As many have been made aware, Canada’s Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, has come under fire for racially insensitive photos of him dressed in blackface. Originally, there was only one photo from an “Arabian Nights” themed party where he was dressed in “brownface,” but since then two other photos have come to light. Normally for a situation like this I would talk about the hypocrisy Trudeau has shown for constantly demonizing behaviours far lighter than this, but I, like many of his supporters (which is probably the only time I could be lumped in with that lot), want to talk about the other guy.
In a scene that’s all too common to politics, the immediate responses to the Trudeau incident ranged from “he apologized so it’s fine” to “it was just a Halloween costume,” but more notably, the response has been deflection over to Conservative party leader Andrew Scheer. Scheer was attacked last week for fourteen-year-old comments regarding his views on gay marriage at the time. With the blackface controversy, many in Trudeau’s camp have been deflecting the issue back to Scheer, making the argument that his feelings about gay marriage are far more damaging than a few instances of blackface the PM has already apologized for.
For some reason, we, the public, seem to eat this up and accept the arguments of “our side” as valid when the reality is far simpler. What the other guy did does not matter.
Trying to deflect criticism with criticism is a type of red herring fallacy, specifically known as a tu quoque. Red herring fallacies happen when one attempts to change the topic or focal point of a debate to something unrelated or more easily defended instead of addressing the central points and arguments. A tu quoque fallacy, literally translated to “you too,” involves highlighting the sins of the opposition to absolve or minimize the negativity surrounding the initial person in question.
The US sees this type of fallacy all the time. Back in the 2016 election, the response to nearly any critique of Trump or Clinton always started with “what about,” followed by one of the many failings the other person had. It was like a game of poker watching the exchanges. “What about Trump’s pussy-grabbing comments?” “I’ll see your pussy grabbing and raise you Bengazhi.”
The constant decline we see with the quality of politicians is, ultimately, the fault of those that defend them. Rarely do you see an independent voter jump to the defence of a politician over one of their near endless stream of gaffs. The general view, and one libertarians and the general public-at-large agree with, is that most, if not all, politicians are terrible.
Do I think Scheer’s comments about gay marriage are atrocious? Yes. Do I think it’s both hypocritical and terrible that Trudeau wore blackface so many times despite all of his rhetoric? Also yes. Judgments can and need to be made with a clear focus on the matter at hand. Most importantly, bringing up how terrible the other option is does little more than show that neither should end up in power. Libertarians have known this one for some time; hopefully everyone else will catch up.
Read more from Killian at Think Liberty here.