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Blaming everyone else when you get caught is like blaming doctors when you get sick
By Jim Kempton
They say the man who smiles when things go wrong has already thought of someone to blame it on.
Or, in our current state, ask, “What about them?”
“Whataboutism,” also known as “whataboutery,” is defined in Webster’s Dictionary as “the logical fallacy that attempts to discredit an opponent’s position by charging them with hypocrisy without directly refuting or disproving their argument, which in the U.S. is particularly associated with Soviet and Russian propaganda.”
This definition comes from the mid-20th century period when the Russians accused the USA of our faults to cover up the horrific deeds they were doing and continue to do. It was the equivalent of the USSR running 47 consecutive traffic signals and then complaining that the USA turned right on a red light. And it’s true we sometimes do that.
The Soviets used a fact-based response to their atrocities with the line “and you are hanging blacks.” Sorry, Vlad, but millions of deaths in the Gulags just doesn’t compare.
A good deal of this “blame everyone else” seems to be going on in the top echelons of our society today. As human nature would suggest, we are all tempted to use the “what about them?” defense. When the Highway Patrolman is writing you a ticket, don’t you want to say, “Look, officer—look at all those other drivers who didn’t come to a complete halt at the stop sign!”
Of course, we know the “other people do it” pretext is not supported by any extended logic. Otherwise, murderers would simply excuse themselves with the fact that “people do it all the time!” And it is true that in this great country of ours, homicide happens on average 45 times a day.
When a school bully pushes another kid aside and cuts in line and—when confronted—responds by sneering, “I saw Joey do it yesterday; no big deal!” he is practicing whataboutery.
Politicians are refining this to a fine art at the moment. Among the recent charges connected to those in high places have been allegations of being sexual predators, cheating on vote counts, or cheating on their taxes. Strong evidence indicates bribery, threatening witnesses, even abusing their unparalleled political influence to personally profit. And in a particular case, a single person has accusations for all of the above.
In each instance, those accused try to deflect the charges by finding others who have done the same bad things. Distract, deny, delay. It didn’t work for Nixon.
According to the Oxford Dictionary, these whataboutism tactics have also been effectively employed by the leaders of Saudi Arabia, North Korea and Turkey. Aren’t they somebody’s new best friends?
The technique does not stand up in the USA, though—at least not outside of Washington, D.C. Can you imagine going to traffic court and making your plea to the judge: “Everyone speeds, Your Honor!”
The less comic (but no less absurd) use of this defense is playing out in our nation’s capital: “You can’t give me a speeding ticket—I’m doing a really good job at work! Besides, the cops are all out to get me!”
The crime being probed is inexcusably shocking. It isn’t analogous to exceeding the speed limit. It is more similar to the school principal being clocked going 80 mph through an in-session school zone while under the influence after a third warning.
It leaves very little to argue about when in addition to being recorded on tape and television, the school teachers, bus drivers and staff all testify in traffic court that the vice principal, secretary and the school’s head of security were all in the car drinking with him.
We are awaiting the verdict of the American people—will this be a serious driving violation, threatening all school kids? Or just another day of road rage in ugly traffic?
Jim Kempton is a writer, surfer and longtime Orange County resident. He believes you should make your bed but not lie in it.