Trump Fires Comey: Kettle Logic

Freud, in Die Traumdeutung, provided the following example to demonstrate the way in which the dream-work denies responsibility for the wish which follows:

“[I] recall vividly the defence offered by a man who was accused by his neighbour of having returned a kettle in a damaged condition. In the first place, he said, he had returned the kettle undamaged; in the second place it already had holes in it when he borrowed it; and in the third place, he had never borrowed it at all. A complicated defence, but so much the better; if only one of these three lines of defence is recognized as valid, the man must be acquitted.”

We see a very similar series of arguments at play in Trump’s remarks regarding the dismissal of the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, James Comey. First, Trump claimed, during the electoral process, that he had “great respect” for Comey, and for Comey’s lead on the investigation into Hilary Clinton’s emails. We might refer to this as the logic of ‘the kettle is not damaged,’ since, in this case, there is nothing at all wrong with Comey’s leadership. Second, Trump drafted a letter indicating that he has taken a recommendation from the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General to dismiss Comey. In this case, Trump is making the claim that Comey’s leadership was in question by others – that is, that the problem with Comey has to do with the fact that he was already, in effect, broken. Third, Trump claimed that he had found problems with Comey and had been thinking about firing him since his inauguration. In this case, Comey is found to already have been fired. In other words, his fate was already sealed.

Now, Trump has added an additional reason for Comey’s dismissal. According to Trump, the kettle is too delicate to borrow at all. In other words, Trump is now citing Comey’s ‘grandstanding’ and ‘showboating’ as sufficient reasons for his dismissal. To render this in kettle logic: (1) the kettle was returned undamaged, (2) the kettle was already damaged when borrowed, (3) the kettle was never borrowed; to which we add a fourth: (4) the kettle is too precious anyway.


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