Former President Donald Trump’s attorneys began their defense during Friday’s portion of the impeachment trial on flimsy allegations that the House’s impeachment managers had manipulated evidence. They then produced evidence that was far more outrageously manipulated than anything the managers produced.
One of the defense team’s main arguments was a whataboutism exercise: They argued that Democrats hypocritically accuse Trump of instigating the January 6 riot by constantly using the language of “struggle”. To illustrate this point, they repeatedly played long video montages of Democrats (and Liberal celebrities) in a language that is supposedly as bad as Trump.
Here is part of one of these videos:
An example of Trump’s attorneys concerns comments made by Michigan State Representative Cynthia Johnson (D) in early December: “This is just a warning to you Trumpers … be careful, go easy.” The implication is that Johnson’s comments are as bad as Trump, who encourages a lot of his supporters to descend on the Capitol while Congress attested his loss to the electoral college. As a result, Democrats have no leg to stand on when accusing Trump of instigating riots.
However, an examination of the context of Johnson’s remarks reveals that her comments were not at all what Trump’s lawyers had made them out to be. Johnson made her “caution” comments in response to threats she received from Trump supporters following a hearing in which she pushed back lies about election fraud promoted by Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani.
Eric Kleefeld from Media Matters explained the relevant context in a December article:
Johnson spoke bluntly at the legislature hearing last week, telling regulator chairman Matt Hall that the witnesses presented by Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani should have been sworn in: “They allow people to come here and lie. And I know they are lying “
After that hearing, she was the target of nearly 100 racist and threatening phone calls. Several callers said she would be lynched, and one woman told her, “You should swing off a rope, you democrat. ”
Johnson responded with a video posted on Facebook Tuesday announcing that a woman threatening her had been tracked down by the FBI and state police: “This is just a warning to you Trumpers – be careful, go easy . We don’t play with you. Enough about the shenanigans. Enough is enough.”
Rather than threatening Trump supporters, Johnson’s comments were aimed at getting them to stop threatening them. In context, they actually reveal one of the ways Trump’s rhetoric stimulated his followers in the weeks leading up to January 6th.
The Johnson clip was perhaps the most egregious example of Trump’s attorneys taking the Democrats’ words out of context, but it was far from the only one. Another part of the video montage focused on references to “fights” that Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) had made during her presidential candidacy. But, as NBC’s Ali Vitali wrote on Twitter, Warren’s references to “struggles” revolved around the political struggle for progressive politics and did not encourage a recalcitrant mob to disrupt a Congressional process.
For comparison, I’ve covered Trump for years and heard repeatedly pushing supporters to violence. In 2016, it was more forceful to tell supporters he would pay their legal bills for slapping protesters in the face or even wanting prosecution for removing protesters from events.
– Ali Vitali (@alivitali) February 12, 2021
Trump’s team has not only taken words out of context, but also clips of Democrats talking about “struggles” that could not be remotely interpreted as incitement, such as Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY), who spoke about the fight against the coronavirus spoke.
Some of the clips of “fighting” rhetoric included in the video montage were more disturbing. Johnny Depps 2017 “When was the last time an actor murdered a president?” Comment is unjustifiable and was included in the Trump attorneys’ video – but for an actor to make an irresponsible comment isn’t really a defense of Trump or an indictment against Democrats. And Rep. Maxine Waters is encouraging people to push back Trump administration officials who may have crossed a line but interpreted themselves in the most incriminating ways. Two mistakes make no right.
Ultimately, none of the comments in the Trump attorneys’ video montage compares to Trump radicalizing his supporters by lying about the elections stolen from them, encouraging them to congregate in DC and then send them to Congress. In this way, the defense of “hypocrisy” rests on a false equivalence.
But as logically flawed as it was, the case that Trump’s attorneys brought forward at the beginning of the hearing on Friday seemed persuasive enough to at least one key undecided senator – Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) – who told reporters she had it found “Very well organized” and “much stronger” than the incoherent case Trump’s lawyers made on Tuesday. Sens. Rob Johnson (R-WI) and John Barrasso (R-WY) also said they found the Trump defense compelling.
Whataboutism may not be a strong argument for those who tend to judge them on the matter, but it is enough to provide an excuse for acquittal.