I know you are but what am I? It's a classic come back for kids who want to turn the table on name callers, or who just don’t have anything better to say. And for kids, it often works! When grown adults lean on similar rhetorical devices to redirect, however, it's not funny or cute. Especially when the criticism being made is grounded in truth. Nonetheless, it has become standard political practice, and we are worse off for it.
On Monday, CNN reported that women in the White House make 80 cents for every dollar that their male colleagues earn. By analyzing an annual report to Congress on White House personnel, CNN found that male employees made an average of $104,000 while women averaged at $83,000. The network also concluded that the results were primarily driven by women holding lower-ranking positions.
Sadly, the White House is on par with the country as a whole. According to the Department of Labor’s statistics on 2016, women made about 82 cents for every dollar men earned nationally. That’s a significant improvement from the past - in 1979 the BLS found that women aged 25-34 had a ratio of 68 percent, and women aged 45 to 54 were only at 57 percent compared to men - but of course progress doesn’t mean the problem is fixed.
Just the mere fact that these figures have been collected and studied for decades means that the wage gap is an issue that’s been in the realm of public discussion for a long time. This is apparently news to the president’s eldest son. On Monday, Donald Trump Jr. got defensive on twitter regarding CNN’s report about White House pay disparity, and of course, made it about Obama.
That tweet got it's fair share of pushback and led to a response from CNN employees. Jake Tapper mentioned that the statement could be disproven with a few seconds of Googling and tweeted links to stories of CNN reports on the issue during the Obama administration. CNN’s senior media reporter Brian Darcy chimed in that critics don’t seem to care when presented with the evidence, and expanded in the Reliable Sources nightly email to call it an example of our “Post-truth world”.
Tapper and Darcy are right. People are lazy and distrusting of facts that don't fit their worldview. But willful ignorance is not just a symptom of the Trump era. Pointing a finger at someone else to say “they did it too”, is a childish habit employed by most partisans. I’ve seen it in my twitter feed over the years. Rather than looking at my track record, people assume that I didn’t criticize Obama for issues I take the current president to task over. Or during the Obama administration, the defense from many Democrats when I was tough on the President was to point out how much worse it was under Bush, or what the alternative would be if a Republican was in office.
We can express our shock at the current disregard for truth, or we can just acknowledge that our political discourse has typically been an exercise in deflection. Everyone does it, but then expresses dismay when the practice is repeated by the “other side”. It’s time to collectively grow up and pull ourselves out of the cycle of convenient come backs. You’re 241 today America, start acting like it.