Terry Glavin writes from Canada, but it applies here too: all those liberal leftists for whom Castro was and must remain a hero for standing up to Uncle Sam. So he was a bit of a tyrant. Well, what about the Cuban healthcare system? The education? And anyway, what about US atrocities? Who are we to criticise?
The descent into cacophony proceeds, thus: “Well, what about that time Stephen Harper offered his condolences to the king of Saudi Arabia?” “Sure, but what about Guantanamo?” “Well, what about Cuba’s great health-care system and its wonderfully high literacy rates?” “Sure Fidel may have been authoritarian but what about how he pulled Cuba out of poverty?” That sort of thing. It’s been deafening. There’s a term for it.
The feint got stale after the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1989, but immediately after the atrocities of Sept. 11, a toxic form of “whataboutism” entrenched itself as the most commonplace rhetorical style of the liberal-left, and it was to remain embedded in leftish “discourse” in all the turmoils that followed. If you wanted to situate the precise time and place this began, you could do worse than put it at Oct. 18 of that disorienting year, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, at a lecture delivered by the famous left-wing intellectual Noam Chomsky.
Over the course of an hour and 15 minutes, Chomsky’s address on the subject of the events of 9/11 (as to who was directly responsible: “It doesn’t really matter much.”) was a full-to-bursting catalogue of whataboutism. What about how beastly the United States has been to the indigenous Hawaiians? What about all the Filipinos killed by Americans? What about the conquest of the northern half of Mexico? What about the ghastly friendships the United States has cultivated over the years in Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua? What about the poor Palestinians? What about all the seedy allies the United States is taking on in its so-called War on Terror?
Who are we to talk?....
Here’s the biggest problem with whataboutism. It’s not just about the Castro cult, which is so deeply embedded in the flightier sections of what has lately been described, not particularly helpfully, as “the liberal elites.”
It cripples liberal democrats. It renders liberal democrats incapable of serious self-reflection and self-criticism. It equivocates between democracy and despotism. It has wounded liberal democracy deeply, and it has allowed, just for starters, the rise of Donald Trump in the United States, and of demagogues and dangerous right-wing populists right across Europe....
Without a fire in the belly, liberalism stands for nothing, and falls for anything.