The word “Whataboutism” is an Anglicization of a term which developed in the Soviet Union. It was officially introduced to English in 1978 by a letter to The Guardian newspaper in the U.K., wherein reader Lionel Bloch wrote: “whataboutism” is a condition of the progressive mind which does not tolerate any criticism of Communist autocracy unless those who criticise wear sackcloth and put ashes on their heads for the sins of all non-Communist dictatorships.”
He was describing the most petty of rhetorical tools, an excuse of any and all sins if an opposing group had committed any sins themselves. This is where we find ourselves in modern American politics.
It would seem to be the simplest of constructions and the basis for any democratic society: hold people accountable for their actions, independent of the actions of others. This is the foundation of any respectable justice system.
The rationalization of whataboutism is found in the juvenile argument of “striking back”. “He hit me first” progresses naturally to “I hit him back”… independent of any standards of escalation. In an civil society, “He hit me first” has a defined response, which is to be applied equally independent of the status of the individuals involved. “He took my lollipop” should not forgive “….so I blinded him and cut off his fingers.”
Whataboutism is being used by both major parties in America to excuse any and all offenses. The most blatant examples are the associations with Jeffrey Epstein and the plausible sexual abuse of children. “Bill Clinton was there” should not negate “Donald Trump was there”, and vice versa. If either was present at parties where children were systematically raped and molested, and records indicate both were, they should both face punishment for it.
It’s also being used to whitewash lesser offenses. John Conyers systematically abused Congressional staffers. Al Franken committed sexual assaults on at least four women. Duncan Hunter is in the midst of a sex scandal involving donor cash and lobbyist staffers. None of these is remotely acceptable in a politician. They should not get a pass because what Trump and Clinton did was worse.
Likewise, being directly linked to a serial pedophile does not, by nature of the severity of the offense, suddenly mitigate prior offenses. Every other action must continue to be judged on its own demerits. That prevents a person from being granted some level of sanctification if they are not proven guilty of the worst charge. A person who is found not to have murdered a child in the commission of a bank robbery where five were wounded remains a violent bank robber.
Standards – strict rules by which actions are measured – are necessary, and they need to be enforced.
When we lose sight of that fact, we are at risk of devolving into teams. We are not teams, nor should we ever be. We are people who share many common views, and those views are what bind us. Democrats and Republicans are not and never were the enemy; it is the bad ideas promoted by one group or another. When we lose sight of that simple concept we risk becoming willing victims to Soviet-era propaganda.