When Donald Trump offered his lukewarm condemnation of the violence that took place in Charlottesville earlier this month, he was heavily criticized for blaming both sides — “many sides” — for the hate-filled chants of white nationalist groups that had gathered there, which eventually led to violence and the cold-blooded murder of a young woman. Two days later, he somewhat walked it back, specifically citing the “KKK, Neo-Nazis, White Supremacists, and other hate groups,” though stopping short of mentioning white nationalists by name. One day later, he returned to his original statement — clearly how he really feels — and said once again that both sides were to blame. He then went on to state that there were “fine people” on both sides.
As one commentator observed, if you accept Trump’s statement, you accept the notion that “fine people” would choose to associate themselves with hate groups or, conversely, that “fine people” would associate themselves with thugs on the other side — all for some larger, more noble purpose, presumably. I’m sorry, Don. “Fine people” don’t associate with either. People who associate themselves with hate groups or violent thugs are, by definition, not “fine people.”
But this pattern of false equivalencies is something we’ve come to expect from Trump, and something his supporters embrace.
How many times have we heard Trump apologists respond to questions about his ties with Russia by citing Bill Clinton‘s $500,000 speech in Moscow?
How many times did we hear Trump apologists ask why the media wasn’t investigating Hillary’s emails instead of worrying about Trump’s self-confessed sexual assaults?
And of course, when all else fails, Trump apologists can respond to any accusation with one simple name: Benghazi.
Perhaps I’m wrong, but it’s my belief that a universal childhood experience is one where, having done something wrong, a child responds with “But Billy did it, too!” as a defense. I have yet to meet a parent who accepts that kind of response as a reason to let their kid off the hook.
This is basically the defense offered by Trump on behalf of his ardent supporters, the ones who, as David Duke himself pointed out, got him elected. On the day that Heather Heyer was murdered by a white nationalist who mowed her down with his car, Duke tweeted that Trump should “take a good look in the mirror & remember it was White Americans who put you in the presidency, not radical leftists.”
Fully understanding that, Trump offered the lame “sorry, not sorry” by blaming “both sides,” a tactic we saw employed all too often during the 2016 election, even by respected newspapers.
We need to resist these false equivalencies. A few violent actors on one side is not the same as an entire group whose sole mission is to preach and promote hate. And just like the kid whose defense of “Billy did it, too!” won’t get him off the hook, pointing to something that Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton or Bill Clinton or anyone else may or may not have done doesn’t get Trump off the hook.
“Everybody’s doing it” is not only untrue when it comes to many of these issues, but it’s irrelevant. I promise you that when and if Trump’s ties to Russia land in a court of law, Bill Clinton’s $500,000 speech in Moscow will be inadmissible as evidence, because it’s not relevant. Events can and do stand on their own, and in a civilized society, one’s accountability is not measured in a relative way.
Most people come to understand that by the age of 10.