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Perspective: What about 'whataboutism?'


Among the numerous depressing symptoms of social disfunction that plague us one of the most maddening might be termed “whataboutism”.

Hyperpartisanship, as social scientists label it, is so extreme that in many cases opponents do not even engage each other. Rather, they appear to be standing on opposite sides of the Grand Canyon hurling imprecations. Rather than respond to a criticism, partisans merely rejoin that the other side does it also. “What about what you did?” As a columnist lamented, whataboutism “justifies bad behavior by saying it is no worse than what the other side does”.

There are at least two problems with whataboutism. First, even if what I am accused of is no worse than what you did, I am still indicting rather than defending myself. But much more disturbing is what one historian noted. There is a destructive, degenerative effect. “Thus, the American republic spirals down one scandal at a time: Watergate, Iran-Contras, Monica Lewinsky, and the Trump presidency and its opponents.”

Worst of all, apparently all our mothers misled us. Two wrongs do make a right. I’m Bob Evans and that is my perspective.

Robert Evans is an Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Economics, Business and Accounting at Rockford University and Associate Director of the Center for Ethics and Entrepreneurship. He is actively involved in the Rockford University public policy program, trains managers on law-related topics, is a political consultant and analyst, and also serves on non-profit boards.