When someone accuses you of whataboutism, you can be pretty certain you are right and they can’t refute it.
Whataboutism is all the rage. It reminds us to be very careful with words one suddenly sees all over the place, ones that were scarcely uttered just a few years ago. The reason for the surge in use is that opponents of Donald Trump, especially those on the right who use whataboutism most, need to defend the ridiculous double standards applied to Trump’s actions and those of the left.
The term has reached a fever pitch during the second impeachment of Trump. There is obvious hypocrisy at work comparing the single riot at the Capitol on Jan. 6 and the summer of violence the nation endured last year. For progressives this is easy. They think the violent protests of 2020 were fine. But anti-Trump conservatives can’t really do that. They don’t support Vice President Kamala Harris helping to bail out rioting arsonists and know that if Trump had done anything like it he would have been crucified for it when Harris clearly wasn’t.
To get themselves out of this dilemma they appeal to “whataboutism.” The idea has its roots in the Soviet Union, which would use it to deflect from its own horrible actions by pointing to bad actions done by the United States. It is a version of the tu quoque logical fallacy, but with a big difference. In the latter, a personal failing of the person making the accusation is appealed to, not an apples to apples comparison of events with similar contexts.
Comparing the way this summer’s riots were dealt with and how the Capitol riot is being dealt with is not a fallacy, it’s how logic works. In every aspect of our lives, from law, to science, to medicine, to child-rearing, and relationships, we compare similar past situations when making a current choice. It is literally the most basic element of reason. We don’t completely reinvent the wheel every time we are faced with a choice or dilemma.
First of all, it is vital to understand that absolutely nobody who doesn’t require mental help, prison, or both defends the Capitol riots. So whataboutism doesn’t really apply here in terms of defending the actions, even though many on the left did defend violent elements of the summer riots, especially concerning property damage. What conservatives are objecting to is the double standard in legal, political, and media reaction.
The riots this summer were a nuanced affair to the media and across the country as progressive district attorneys refused to prosecute rioters. Prior to Trump’s order punishing the destruction of statues and monuments, there were few prosecutions for such brazen actions. Social media companies did not punish or censor those who supported the riots of the summer.
Compare this to the reaction to the Capitol riots. There is no nuance at all. It occasioned an absurd impeachment, social media companies used it to not only ban users, but with along their tech giant buddies to destroy their competitor Parler and chill political speech. The Biden administration is eying domestic terrorist laws to broaden their ability to surveil and punish conservative speech.
These are the issues that conservatives have with the wildly different ways the summer riots were dealt with, despite being far more deadly, far more costly, and just as much of an attack on government than the single Capitol riot was. It is blatant hypocrisy. Anti-Trump conservatives know very well that it is blatant hypocrisy so they invoke a nonsense word to defend their decision to simply not address the problem.
It’s indicative of the problem they have now with the implosion of the Lincoln Project, which is almost an avatar of their influence turning to dust. It’s as if some Trumpian Thanos just snapped his fingers. If they cannot bring themselves to criticize this hypocrisy. They are just no longer needed lackeys for the Democrats and are rightfully being kicked to the curb.
Anytime someone invokes a magic word that they claim precludes them from engaging in a conversation because engaging would be irresponsible, you can be sure they simply can’t defend their position. That is exactly what is happening here. They don’t want to have the conversation because they can’t, so they mutter “whataboutism” and pretend to hold some faux moral high ground. We all see it, we all know it’s nonsense, and we should all call it out for the cowardice it is every time it is invoked.
The United States faces great threats today, from China, to Iran, to the rise of Critical Race Theory’s frightening racism, but none is as scary as the chilling of speech we see across schools, corporations, and leftist media. Whataboutism is part of these illiberal, anti-free speech tendencies. Never let it shut you down. In fact, when someone accuses you of whataboutism, simply take it as almost certain evidence that what you are saying is true and they cannot refute it.
David Marcus is the Federalist’s New York Correspondent. Follow him on Twitter, @BlueBoxDave.