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What about #whataboutism

The epidemic of deflection and finger-pointing is undermining public discourse. It needs to stop.

It’s time to have a direct, frank, talk about #whataboutism. Our society seriously needs a reality check to get back to brass tacks on stats and facts. Remember those?

It’s time to move away from the plague of changing topics, mid-debate, to distract from facts.

Whataboutism is not only exhausting, it’s dumbing down discussions on important topics and has my middle in a knot.

Remember back when political debates meant actual discussions took place on tough topics? A “win” would come from presenting the strongest case. Today we find finger-pointing devoid of any valid facts, never mind accountability – and often zero intel as to actual policy.

Whataboutism in 2018 is, basically, the modern incarnation of “I know you are but what am I?”

We’ve all used it at some point, likely in our teens: “What about Jimmy, his mom lets him play Fortnight!” (Worst argument ever.) Do we not teach our kids that whataboutism is the fast track to “no”? It’s lame. It’s weak. Rarely, if ever, rewarded.

Today’s grown ups are slipping into hypocrisy.

Harken back to the epic months leading up to the 2015 federal election. How much oxygen was spent pivoting to #whataboutism? Politicians, pundits and various groups with a stake in the outcome would spin and distract with a whataboutism blame-game for the ages.

How fascinatingly sad to see political discussions around dinner tables, coffee shops and boardroom tables — very few of those were rooted in any facts on policy impacting Canadians – focus on clickbait #whataboutism.

How many conversations about Justin Trudeau, for example, focused on his age/hair/time as a drama teacher/readiness to lead rather than debate his policies. (Except perhaps legalizing marijuana.)

This isn't just a right or centre-right tactic - not by a long shot.

Recently, Prime Minister Trudeau found himself in the hot seat over eye-opening access to our banking information without our knowledge. Rather than explain the facts, he chose #whataboutism.

This week in the House of Commons, Trudeau defended things by - wait for it - changing the subject to "Conservatives stopped the longform census," because they don't like data.


Turn our attention south of the border and ponder: how many times during the run-up to the 2016 US presidential election did you hear “what-about-her-emails”? Most folks trumpeting this line couldn’t even tell you one single solitary fact about Hillary Clinton’s email server.

Then there’s “What-about-Benghazi?” Still fewer could explain where Benghazi is (a port city in Libya) never mind what happened there (a tragic September 11, 2012 attack on the CIA compound and US Embassy.)

The world has literally lost count of the number of times that Donald Trump has used whataboutism.

Too many examples to list, but here’s the most recent (at press time). Asked about his dog-whistle calls to violence – and the pipe bombs mailed to high-level Democrats, left-leaning vocal celebrities and former presidents – his response was:

“If you look at what happened to Steve Scalise, that was from a supporter of a different party.”

Scalise was the Republican House Majority Whip from Louisiana who was shot while practicing for the annual congressional baseball game last June.

We need a new hashtag for this sort of rhetoric. I nominate: #WhatTheHellDoesThatHaveToDoWithTheCurrentTopic

(A bit long, but you catch my drift.)

Even more so than #fakenews, (by a hair) whataboutism is an assault on awareness. At least we can fact-check and prove fake news is, well, fake. But all too often, when confronted with truth, it’s all too easy to pivot (read: hijack) back to whataboutism.

Don’t even get me started on the whataboutism happening today in BC’s electoral referendum!

The #whataboutism phenomenon is not new – but it’s unquestionably more prevalent today than ever before.

Whataboutism is at the root of much of our current political and societal chaos. We need to find the words to debate, find middle ground to discuss, and stave it off.

Jody Vance is a born and raised Vancouverite who has spent 30 years in both local and national media. The first woman in the history of Canadian TV to host her own sports show in primetime, since 2011 she’s been working in both TV and radio covering news and current affairs.