Wednesday, January 13, 2021

But What About Whataboutism?

      Children called to account for their actions in a group setting, often complain about the unfairness of it all -- what about all those other children who also did bad things?

      As adults, we're expected to own our actions, no matter what others have done.  We have learned that we are answerable for our own actions, others are answerable for theirs -- and justice is not always perfect.

      Enforcement can be non-linear.  It's got subjective elements.  If a speaker addressing a crowd says, "That guy over there?  Grab him and string him up!" that's clearly a crime.  If he says, "Let's go to John Doe's house and hang him," that's criminal, too.  But what about, "If I was in charge, I'd have John Doe hanged!" or "John Doe ought to be hanged," are those criminal calls to action, or protected, if highly-charged, speech?  And that's why we have courts and trials, judges and juries.  Circumstances can alter cases.

      "Whataboutism" aims to alter perceptions; if little Jimmy got away with throwing pebbles, why should we get in trouble for throwing rocks? But the one does not excuse the other, and thus we arrive at today's Whataboutist Letter To Bobbi, reprinted here exactly as received:
Yet COngresspeople ENCOURAGED folks to riot and occupy at the Hart Senate Office building to change the outcome of a Supreme Court nomination. Where were you then?
Are those folks who publicly encouraged that violence also guilty of Treason? Of "Insurrection"? Of an attempted overthow of Federal Government? 
Or is it only approved groups who get to do that? 
Feel free to censor me, but ask yourself those questions.

      OMG, can this be?  Was there a cop-killing, club-carrying,* riot-cuff-wearing, barricade-breaching, door- and window-breaking assault on the Hart Senate Office Building, people shouting the names of politicians they wanted to seize or put in office, egged on by Federal office-holders and if so, why wasn't it all over the news?

      You'll notice there aren't any links, dates or names in the letter.  My first websearch turned up a group of (mostly) women who showed up in February, 2018 to protest the Trump Administration's policy of separating children and adults who crossed the border with Mexico illegally -- they showed up at the Hart Senate Office building waving signs and banners (neither on poles or sticks), some wrapped in silver "space blankets" and sat down in the atrium, pretty much filling it up.  Others milled around with signs.  Some Senators, including Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), cheered them on.  575 protesters were arrested and the entire group was removed by police, including Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA).  No one was killed.  No windows were broken.  There were no howls from the mob to sieze any Senator or Representative, or even the President.

     So that, while clearly an illegal protest resulting in arrests, surely wasn't it.

     On 4 October, another group was turned away from the steps of the U.S. Capitol and Supreme Court by Capitol Police.  They were protesting Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, then appearing in confirmation hearings before the U.S. Senate.  They, too, got into the lobby of the Hart Senate Office Building†, made noise, filled the place up and may have been cheered on by some elected officials.  Police cleared them out.  Over 300 were arrested.  No police were killed or injured, no windows or doors were broken.  Signs were hand-held, not on sticks.  It was a big, noisy event.  I think that must be the one my correspondent finds "violent."

     Okay, let's sort these three events out.  Who was throwing pebbles and who was throwing rocks?

     First off, what is being protested?  Then let's look at the stakes, the odds and the legality:

       Feb. 2018: the protesters are taking issue with Executive policy.  This can be changed almost at Presidential whim.  It could be changed by legislation, too.  It's an illegal protest: you don't get to swarm into Federal buildings and stage a protest and there were, in fact, hundreds of arrests.

      Oct. 2018: the protesters object to a particular Supreme Court nominee, who was in Senate confirmation hearings at that time.  Those hearings are not a greased chute, as we learned in 1987 (Robert Bork), 2005 (Harriet Miers) and 2016 (Merrick Garland), among others.   Senators can refuse to confirm a nominee.  It's an illegal protest, op. cit.  Once again, there were hundreds of arrests.  I cannot find any evidence of broken doors, windows or heads.  No police or protesters were injured or killed.

     January, 2021: the protesters reject the outcome of a Presidential election the previous November.  Over sixty court challenges have been filed and failed; many states have had recounts and audits confirming the results, including the Democrat win in Republican-led Georgia, a state where surely even the least hint of cheating would have been smoked out and run down. State electors have met and voted, and their results have been certified and sent to Congress for their count.  At this point, the Congressional action is a formality: other than rejecting a state's slate of electors, there is no Constitutional mechanism to change or recount the votes at that point in the process.  The protesters overrun police, remove barricades, break windows and force their way in.  Once inside, they break locked doors and some go in search of specific elected officials, shouting their intentions.  Many are armed with improvised weapons.  A "protest" or "riot" has become insurrection. A few arrests (a bit over fifty) are made but police are unable to control the crowd; several police officers are injured and one dies of his injuries.  Four protesters or insurrectionists are killed as well, only one by police.  The protest was illegal when the participants gathered at the Capitol building and became insurrection when they broke in and fought police.

     All three began as illegal protests.  All three had some scuffling, all three included illegal entry to Federal buildings.  All three resulted in multiple arrests for illegal behavior.  Only one group overran and fought with Capitol Police.  Only one group broke windows and doors.  Only one group killed.  Only one group gave indication of seeking elected officials with the stated intent of doing them harm.

     So, Mr. Correspondent, you tell me: which group did the most harm?  Which group had even a tiny chance of getting their desired end result without overthrowing our Federal government?  Which group killed and injured police officers?

     You tell me.
* Few protests these days include signs on poles or sticks; the sticks too often become handy clubs.  Many of the insurrectionists who broke into the Capitol building last week had sticks but no signs.  Perhaps there were signs on them at the beginning of the day.  
† The Hart Senate Office Building has clearly got lousy security, or at least it did in 2018.  If they haven't done something about that by now, they should.


The Old Man said...

Your view is your choice. Make an informed choice. Let others make their own choice sans pressure of any sort.
Deal with whatever results may come from your choices. Be adult.

Chris said...

Respectfully, to The Old Man, letting others make their own choices sans pressure of any sort is both impossible (all your decisions in society exert some influence on others) and undesirable (their decisions affect you too).

Very much agree with your views Roberta and appreciate your posts, it's a real pleasure to find a sensible voice outside the two citadels shrieking at each other.

Anonymous said...

Regarding signs on sticks: I remember watching video of a strike with our plant security chief, and having him point out that folks were using 2 x 2s to support a square foot of cardboard.....