Monday, June 5, 2017

Whataboutism

After church Sunday, had lunch with my sister, her husband, and my nephew, Ryan. The usual Sunday lunch banter was exchanged. Then Ryan launched into a classic demonstration of the latest fad in political conversation sweeping the nation...whataboutism.

Whataboutism is designed to end uncomfortable discussions about partisan politics by invoking that time honored characteristic of politicians over the past several millennia...hypocrisy and her twin sister, inconsistency, and their first cousin, the double standard. Only, it never actually does end an uncomfortable discussion, it only makes it more frustrating. Here's how it works:

Frustrated Republican: I hate the press. They are so over the top critical of ______. They pick apart every single word _______ says and try to twist it around. It's so infuriating!!

Frustrated Democrat: But, whatabout when _______ was President? Fox News twisted everything that came out of his mouth into something horrible. I didn't hear you complaining about that!!

Frustrated Republican: That's not even close to being the same thing! And whatabout how your liberal media buddies hated George W. Bush? They were on a vendetta against him for eight years!

Frustrated Democrat: You want to talk about vendettas?? Whatabout the vendetta the Republicans had against Bill Clinton?! Newt Gingrich trying to impeach the man over that Lewinsky thing at the very same time when he was having an affair himself!

Frustrated Republican: Are you kidding me?? The press did everything in their power to protect that pervert. Whatabout how they always hid JFK's womanizing from the people? Democrats...always protecting their own!

.......................................................three days later........................................................................

Frustrated Republican: I can't believe you're blaming Adam for that Garden of Eden thing!! Whatabout Eve? If it hadn't been for her weakness, everything would have been fine. Typical, man-hating feminist!

Frustrated Democrat: You pathetic patriarch-loving misogynist! Whatabout God's role in all of this, huh?? Why did he have to create man first?!

So, yeah...as a debating tactic, whataboutism is a dodge, an attempt to change the subject, to reengage the rhetorical battle on more favorable ground. Instead of dealing with the topic at hand, it's an attempt to point out equal or even more egregious examples of the failings of the other side. Everyone does it. As a result, no political argument ever changes anyone's mind. No one in America is persuading anyone of anything. We're all just trying to win the exchange. Everyone is floundering around in search of a mic drop moment, but few ever find one.

My pastor tried valiantly yesterday to give us some sage advice, by sharing something quite profound. Live your life seeking to understand, rather than seeking to be understood.

.....But whatabout......