The Age of the Double Standard

Applying a double standard means minimizing or overlooking the lapses in logic or ethics of people we like or agree with, while magnifying those of people we dislike or disagree with. Logic condemns double standards because they constitute unsound thinking; ethics condemns them because of their unfairness. Unfortunately, double standards are so common that they have come to define modern discourse, especially in political matters.

A typical example of a double standard occurred in mid-August of 2017 in the media attack on President Trump’s reaction to the violence in Charlottesville, MD. Soon after the violence was reported, the President said this: “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence, on many sides. On many sides. It’s been going on for a long time in our country.”

The mainstream media immediately focused on the repeated phrase “on many sides,” interpreting it as “giving cover” to right-wing violence. “Incredibly Unpresidential,” one headline screamed. Journalists asked accusingly, why didn’t he condemn the KKK by name? Is it because the KKK support him? Others suggested the President’s combative verbal style is responsible for right-wing violence. Many Democratic politicians and more than a few Republicans joined in the condemnation.

A few days later the President was more pointed in his remarks:

We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence. It has no place in America. . . Racism is evil. And those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans. Those who spread violence in the name of bigotry strike at the very core of America.

The reaction of the press was almost as negative as before. They asked why it took the President a couple of days to condemn right-wing violence, whether waiting that long signaled insincerity, and whether the delay proved he is a fascist sympathizer.

The double standard was all too clear to those who remembered the media’s reaction to President Obama’s refusal to utter the words “Islamic terrorism.” His delay was not for a few days, weeks, or months, but for eight years” despite incident after incident, many of which involved the perpetrators shouting the Islamic phrase “Allahu Akbar.”

What did the media say about President Obama’s continuing and embarrassing denial of reality? Did they call it “unpresidential,” “suspicious,” “supportive of terrorism”? Did they wonder if his silence enabled terrorists? Not even close. They said absolutely nothing, even when he used the patently absurd designation “workplace violence” to describe the terrorist acts.

President Trump is a flawed human being, to be sure, but the vitriol displayed by his detractors goes far beyond what his flaws could justify. It mocks, ridicules, threatens, taunts not just the man, but also his wife, his children and everyone associated with him. It is incessant and irrational.

And such treatment of Trump stands in stark contrast to the treatment of Democratic leaders. In that contrast the double standard is underscored.

The Economist ran a cover with President Trump holding a bullhorn shaped like a Ku Klux Klan hood, and the New Yorker ran one of him in a boat with a similarly drawn sail. What is the connection of Trump and the Klan? Only that Klansman David Duke supported him—that is hardly an indication that he supports the Klan. Meanwhile, there are no stories criticizing Hillary Clinton for calling Senator Robert Byrd, once a high level Klansman, “a true American original, my friend and mentor.”

The double standard concerning supporters and opponents of racial discrimination has been evident for decades. Many media organizations seize every opportunity to report any alleged connection of Republicans with racism while ignoring documented historical examples of Democratic racism. For example, Democrats’ passing of Jim Crow laws, their support for the Missouri Compromise that protected slavery, and their campaign against anti-lynching laws. Likewise, Democratic leaders’ opposition to civil rights and voting rights laws and court decisions: the list includes Al Gore Sr., Robert Byrd, George Wallace, John F. Kennedy, and J. William Fulbright.

Perhaps the most appalling double standard in recent decades has been the interminable search by the media and Democrats for evidence of Trump/Russian collusion and the simultaneous ignoring of mounting evidence of Clinton/Russian collusion.

Although the New York Times ran an article titled “Cash Flowed to Clinton Foundation Amid Russian Uranium Deal” during the presidential campaign, most other news agencies, and the Democratic party, ignored that issue and other questionable behaviors by Clinton. Meanwhile, the investigation of Trump, his family, associates, and appointees continued for many months. And when it failed to produce any meaningful evidence, instead of being closed, it was intensified by appointing a special investigator and a costly staff. To my knowledge no major media questioned the wisdom of that action.

Double standards distort reality by elevating minor events and diminishing or ignoring major events, as well as by treating individuals and groups more positively or negatively than they deserve. One result is that the people who employ double standards eventually come to delude themselves. Another, more harmful result is that the rest of us are deprived of the facts about people and events and thus prevented from forming sound opinions about serious issues. Double standards injure us all.

Copyright © 2017 by Vincent Ryan Ruggiero. All rights reserved