On False Equivalence
If you weren’t outraged by the racial justice marches this summer, you can’t be outraged at the Capitol invasion.
This is the current refrain from the pro-Trump, far-right social media sphere. Their argument: It’s hypocritical to be bent out of shape that people stormed the capitol building if you weren’t equally appalled that protests turned violent in cities like Portland and Seattle.
It’s a bad argument because it’s based on a false equivalence.
False equivalence, in short, is taking one like factor (or a small set of factors) and erroneously attributing the rest of the comparison to both parties.
· Adolf Hitler and Martin Luther King both made lots of speeches decades ago about race relations and spawned history-changing movements that last today. Equivalent.
· Michael Jordan and Jeff Bezos are both bald and wealthy. Equivalent.
· Fidel Castro and the Duck Dynasty guys have long beards and know how to navigate jungles better than most of us. Equivalent.
Just because you can vaguely compare one item to another based on category, that doesn’t make it a worthwhile comparison. In fact, you may be most familiar with false equivalence when thinking about apples and oranges. Both fruits. Both roundish. Both sweet. Not the same.
Which brings us back to what we saw unfold at the Capitol this week. It was horrific and tragic and anti-American and represented the worst of us. It was a microcosm of how things go too far when influential voices use their platforms for evil vs. good. Very few of us are arguing that the capitol siege was a good thing. We condemn it. We dislike it. We disavow it.
Many HAVE drawn a comparison to the protests that occurred over the summer in response to the murder of George Floyd. This is a false equivalence. Here’s why:
Their main impetus:
· Racial justice protests — Spurred by the almost-nine-minute video of the police murdering a black man by choking him out in broad daylight, people of color and allies took to the streets to demand justice for BIPOC in their dealings with the police. The Floyd murder came on the heels of other black Americans killed for such non-offenses as sleeping in their own beds, opening their own front doors, and jogging.
· Capitol siege — Spurred by a temper tantrum thrown by a 70-something-year-old man that lost an election and couldn’t take how truly unpopular he is.
Their main goal:
· Racial justice protests — Given their relatively recent full integration into white society, people of color wanted to finally achieve a sense of belonging and non-otherness in the United States. Since previous marches, legislation, and kneeling had been ignored, people stood up to make it plain that government agencies shouldn’t be allowed to kill their citizenry simply because they are darker-skinned than others.
· Capitol siege — To overturn an election and install a non-elected president in a violent coup. Perhaps to cause harm to others in government as well.
Their main mechanism:
· Racial justice protests — Peaceful marches throughout the country and the world, with millions of people of color and allies taking to the streets to express their frustration with the current unequal treatment under the law.
· Capitol siege — Threatening to overthrow the government and then attempting to do just that by storming the halls of government in a violent manner.
· Racial justice protests — After dark, some of the protests led to looting and/or confrontations with others, leading to some violence from protesters and counter-protestors. There was vandalism scattered throughout these worldwide protests, including taking down statues of Civil War icons.
· Capitol siege — In broad daylight, stormed the seat of our national government, encouraged by the sitting president, to destroy the government center of the country they purport to “love.” The violence started immediately and only ceased after a massive show of force. At least 5 people died, including a Trump-supporting police officer defending the nation’s capital.
· Racial justice protests — Hundreds of years of oppression. Coming to America in slave ships after being captured in their native homelands. Being counted as 3/5 of a person in the founding document of the country. Separate but equal. Jim Crow. Lynching. Police violence.
· Capitol siege — Sadness that their guy didn’t win. Conspiracy theories about why he didn’t win.
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These were different events, sparked by different interests, with different histories, and different justifications. And they are not equivalent. At all.
Comparing these two, and expressing outrage that someone may see the capitol attack as worse, is ridiculous. Think about this:
If both the American Dental Association’s annual meeting and the Adult Video Awards took place in the same convention center over consecutive weeks, isn’t one more likely to have spurred the rampant chlamydia outbreak in Las Vegas?
If any of you are still skeptical, you are probably listening to the far-right media claiming that this is somehow hypocritical to view one in less pleasing terms than the other. I’m going to explain it to you in simple terms, so please go on another thought journey with me.
Let’s forget for a moment that the racial justice protests were driven by an oppressed racial group fighting for their basic right to live and that the capitol siege was led by sad white people. Instead, let’s imagine a world wherein the actions of both parties were conducted by the same group.
In Turkey, we presume that there is a split among the pro- and anti-Erdogan citizenry. People are divided over the proper future for Turkey and that division runs through Turkish nationals in the United States as well. We’re looking at Turkey specifically because most of us are not experts in their internal strife. Erdogan sounds like he has authoritarian tendencies, but we don’t know much about the alternatives; this issue is more of a blank slate to most of us.
Over the summer, Turkish citizens protest in cities across the US, arguing against Erdogan’s rule. They are generally peaceful protests, though tensions run higher at night. Some of the protests lead to looting, fires, and confrontations between protesters and counter-protesters. Property is damaged. People are hurt. However, due to the nature of the protests, police presence is high and federal agents support the local cops.
The police arrest numerous troublemakers from the protests and they easily quell unrest with tear gas, rubber bullets, and other non-lethal means. To some it seems like a police overreaction, but the overall violence is kept low. For the dozens of protests and the millions of participants, it’s a miracle that more people are not hurt.
Last week, however, a sub-group of Turkish citizens ratchets up the rhetoric and conducts a long-planned protest in Washington, D.C. The leaders of the protest, including influential members of the American government, announce that Erdogan hasn’t yet gotten the message. They say things like “trial by combat” and “you won’t take back our country with weakness” and “we should march down to the Capitol right now.” So they do.
This group not only marches to the Capitol building, while Congress is in session, but they climb the walls, break down the doors, and infiltrate the inner sanctum of American government. Some have weapons, but thousands enter the buildings to destroy the democratic processes of the United States. Multiple people are killed, including police defending the United States, and the protestors replace an American flag with a Turkish flag to fly at the Capitol. They erect a noose in the hope that they can hang the American vice president, which they promise to do with a repeated chant.
In the first set of protests, we prosecute all offenders to the fullest extent of the law. We put them in jail if we’re able, or we extradite them to face punishment in Turkey for their actions.
In the second set of protests, we declare war on Turkey.
If another country’s citizens overwhelm our nation’s capital, stop the democratic machinery from working, threaten government officials, kidnap our legislators, and hang a foreign flag on our capitol building, they have declared war on America. The Turkish actions are a de facto act of war. We retaliate with swiftness and strength.
In this country, we have a lot of freedoms. If we don’t like something, we’re allowed to talk about, write about, march about it, yell about it, etc.
For example, I have every right to say that our current president is an infantile moron that throws a tantrum every time something doesn’t go his way and his tiny brain can’t comprehend that he is reviled by most of America because he only judges things based on the echo chamber of sycophants in his office and on TV, and the drooling masses of people that truly wouldn’t abandon him if he were to, in fact, shoot someone on 5th Avenue. I can say that he clearly is trying to live up to the expectation that he be as successful as his dad and that he has failed miserably despite having every advantage that one can have and that he’ll rightly be remembered as one of the worst presidents to ever sit in the Oval Office. If not THE worst.
What I can’t do, though, is organize a bunch of like-minded people to storm the White House in an attempt to kill the president or hold others captive because I believe that he’s a danger to the country. If I do that, I should be brought up on charges of seditious conspiracy, as should anyone that helped or participated.
Protests in favor of allowing people of color to live have very little to do with armed insurrection and attempted government overthrow. One is a human rights tragedy in our country that should be rectified. The other is an anti-American revolution that needs to be put out of its misery.