Each time I hear it, I wonder: Is it really the same people, or is that phrase just a handy way to add the charge of dishonesty to your criticism?
You see it quite a lot in denunciations of Trump voters: They cared about cultural degeneracy, the reasoning goes, and now they don’t. Well, maybe, but it depends on who “they” are.
“The same people who wear shirts that read ‘f*** your feelings’ and rail against ‘political correctness,’” writes the feminist author Jessica Valenti, “seem to believe that there should be no social consequences for their vote. I keep hearing calls for empathy and healing, civility and polite discourse. As if supporting a man who would fill his administration with white nationalists and misogynists is something to simply agree to disagree on.”
You see the contradiction she’s getting at — a vote for President Trump is not consistent with a plea for civility and understanding — but are they really the same people? Many people cast their votes for Trump reluctantly and for a complicated array of reasons (that’s true of most votes for most candidates, incidentally). Somehow I suspect those who wear the “f*** your feelings” shirts and who rail against political correctness aren’t actually the same people calling for “empathy and healing, civility and polite discourse.”
It’s a favorite formulation, as maybe you won’t be surprised to learn, of Ann Coulter’s. From a recent column: “When the same people who hailed Stalin as a beloved American ally are happy to threaten Putin with thermonuclear war, we may deduce that the left’s newfound Russia-phobia has some seditious objective.” Every pundit is allotted a measure of hyperbole — “threaten Putin with thermonuclear war” stands in for “take a more aggressive attitude toward Russia” or some such — but this one doesn’t even make sense. Joseph Stalin died in 1952; hardly anybody around today hailed him as an American ally.
Sometimes you feel the equation might be valid, but it’s either unproven or unprovable. MSNBC host Joe Scarborough, for instance, remarked in a recent interview that outrage over the “Access Hollywood” recording, in which Trump boasted crassly of sexual aggression, “came from the same people who justified Bill Clinton’s behavior for eight years.”
I assume there are indeed liberal journalists and politicos who in 2016 condemned Trump as an abuser of women but who didn’t have much to say about Clinton’s shenanigans in the 1990s. But (a) there are some important differences between the Trump and Clinton cases, (b) I don’t remember many people “justifying” Clinton’s behavior in the 1990s — saying he shouldn’t be impeached, for instance, isn’t the same as arguing he did nothing wrong — and (c) is Scarborough absolutely certain they were literally the same people? I’m not. Can we have a name or two?
Of course, the “same people” formulation isn’t meant to convey literal truth. It’s meant to highlight disingenuousness or posturing, or to lay bare the contradictions in an opposing political outlook. But very often it’s false, either in letter or in spirit — an easy way to collapse masses of people into one blob of humanity that holds the same opinion on the same topic for the same reason.
Commentators generalize. We have to. It’s almost impossible to say something important without subsuming many disparate things under one concept or category. But we should try hard not to abuse the privilege by attributing opinions to crowds of unnamed people who don’t, in fact, hold those opinions.