Benefit of the doubt doesn’t benefit most of us

The “benefit of the doubt” has always puzzled me. I can’t tell if it’s real. Is it a kindness we grant one another in absence of evidence? Or is it some kind of ceremonial gesture masking an obvious and opposing truth? Is it something we do out of generosity or cowardice?

There is a clear implication, though, when you see who is the recipient of that benefit.

“Give him a chance!” was the hopeful refrain from many in response to the 2016 presidential election. This was said despite the Republican Party being the home to all the hate speech, hate crimes, and hate groups. The party that finds purpose only in restricting or eliminating the rights of gay people and trans people and Black and brown people and women was going to somehow produce a leader that would have no interest in any of those things.

As it turned out, that benefit of the doubt allowed for a president that lied on record more than anyone has ever been recorded lying in all of the time we’ve been recording lies and liars. It resulted in two impeachments; legislation restricting the rights of gay people, trans people, Black and brown people and women; and meaningful increases in hate speech, hate crimes, and hate groups. Along the way, of course, we were frequently reminded to give him a chance, told that he occasionally “became presidential” during the very few moments of anything less than abject failure, and even democrats openly hoped for him to be “successful” as though his ideas of success would in any way resemble our own.

That benefit of the doubt has been extended to his supporters as well. Law enforcement preparation and reaction to any BLM protest compared with that of the January 6th attack on the capitol will clearly show you that, but it goes further. On May 19, The House of Representatives passed a bill to set up a bipartisan commission to investigate the January 6th attack. Ten republican votes will be necessary for the bill to pass the senate, an unlikely outcome at this point. Republicans obviously shouldn’t have a say in whether or not they get investigated, but that’s systemic benefit of the doubt. Even forming a commission to investigate a crime livestreamed by its own perpetrators seems to give the benefit of the doubt far too generously.

And now, as the CDC drops its mask requirements for the vaccinated, we’re being made to give the benefit of the doubt to anyone who claims such. This means anti-maskers and even the attempts at incentivizing vaccines seem to prioritize giving them the benefit of the doubt. Anyone who has not been wearing masks until now will not be incentivized by being told that they’re no longer required. Even if they were, that incentive would do little in comparison to the most obvious of all self-interested reasons to get vaccinated: not dying of COVID-19. When giving the benefit of the doubt you admit to a likely misunderstanding on your part. You are saying that you probably got it wrong. Unfortunately, we frequently give this benefit when we completely understand and we know we are not wrong. At that point benefit of the doubt becomes internalized gaslighting. Instead of demanding that we all act in accordance with the obvious, we trade our possession of truth for the favor of those whose actions continually destroy everything around them. We knowingly put ourselves in harm’s way for the sake of…someone else’s privilege? I don’t know. Like I said, I don’t really get it. But I do know that until we reassess to whom we give the benefit of the doubt—and why—that benefit to them will continue to be a detriment to us all.

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