the screen are accurate. For Polish viewers, the Biden & Trump debate is particularly interesting because only some are experts on American politics, so the show’s credibility (or lack thereof) determined the outcome. This is the biggest problem today because the show significantly influences people’s decisions in the democratic process. Do they carefully read political programs? Analyze election leaflets with bated breath. We vote for personal brands, which is evident before every election, where everyone searches for opportunities to appear on television. The nation buys this show in the form of attractors and magnetizers.

In the Biden & Trump debate, there were opinions that Biden did not look into the camera, wandering with his gaze. This was a technical oversight by the CNN producers. Joe Biden was looking at the camera, but it was not the one showing him, resulting in this effect. It’s hard for me to describe this precisely; I refer you to the debate recording. Nonetheless, the difference between how Donald Trump and Joe Biden were shown was noticeable. I do not suspect CNN of bias; after all, it’s not Fox News.

In political debates and beyond, manipulating our emotions is a cold sociotechnical tool. Sophisms using shocking metaphors are often called emotional sophisms or ad passiones arguments (appealing to emotions). The goal of such sophisms is to provoke a strong emotional reaction in the audience rather than relying on logical and factual statements. There are many techniques. Argumentum ad Hitlerum involves comparing something or someone to Hitler or the Nazis to discredit it without addressing substantive arguments, e.g., “Your population control idea reminds me of Hitler’s policies!” This sophism is particularly problematic because Nazi and Bolshevik propaganda shaped modern social manipulation and sociotechnical tools. Thus, referring to historical facts can always meet such an accusation.

The slippery slope method argues that allowing one action will inevitably lead to a series of catastrophic events, using exaggerated and shocking metaphors. For example: “If we legalize marijuana, everyone will start using heroin, and we’ll end up with total social chaos!” Straw man involves presenting the opponent’s argument in a distorted or exaggerated form, often using shocking metaphors to easily refute it, e.g., “Gun control advocates want us all to be defenseless like sheep before wolves.” Appeal to Pity evokes pity or compassion in the audience instead of presenting logical arguments, typically using dramatic and shocking metaphors. “More people died under Biden’s administration than under ours!” (Trump). “They don’t respect the USA; we’re like a Third World country! Shame!” (Trump). The word “shame!” is heard exceptionally often in Polish politics. “We’ll die in a nest of rats!” (Trump). “Our veterans live on the streets, and these [immigrants] live in luxury hotels!” (Trump).

The debate also featured Poisoning the Well sophism, which involves prejudicing the audience against a person or idea by using negative and often shocking metaphors before arguments are presented, e.g., “Don’t listen to him; his ideas are like poison that will destroy our country!” This wasn’t directly said, but was easy to read between the lines.

A particularly strong sophism used in this debate was Appeal to Fear, building fear. The Nazis used it industrially against Jews, first leading to the dehumanization of the entire society and then to the Holocaust. The Bolsheviks used the same method against wealthy farmers, the so-called kulaks, or the Ukrainian nationality. This sociotechnical method is vividly evident in propaganda films such as “Heimkehr” or “Jew Süss”. I had the pleasure of learning about the intricacies of propaganda films many years ago, thanks to the incomparable Professor Eugeniusz Cezary Król. The Museum of the Second World War organized a special screening of propaganda films, and in Poland, such films can only be viewed in an organized form with historical commentary. One phrase I remember was the commentary on Heimkehr: “- You will not see a single positive character here except for the German ones.” This is how dehumanizing messages are created. It’s worth remembering that cinema in the early 21st century became a mass entertainment medium, allowing broad reach, just like television and the internet today.

There were many references to fear, and their power was equally strong. The strongest appeared in discussions about immigrants and abortion. Examples: “Take a life in the 8th, 9th month of pregnancy, even later (…). Many young women are murdered and raped [by Biden’s decisions] (…). Rip the child from the mother’s womb and kill it in the 9th month.” (Trump).

In conclusion, the topic that interests Poles the most is the war in Ukraine. “I’ll end this war before I take office! (…). If Putin had respected the President of Ukraine, he wouldn’t have attacked. He [Biden] is provoking Ukraine” (Trump).

A bit of history in a nutshell: When Putin took power in Russia, the world believed it would be a continuation of perestroika. It didn’t happen, but many thought things would be expected. Europe, dependent on Russian resources, didn’t feel threatened. Russia was even supposed to be in NATO. The planning of Russia’s admission to NATO was never officially considered formally, but the topic was the subject of various discussions and considerations over the years, especially in the 1990s. After the Cold War, relations between NATO and Russia improved, resulting in various forms of cooperation. In 2002, the NATO-Russia Council (NRC) was established as a platform for dialogue and cooperation in areas such as counter-terrorism, crisis management, and missile defense. After 2014, relations between NATO and Russia significantly deteriorated following the annexation of Crimea by Russia and support for separatists in Donbas. As a result of these events, dialogue and cooperation were limited, and the issue of possible membership ceased to be considered. Europe only noticed the growing threat after this time, and no one realistically predicted the probability of war with Russia. Today, it looks different.

Joe Biden unequivocally declares support for the fight against Russia, pointing to American financing that largely stays with arms manufacturers, similar to Europe. Donald Trump declares a quick end to the war in a way that is easy to predict. Either Ukraine agrees to a ceasefire and preserving existing borders, or there will be no funding. Here, it’s worth recalling history and the famous phrase “Peace for our time,” spoken by British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain on September 30, 1938, after returning from Munich, where the so-called Munich Agreement was signed. Chamberlain meant that this agreement had avoided war with Germany and ensured peace in Europe. The Munich Agreement, signed by Germany, the United Kingdom, France, and Italy, allowed Germany to annex part of Czechoslovakia (the Sudetenland) in exchange for a promise that Adolf Hitler would have no further territorial claims in Europe. Chamberlain believed this agreement would ensure lasting peace, but his hopes were dashed when Germany occupied the rest of Czechoslovakia in March 1939 and invaded Poland in September of that year. The famous photo of Chamberlain with this document and his words became a symbol of the appeasement policy, widely criticized for being too lenient towards Hitler’s aggressive actions.

It’s also worth noting a little-known fact. Ukraine has some of the largest rare earth metal deposits in Europe and significant reserves of other valuable resources, such as lithium. Much of these natural resources are located in the east of the country and in the region known as the Ukrainian Shield. In this area, beryl (Zhytomyr Oblast), zircon (Donetsk Oblast), tantalum, niobium, and zircon ores (Mazuriwka) are mined. The geological value of metal deposits in Ukraine is estimated at between $3 and $115 trillion. After the annexation of Crimea and the occupation of parts of Donbas, Russia controls a significant portion of these resources, including 42% of confirmed metal deposits in Ukraine and 33% of rare earth metals. Such actions significantly impact the geopolitical and economic situation in the region, making metal deposits and other natural resources a crucial element of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict.

The conclusions are as follows:

  • Please don’t expect me to choose the winner of the debate. The winner will be the next President of the USA, who will impact Europe and Poland. Should one television show whole of sophisms decide this?
  • The average person cannot verify the fake news in live debates with rapid statements. That is the role of professional media and fact-checking editorial offices. It’s essential to take an interest in this.
  • Unfortunately, a Political VAR in real-time is not feasible. However, one day, a way will be found. Citizens of democratic countries cannot decide their representatives if they are deceived or misled. The evidence of this is Brexit.
  • The Biden vs. Trump duel was a duel of BELIEF. Not FACTS.
  • Donald Trump appeared on-screen as if on steroids, and Joe Biden looked like a sad bear. This is just a façade. Unfortunately, people buy into the image. Is the Earth round or flat? Whom will you believe, and what will decide it?
  • According to a survey, 67% of Americans believed Donald Trump won this debate. Will this decide his election? We’ll see. We can only hope that regardless of the choice, safety in Europe will be maintained.

See you, friends, at the Independence Day celebrations at the U.S. Ambassador’s Residence in Warsaw.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *