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August 16, 2017

Whataboutism

Trump, Obama, and Naming Evil

Nothing excuses Donald Trump’s failure to immediately denounce Nazis, KKK members, and white separatists in Charlottesville immediately and by name. Even this slime has a right to march and speak; but they have no right to violence.  Moreover, he should have disowned their claim of allegiance to him even before their march turned violent.

While it is probably true that there were also counter-demonstrators spoiling for a fight, blaming them equally for the death that resulted is like excusing 9/11 because some victims may have been anti-Muslim.

Trump is not excused by his predecessor’s inability to say “radical Islam”; Trump correctly criticized Obama for that so presumably understands the consequence of not being able to say evil’s name. Trump is not excused by those on the left who remain deplorably silent in the wake of violent campus protests against free speech.

Nor is Obama’s failure to lay blame for much terrorism on radical Islamists retroactively excused by Trump’s latest offence. Those who won’t defend free speech are moral cowards or would-be censors no matter what Trump does or doesn’t do. Two wrongs don’t make a right.

According to an article by Jeremy Peters in The New York Times:

“There is also a new political term to describe the circular firing squad in which right and left have blamed the other for the country’s degenerating political debate — ‘whataboutism.’”

“What about” excuses nothing.

As a civil (I wish more civil) society, we suffer from both too little and too much name calling. Nazis, fascists on campus, the current government of Venezuela, racists, and radical Islam need to be called out for what they are. Leaders have a responsibility to speak frankly; they also have a responsibility to let us know how they see the world.

However, not everyone who thinks that immigration cost him his job is xenophobic. Some very good people want to see more gun control; some very good people believe that abortion is murder. All proponents of gay marriage are not agents of the devil; all opponents of gay marriage are not deplorables (HRC was against gay marriage before she was for it). Not everyone who marches with a “Black Lives Matters” banner is a would-be cop killer nor is every policeman who shoots someone of a different race a racist murderer.

David Brooks writes (also in the NYTimes):

“…I’m beginning to think the whole depressing spectacle of this moment — the Trump presidency and beyond — is caused by a breakdown of intellectual virtue, a breakdown in America’s ability to face evidence objectively, to pay due respect to reality, to deal with complex and unpleasant truths. The intellectual virtues may seem elitist, but once a country tolerates dishonesty, incuriosity and intellectual laziness, then everything else falls apart.

“The temptation is simply to blast the neo-Nazis, the alt-right, the Trumpkins and the rest for being bigoted, vicious and hate-filled. And some of that is necessary. The boundaries of common decency have to be defined.

“But throughout history the wiser minds have understood that anger and moral posturing are not a good antidote to rage and fanaticism. Competing vitriols only build on each other.”

There is no question these are hard and scary times. We make them worse both when we refuse to name evil AND when we label everyone we disagree with as being evil. Whataboutism excuses nothing.

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