Port: Tu quoque, the appeals to hypocrisy

If we continually condone awful behavior because it's supposedly no worse than what the "other side" is engaging in, where does that lead us?

North Dakota State University student Adam Novack
North Dakota State University student Adam Novack along University Drive early Election Day morning, cheering as a passing car honks in support of President Donald Trump. "I'm getting more honks than anything. It will be a Trump landslide," Novack predicted. C.S. Hagen / The Forum

MINOT, N.D. — American politics have become a race to the bottom.

It doesn't matter who you blame for it — Donald Trump or Nancy Pelosi, Rush Limbaugh or Rachel Maddow — it's not going to end well for us unless we pump the brakes.

Last week, as it became clear that Joe Biden had won the election, I wrote a column urging our liberal friends not to spike the football .

Our nation is hurting.

We are divided.


The last thing we need is a bunch of sore winners setting a tone of acrimony and resentment for the next four years.

But why shouldn't we dunk on the Trumpists? That's how my liberal readers responded, pointing to the Republicans who gloated after Trump's narrow victory in 2016 sent Democrats into paroxysms of rage.

Is that your standard of behavior now, my liberal friends? How Trump's followers behave?

I wrote another column last week suggesting that Republicans not go down with Trump's ship . That they not follow him down a rabbit hole of anger and conspiracy in the wake of his decisive, if narrow, loss at the polls.

The response I got from those readers wasn't all that different I got from the left. Why should they abandon Trump, and aspire to a less hateful form of politics? It's not like the left is going to be abandoning rhetorical bomb-throwers such as Rep. Ilhan Omar or Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Tu quoque is a Latin phrase, meaning "you also," which is used to describe these reactions from the left and the right.

In English, we call them appeals to hypocrisy.

Parents might recognize the phenomena as the "you did it too" defense children routinely make.


Both sides of our great cultural divide, from the Twitter trolls up to some of our most prominent political figures on the national stage, are justifying their increasingly belligerent and uncouth behavior by pointing to similar behavior from their opponents.

Just like my daughter believes it's OK to have a messy room because her brother, also, has a messy room.

This attitude is pervasive. Question a Republican on their behavior, and they'll point to some offense Democrats have committed in the past, and vice versa.

Ask yourselves, if we continually condone awful behavior because it's supposedly no worse than what the "other side" is engaging in, where does that lead us?

At the national level of our government it has already led us to a quagmire of hate, where intractable political divisions make governing all but impossible, a situation exploited by no small number of grifters and ideological cranks.

We have to stop doing this to ourselves.

We have to start expecting better, not just from our political leaders, but ourselves too.

"No president can unite us. We must unite ourselves," Bill Maher told his viewers recently . "Let's all stop seeing each other as deplorable," is his advice.


I say we follow it.

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Rob Port, founder of, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at .

Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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