If you spend any time on Twitter, you’ll probably be familiar with the latest pathetic attempt to defend and insulate the U.S. status quo from criticism. It centers around the usage of an infantile and meaningless term, “whataboutism.”
Let’s begin with one particularly absurd accusation of “whataboutism” promoted by NPR last year:
When O’Reilly countered that “Putin is a killer,” Trump responded, “There are a lot of killers. You got a lot of killers. What, you think our country is so innocent?”
This particular brand of changing the subject is called “whataboutism” — a simple rhetorical tactic heavily used by the Soviet Union and, later, Russia. And its use in Russia helps illustrate how it could be such a useful tool now, in America. As Russian political experts told NPR, it’s an attractive tactic for populists in particular, allowing them to be vague but appear straight-talking at the same time.
The idea behind whataboutism is simple: Party A accuses Party B of doing something bad. Party B responds by changing the subject and pointing out one of Party A’s faults — “Yeah? Well what about that bad thing you did?” (Hence the name.)
It’s not exactly a complicated tactic — any grade-schooler can master the “yeah-well-you-suck-too-so-there” defense. But it came to be associated with the USSR because of the Soviet Union’s heavy reliance upon whataboutism throughout the Cold War and afterward, as Russia.
This is a really embarrassing take by NPR. First, the author tries to associate a tactic that’s been around since humans first wandered into caves — deflecting attention away from yourself by pointing out the flaws in others — into some uniquely nefarious Russian propaganda tool. Second, that’s not even what Trump did in this example.
In his response to O’Reilly, Trump wasn’t using “whataboutism” to deflect away from his own sins. Rather, he offered a rare moment of self-reflection about the true role played by the U.S. government around the world. This isn’t “whataboutism,” it’s questioning the hypocrisy and abuse of power of one’s own government.
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Contributed by Michael Krieger of A Lightning War for Liberty.