Whataboutism and The Rise of the Flip Wilsonicans

Andrew Donaldson

Born and raised in West Virginia, Andrew has since lived and traveled around the world several times over. Though frequently writing about politics out of a sense of duty and love of country, most of the time he would prefer discussions on history, culture, occasionally nerding on aviation, and his amateur foodie tendencies. He can usually be found misspelling/misusing words on Twitter @four4thefire and his writing website Yonder and Home. Andrew is the host of Heard Tell podcast.

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62 Responses

  1. Saul Degraw says:

    Years ago, there was a news story about nuclear plant meltdown in Japan (before Fukushima). On the front page of the New York Times was a photograph of a press conference in Japan where top executives got on their knees to beg for forgiveness for wrongdoing and negligence? Even back then, I could not imagine any American politician or figure doing the same. Our whole culture is devoted to the non-apology apology in all factors of public life. I do not think this is unique to the United States but it seems dominant here.

    Negative polarization does not make this better. It allows politicians to survive scandals that should not be survivable especially if it might make the seat open to the opposition. There is also a lot of bad faith trolling and nutpicking to find instances of the opposition not calling out their own.

    I think it was good that the Democrats voted to strip MTG of her committees. Not doing so would have been perceived as weakness and willing to put up with infinite amounts of BS from the right-wing.Report

    • Philip H in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      Negative polarization does not make this better. It allows Republican politicians to survive scandals that should not be survivable especially if it might make the seat open to the opposition.

      Fixed that for ya.Report

    • DensityDuck in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      “On the front page of the New York Times was a photograph of a press conference in Japan where top executives got on their knees to beg for forgiveness for wrongdoing and negligence[.]”

      It’s worth pointing out that this is considered a meaningless joke in Japan, a pro forma act that substitutes for actual censure or any change in behavior. It’s the Japanese equivalent of “thoughts and prayers”.Report

  2. Chip Daniels says:

    The contemporary Republicans have abandoned any pretense to being a political party.
    That is, a party that has a coherent belief system about how society should be organized and governed and principles which uphold that system.

    A large faction of them do have a belief system of a hierarchy based on race and gender. But the rest are just going along for the ride, coasting on sheer resentment and sense of lost entitlement.Report

  3. Oscar Gordon says:

    This is what happens when everyone is voting for what they see as the lesser evil. Politicians don’t have to prove they are good leaders, they merely have to sell themselves as “not as bad as the other option”.Report

    • Chip Daniels in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

      I don’t think very many Trump voters see him or any his clones as the “lesser evil”.

      They really like him, and will vote for him no matter what the choice.Report

    • Saul Degraw in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

      I didn’t vote for Democrats because I saw them as a lesser evil. I voted for Democrats because I see them as a force for good and it is the party that corresponds with my beliefs. I am a proud Democrat, not a sheepish one.

      There are people who like to think like your statement but I have no evidence that your statement represents majority thought.Report

  4. Bill Blake says:

    In a democracy, the people get the government they earn.

    If we have a government of ethically and reality challenged tribalists, that’s entirely on us. We elect them, and we have *nobody* to blame for that. Every such claim is exactly what MTG’s claims are–a refusal to acknowledge that each person is individually responsible for his actions, including the evidence he takes into account and, *especially* the thinking he does or refuses to do.Report

    • LeeEsq in reply to Bill Blake says:

      Most Americans don’t want Representatives like Ms. Green to represent them. It’s just that our dumb political system gives the faction that does outsized power.Report

      • Bill Blake in reply to LeeEsq says:

        Most Americans weren’t able to vote in the election that got her into office, so it hardly matters what most Americans want. In her district, evidently most of the voters *did* want her to represent them, at least more than they wanted her opponent to represent them–or some third party who might have been better than either.

        So long as we refuse to acknowledge that We The People are responsible for the government we have, we will continue to get bad government. And it will keep getting worse, as our “representatives” come to see that we have abdicated our responsibility to place meaningful limits on them.Report

        • Philip H in reply to Bill Blake says:

          I made a variation f this argument recently on the Facebook page of our Teapublican Congressman. After 6 January there was a bunch of hand wringing at him about either not standing firmly enough with Mr. Trump or being a weak coward for not opposing him. There were many self-righteous calls for him to be defeated next election. Of course when I reminded those folks that we had just had an election, and he had run unopposed after the Republican Primary ( where his tow opponents went down rather flaming, I usually got no response.Report

  5. Kazzy says:

    “I was allowed to believe things that weren’t true…”

    Allowed by whom, exactly?

    I mean, we are ALL allowed to believe things that aren’t true. And rightfully so. Would she rather have been disallowed from believing things that weren’t true?

    In attempting to disavow herself of any accountability, she is essentially denying that she has agency. Which is a pretty damning admission for, well, anyone but particularly for someone who wants to hold public office.

    “Look guys… you can’t blame me. I have no control over what I think!”Report

    • Pinky in reply to Kazzy says:

      It’s understandable – no public figure wants to describe how bad she is at thinking. I’m happy (kinda) with the results of all this; she distanced herself from the conspiracy stuff completely, and also received punishment. A bit too ceremonial for my taste, but it was a good thing.

      But we do need to be having the discussion about stupidity. How should people gather facts and assemble arguments? The former involves new technologies and the impact of our age of distrust; the latter involves time-tested formulas that people need to be trained in. Smart people need to be leading this discussion, and the fact that we get bogged down in partisanship suggests we smart ones aren’t as smart as we need to be.Report

      • greginak in reply to Pinky says:

        She didn’t distance herself all that much. Distancing would mean saying there was no conspiracy about 9/11 or the school shooting she has been hot on. She needs to directly say what was wrong. As it is she blamed everybody else in the world and said 9/11/school shootings happened. Well we know they happened, that really wasn’t the question. She needs to disavow violence against D pols, school shootings weren’t false flag etc. That would be disavowing.Report

      • Bill Blake in reply to Pinky says:

        I don’t think it’s a relevant discussion here–I’m done giving public figures the benefit of the doubt when it comes to obvious falsehoods maintained without evidence or contrary to evidence. A person who does that is not fit for office, not fit to wield power, whether they’re dishonest or cognitively incompetent.Report

        • Pinky in reply to Bill Blake says:

          I’m sorry, I don’t follow. I’m saying that we need to have a discussion of exactly what you said, people believing obvious falsehoods without evidence or contrary to evidence. Whether Greene is expelled or nominated UN ambassador, we need to talk about this. It seems to me that the smarter D’s and R’s have been trying to talk about this for at least five years.Report

          • Bill Blake in reply to Pinky says:

            I don’t think it’s relevant to MTG and her peers; as I said, I assume that they have chosen to believe as they do, quite independently of the national dementia.

            As for the broader problem, the prerequisite for any solution is the abolition of government run or funded schools. Nothing less will allow a solution, and it is *not going to happen*. Discussing that problem is nothing more than mental masturbation, because there is *no* real world solution for it.Report

            • Philip H in reply to Bill Blake says:

              As for the broader problem, the prerequisite for any solution is the abolition of government run or funded schools.

              Why?Report

              • Bill Blake in reply to Philip H says:

                For the same reason we have a First Amendment and its guarantees of freedom of speech and religion: No democracy can survive when government has the final say on ideas. Government run or funded schools–even if they provide a proper education, which they rarely do–inculcate fundamental ideas into our children, and that *should not* be under the control or even the influence of the government.Report

              • Philip H in reply to Bill Blake says:

                Wow. So I take it you are not a graduate of America’s public schools? I am, and of the southern variety no doubt, and i can tell you that many of my positions and beliefs were formed in spite of, not through, the schools i attended. Granted, my parents were of the opinion that learning stuff was a full time occupation while i was a kid, and they insisted that I learn how to learn and how to think – probably why I ended up in the sciences as a profession.

                As to inculcation – I am unaware of any formal education setting that would be free from inculcation. Religious schools are certainly full of it, and many homeschool curricula are as well.

                What concerns me more then your assertion is what you have left unsaid – namely how do we create a civil society working for collective benefit if we DON’T all have a common educational basis?Report

              • Bill Blake in reply to Philip H says:

                As it happens, I am not a graduate of America’s public schools. I was studying calculus and physics at age 10, after mostly Catholic schools, and was thereafter essentially self-taught. Though I attended college (I started as a Junior when I was 16), I never managed to graduate from high school or college. (Long story. No, I’m not telling it here.)

                That said, my personal experience–and yours–are utterly irrelevant to this debate.

                You missed the point about inculcation–it’s not that education should not inculcate, it’s that *government* should not inculcate. That’s just as dangerous to a free society as a government controlled press or a government mandated religion.

                You *do* know that the founders of America did not “benefit” from a common educational basis of the sort you think essential? Government schools were largely nonexistent for the first hundred years of America’s existence, and it wasn’t until about a hundred years ago that America had universal compulsory “education”.

                What civil society requires is *not* a common educational basis, but a common respect for rationality. Compulsion, in the final analysis, is incompatible with rationality, and *that* is why government must stay out of education in a society that intends to be free.Report

              • Philip H in reply to Bill Blake says:

                I’m always impressed with folks who take a non-traditional path to education, because I find they value that education more highly then others. You certainly prove that point.

                And yes I am well aware that as a historical artifact that compulsory government funded education is a relatively new thing. So are electric lights and the internet, and government has had a hand in their spread as well as their development. Were it not so, you and I would not have this lovely platform to debate on.

                My main problem with your rationality thesis is that history is also littered with a great many examples of trying to achieve universal respect for a great many things ending in disaster precisely because there is no universal or common mechanism to reach that end. I believe its one of the central failings of libertarianism, in as much as people acting in their own rational self interest will not generally act in a societal or communal self interest except by statistical dumb luck. But boy will they feel free doing so.Report

              • Bill Blake in reply to Philip H says:

                Lots of words, but none of them address my central thesis, that government controlled education is bad for just the reasons that government controlled press and government compelled religion are bad. Do you intend to address that?Report

              • Philip H in reply to Bill Blake says:

                What civil society requires is *not* a common educational basis, but a common respect for rationality.

                My main problem with your rationality thesis is that history is also littered with a great many examples of trying to achieve universal respect for a great many things ending in disaster precisely because there is no universal or common mechanism to reach that end.

                Seems to me that addresses your ideas quite nicely. But to put the bow on it – compulsory education is the mechanism that is designed to create that respect space. Is it always fully functional? no, but mostly because we want it on the cheap – like we want so many other things. We want education to benefit ONLY our in group, not “those people” as well. Absent that education, you won’t get that universal respect, which brings me back to by closing statement:

                people acting in their own rational self interest will not generally act in a societal or communal self interest except by statistical dumb luck. But boy will they feel free doing so.

                Report

              • Bill Blake in reply to Philip H says:

                You have chosen to not engage my actual argument, instead, focusing on a side remark that’s really not relevant.

                That said, you *have* made an counterargument to my actual argument, though not explicitly. Your argument, in a nutshell, is that people do not have a right to believe as they will, that they may properly be compelled by the government to believe as the government thinks they should, and that compulsory education is a proper means to that end.

                You may reject freedom of conscience, but I do not. I know that a necessary characteristic of a civil society is that its government may not properly dictate what people believe. And, with that, I think our discussion is at an end.Report

      • Philip H in reply to Pinky says:

        Smart people need to be leading this discussion, and the fact that we get bogged down in partisanship suggests we smart ones aren’t as smart as we need to be.

        You spend an awful lot of time around here dismissing the ideas of very smart people with whom you disagree politically. Perhaps a bit of removing the old eye log first before dismissing the eye speck would do you some good.Report

        • Pinky in reply to Philip H says:

          A good starting point: can smart people have bad ideas, and if so, how? Bad data, certainly. Confirmation bias happens to everyone as well, although mental effort can generally overcome it. Confirmation bias points back to the person’s philosophy, and smart people can have wildly different philosophies. The one thing we shouldn’t see from smart people is flawed reasoning.Report

          • Bill Blake in reply to Pinky says:

            Smart and *well intentioned* people. Rather a lot of smart people are not well intentioned–they have agendas and they’re perfectly happy to use irrationality to serve their agenda when it seems appropriate.Report

          • Philip H in reply to Pinky says:

            The one thing we shouldn’t see from smart people is flawed reasoning.

            Um yeah, have you actually met many smart people? My lived experience is the smart people have flawed reasoning all the time for the same reasons any human does.

            Me thinks however, that you see differences in political philosophy, economic approaches and the like as flawed reasoning. And that being the case, I suspect you dismiss a lot of very sound reasoning.Report

            • Pinky in reply to Philip H says:

              Again you put words in my mouth. I, personally, thinks that you’re demonstrating an inability to follow an argument. I guess I should be glad that you’re putting it right out there that you’re not interested in a non-partisan discussion.

              For any other readers: I’m saying that to be truly smart you need to be able to review your thinking. We do all make mistakes, but the kind of deductive errors made by the conspiracy folks are avoidable.Report

              • Philip H in reply to Pinky says:

                See, when you right that clearly, yes, its easy to follow. I also think you have neatly sidestepped my central thesis – which again is that you (and others here) do in fact assess “Smart People” and “flawed reasoning” through an entirely partisan lens.

                Now, on your substance – sure, those kind of errors are avoidable.

                My question back to you is why do you think “conspiracy folks” don’t avoid them?Report

              • Pinky in reply to Philip H says:

                To have this kind of conversation, we’d both have to trust each other to get beyond partisanship. So far, all you’ve done is voice your distrust.Report

              • Philip H in reply to Pinky says:

                Yes I have. Well informed distrust too. And you keep dodging it, rather than engaging it and showing me why I’m wrong. I don’t trust you to get beyond partisanship. You generally don’t. And in the process you spend a lot of time dismissing people around here who are smarter than either of us because you disagree with them on political or philosophical grounds. It makes your current line of discussion suspect.

                You postulated that smart people don’t make reasoning or deductive errors only reason from bad facts, Bill and I both pointed out to you that smart people do make reasoning and deductive errors, and he added the salient reminder of them choosing to do so when they act in bad faith. You engaged him not at all an doubled down against me with your notice that the errors of the conspiracy people are avoidable. Which is true, but clearly not the actual outcome.

                So yes I distrust you in this conversation. No, I don’t see anything to refute that distrust. And yes, I think you are reasoning in error with your line of thought, though your data is as good as its going to get on this point.Report

  6. The GOP is going to continue to be the party of Greene, Boebert, Gohmert, Paxton, Hawley, etc, and the party that censures toothless dissenters like Ben Sasse, until they believe it threatens their hold on power. They gained seats in the House and if not for Trump throwing a giant-sized even for him tantrum would have held the Senate, so that time has clearly not arrived.Report

  7. DensityDuck says:

    It occurs to me that this has the same energy as that Chotiner interview with the president of the SF School Board, in that here’s a woman who’s learned the code words to say that make people give her things, but she doesn’t know what they actually mean, so when she’s in a situation where she actually has to make an argument all she can do is babble nonsense.Report