The Franciscan Friar and Logician, William of Ockham, posited the principle of lex parsimoniae, or “the law of briefness,” in the 14th century. The philosophical theory, now ubiquitously referred to as “Occam’s Razor,” is relatively simple. It states that if two explanations for an occurrence exist concurrently, the simpler explanation is nearly always correct. In modernity, the idea has often been expressed with the phrase, “when you hear hoofbeats, think horses, not zebras.”
It’s an idea that would strike most as basic common sense. But in the desperate search for rationalizations which confirm one’s own biases, Ockham’s philosophy is frequently forgotten.
In the hours following Chief of Staff John F. Kelly’s emotional press conference on Thursday, in which he described in vivid detail the common procedure following a soldier’s death, as well as the private words spoken to him after his own son’s death, he was attacked in the media with frothing, vitriolic fervor. Anonymous keyboard pundits on Twitter had some of the worst comments to offer. I saw Kelly described as “odious,” a “yes man,” a “coward,” and as a man who had “lost all credibility” and “dishonored the memory of his son.”
The left’s rhetoric goes something like this: President Trump called a grieving widow and purposefully disrespected her, and her late husband’s memory. When his call was made public by Congresswoman Wilson, who listened in on speakerphone, John Kelly, whose own son was killed in the line of combat, spoke out because he was pressured by Trump, and was “afraid of losing his job.” According to Wilson, Kelly’s also a “racist.” In this telling, Trump has a “lack of human empathy” and an “empty soul,” and John Kelly dishonored his dead son and “dehumanized” a congresswoman.
Let’s apply Occam’s Razor to the Gold Star he said, she said. And remember, the simplest explanation is usually correct.
Determining President Trump’s Motives
We have option A: President Trump called a grieving widow, when there was no requirement to do so, with the sole intention of insulting her. He purposefully said hurtful words out of cruelty. The left was right all along, and our President is utterly despicable.
And we have option B: President Trump elected to call a grieving widow because he empathized with her and he wished to convey his deep appreciation for her husband’s sacrifice. His comments were well intended, but possibly came out wrong. He’s a human being who might not always say the right thing to a person who has every reason to be inconsolable.
Which scenario requires less explanation? In order to believe option A, one must accept that Donald Trump is a true sociopath, who not only lacks empathy for others, but is also sadistic enough to go out of his way to insult and berate grieving widows because he enjoys it. In order to believe option B, one must only accept that Donald Trump is a human being, who, despite good intentions, occasionally misspeaks and experiences awkwardness in difficult circumstances.
Parsing General Kelly’s Speech
And then there’s General Kelly. Again, we have option A: Trump forced Kelly to speak out against Congresswoman Wilson. His emotional moments were faked for the cameras. He knowingly dishonored the memory of his dead son in order to keep a job that by all accounts isn’t in jeopardy.
And option B: John Kelly, a Gold Star parent whose son was killed in combat, was upset and insulted by a Congresswoman’s politicization of a fallen American soldier. The emotion on his face was brutally real, because the loss of a child leaves a wound that never truly heals. Kelly would have refused to propagate a message he didn’t believe in, as any decent parent would, if propagation meant cheapening his son’s sacrifice.
Again, which version is simpler and more likely to be true? In order to believe option A, one must believe that John Kelly, a decorated Marine Corps General who has dedicated his life to service and served our nation as the Commander of United States Southern Command and Secretary of Homeland Security, is of such weak character that he allows himself to be bullied by a man the left refers to as “the orange Cheeto.”
One must accept that General Kelly is so desperate to keep his job that he was willing to disgrace himself and his dead son on national television. In order to believe option B, one must only trust that John Kelly is an honorable man who took offense at a lack of reverence for the brave men and women who give their lives protecting their fellow citizens from evils lurking past the horizon.
The Truth Is Simpler Than The Left Thinks
I think the truth is clear. General Kelly’s speech was powerful. It was austere, yet heartfelt. It touched me, as I know it did countless other Americans. On Thursday, the left heard zebras. Or even worse—and just as likely—they heard horses but called them zebras anyway.
As to Congresswoman Wilson: did she speak out because she was truly upset about Trump’s call, or did she distort the facts and use a soldier’s death for political purposes and to become “a rock star?” Apply Occam’s Razor to find the most likely answer.