Why The ‘Whataboutism’ Charge Is Dishonest

Why The ‘Whataboutism’ Charge Is Dishonest

In the same way the past doesn’t excuse Trump’s actions, his actions don’t excuse the duplicity of his antagonists.
David Harsanyi
By

This is terrible.

Agreed.

Donald Trump Jr. is not only a crook, but this now points to treason!

Well, unless new information emerges, it doesn’t look like Donald Trump Jr. broke any laws. Taking a meeting with a foreign national might be shady and scandalous and stupid, but it’s almost surely not illegal, unless there was quid quo pro, etc. And the meeting doesn’t meet even the broadest interpretation of “treason.” By using this kind of over-the-top rhetoric, you’re taking a legitimate political scandal and overplaying your hand — as you have numerous times in your quest for impeachment.

Look at the Trumpkin with his ready-made talking point. So nothing that is technically illegal can be wrong? ‘It’s horrible but not treason.’ You go with that!

Of course a lack of criminality doesn’t mean there was a lack of corrupt behavior. No one should excuse the actions of the Trump administration. But neither should we expect Trump voters to embrace a standard that Democrats dismissed only a few months ago. When James Comey found that Hillary Clinton had broken laws related to the handling of classified information — then attempted to conceal the evidence from investigators — she escaped because prosecutors were supposedly unable to prove intent. We were repeatedly lectured that the only thing that mattered was that Hillary had been legally cleared. She was ready to lead, and so on. Many of us pointed out that her defense was setting a corrosive precedent — which is more than we can say for the majority of Democrats.

Because the election is over, dude. When Hillary is president you can impeach her. Concentrate on what’s happening now.

It’s both happening right now. Condemning Trump’s bad behavior shouldn’t inhibit anyone from pointing out the duplicity and partisan aims of liberals who are attempting to gain back power. Those people are part of the equation, as well. In the same way the past doesn’t excuse Trump’s actions, his actions don’t excuse the behavior of his antagonists. Charges of whataboutism are often used to shut that discussion down. Moreover, the idea that Americans should contemplate politics without any historical context is a brand new, and utterly absurd, demand. Despite what you have heard, history did not start on January 21.

The two are not comparable. This isn’t about hypocrisy, this is about collusion with RUSSIA, America’s number one geopolitical foe!

The problem is, your newfound concern regarding Russia’s role in the world isn’t very convincing. Mine, on the other hand, is consistent. If you were truly worried about collusion and kompromat, then you would have been concerned about Hillary’s foundation engaging in favor-trading with a number of hostile and illiberal powers — including, The New York Times has reported, Russian oligarchs. You would have been concerned that Democrats were shopping that Steele dossier, which came directly from Russian sources, to anyone who would listen. And not only did the media bite on this fictitious intel, but the dossier may well have been used to unmask American citizens. Was this treason? Collusion? I don’t know, but you don’t care. So I don’t believe you’re arguing in good faith.

But whataboutism is mostly used to excuse Donald Trump.

I’d say it’s used as much for excuse-making by Trump’s fans as it is to circumvent uncomfortable debates. Take, for instance, NPR’s narrow definition of whataboutism. It says, “’whataboutism’ is an attractive tactic for populists allowing them to be vague but also appear straight-talking from what’s happening now.” Yes, it’s also an attractive word for partisans to throw around when they realize their past positions undermine their credibility.

So that makes it okay for Trump to steal our democracy.

Attempted Russian meddling in the American election system should be investigated fully and dealt with. But no one has stolen democracy or an election. When you make this claim, you telegraph that this is all about partisanship. Not one American vote was hijacked by a Russian. Not one American was fooled by anything the Russians were saying or doing. This mythmaking meant to cast doubt on the validity of an election. It’s tactically similar to what Democrats engaged in after George W. Bush won, and I suspect it will be similar to what they’ll do after the next Republican wins the presidency.

This is worse. What Trump is doing is unprecedented.

Folks who complain to me about “whataboutism” have a weird propensity to lecture me about historical precedents. Can we talk about the past or not? Take Paul Begala — a guy who led the mocking of Mitt Romney when the candidate called out Barack Obama’s Russian appeasement — who recently asserted that in his “34 years of campaigns, [he] never, ever heard of getting help from a hostile foreign power.” Never? He’s never heard of Charlie Trie, the man who was funneling millions to the Clintons on behalf of Chinese interests? He’s never read the leaked emails that showed the Clinton campaign working with Ukrainians to find information damaging to Trump? Never?

At the end of the day, your anti-anti Trumpism is allowing the president to destroy the country and abuse his powers. So I hope you’re happy.

At the end of the day, it’s best to take consistent positions always support strengthening the separation of power. If you were cheering on the last president as these standards were being corroded, your laments about abuse of power can’t be taken very seriously. In fact, it’s legitimate to point out that you’re part of the problem. Either working with a foreign agent is treason or it isn’t. Coddling up to Russian authoritarians (or Iranian Islamists) is gross, or it’s not. Ruling by fiat is how we do things when the opposing party is engaged in “obstruction,” or it isn’t. We can’t keep changing the rules every time it’s convenient for Democrats, then cry whataboutism when someone points it out.

David Harsanyi is a Senior Editor at The Federalist. Follow him on Twitter.

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