What people say and what others hear are often two entirely different things. There is a lot of this happening right now.
Many Republicans and conservatives have condemned Donald Trump’s comments in recently revealed 2005 audio in which the Republican presidential nominee said he engaged in behavior that most would define as sexual assault.
But many other conservatives have instead reflexively pointed to Bill Clinton and his history of adultery and alleged rape, believing that doing so doesn’t mean they’re excusing what Trump did.
But that’s exactly what people hear.
Recall the following.
When America learned that Hillary Clinton had shared classified information on a private server as secretary of state, how did her defenders respond? It’s not a big deal. Everybody does it. Republicans do it too!
And they were correct.
When we learned about foreign entities donating to the Clinton Foundation while also actively lobbying the U.S. government during Clinton’s tenure in the Obama administration, we heard the same thing—everybody does it, especially Republicans.
Conservatives thought Hillary’s defenders were just making excuses for unethical and perhaps illegal activity that undermined U.S. security and sovereignty.
Her supporter were, indeed, just making excuses.
The 2014 Veterans Affairs scandal that plagued the Obama administration was quickly met by defenders who said it was really Republicans’ fault and that President George W. Bush was guilty of the same thing.
This isn’t enough space here to go through all of the Democrats’ recent scandals, but hopefully you can detect a pattern.
In this tense moment, when conservatives move right past the awful things Trump said on those tapes straight to “Well Bill Clinton did it too! He was even worse!” most people think you’re making excuses for the Republican nominee’s comments and behavior.
For the party of family values and moral scruples, which has spent over two decades saying President Bill Clinton shamed his office with his behavior, to now be so dismissive of their own nominee saying he grabs married women “by the pussy” and can get away with it because he’s famous, signals to Americans hypocrisy of epic proportions. They see a GOP and conservative movement that have become far more tolerant of sexual assault in the last 48 hours, so long as a Republican is doing it.
When Bill Clinton’s dalliances with Monica Lewinsky and multiple rape accusations become the new benchmark for what’s acceptable in our leaders, Republicans have defined deviancy down more than ever.
When your mother, sister or daughter hears what Trump said on that tape, they don’t need to hear “Bill Clinton did it too.” They need to hear that it’s wrong. They need to hear that from you. They need to know that you don’t think it’s okay, explicitly and repeatedly. More condemnation, less rationalizing.
Because even if you think you have been clear about this, it’s simply not what most people are hearing right now. To the average observer — including the millions who will vote in three weeks — every knee-jerk defense of Trump’s indefensible comments screams that you really don’t care about what he said.
You sound like you’re making excuses for Donald Trump. Because, effectively, you are.