Let’s be clear about what “whataboutism” means

Since I was accused of “whataboutism” in the comments for my letter to the editor, it is useful to examine what “whataboutism” actually is. My letter was not whataboutism.

Whataboutism is an attempt to justify an action by someone you support by pointing to a political opponent who did the same thing. The point is to sidetrack the discussion by charging hypocrisy instead of addressing the argument. I was not defending Donald Trump’s national emergency. I was opposed to it and argued in favor of Congress voting to nullify it. Therefore, I could not have been engaged in whataboutism.

What I was doing is anticipating an argument that conservatives were likely to use against my letter: In terms of the policy itself, it does not matter that the Democrats did not stand up to executive overreach by Barack Obama. What Trump did is either right or wrong on its own merits, and if it is wrong then it should be stopped. We have to start limiting executive overreach somewhere.

And yes, even though I agree with the Democrats on this particular policy, it does matter that they are driven by partisanship instead of principle. We need political leaders who we can trust to act on principle and not only on political expediency. No one should be fooled: The Democrats will not oppose executive overreach by the next Democratic president. Unfortunately, it appears that many of the Republicans who railed against executive overreach from 2009 to 2016 were also motivated by partisanship over principle.

Both parties need to do better.