Dan Zak writes in the Washington Post:

“What about antifa? What about free speech? What about the guy who shot Steve Scalise? What about the mosque in Minnesota that got bombed? What about North Korea? What about murders in Chicago? What about Ivanka at the G-20? What about Vince Foster? If white pride is bad, then what about gay pride? What about the stock market? What about those 33,000 deleted emails? What about Hitler? What about the Crusades? What about the asteroid that may one day kill us all? What about Benghazi?

What about what about what about.

We’ve gotten very good at what-abouting.

The president has led the way.

His campaign may or may not have conspired with Moscow, but President Trump has routinely employed a durable old Soviet propaganda tactic. Tuesday’s bonkers news conference in New York was Trump’s latest act of “whataboutism,” the practice of short-circuiting an argument by asserting moral equivalency between two things that aren’t necessarily comparable. In this case, the president wondered whether the removal of a statue of Confederate leader Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville — where white supremacists clashed this weekend with counterprotesters — would lead to the teardown of others.

Donald Trump’s news conference on Tuesday offered a crash course in whataboutism. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

Robert E. Lee? What about George Washington?

“George Washington was a slave owner,” Trump said to journalists in the lobby of his corporate headquarters. “Are we going to take down statues to George Washington? How about Thomas Jefferson?”

Using the literal “what about” construction, Trump then went on to blame “both sides” for the violence in Charlottesville.

“What about the ‘alt-left’ that came charging at the, as you say, the ‘alt-right’?” the president said. “Do they have any semblance of guilt?”

For a nanosecond, especially to an uncritical listener, this stab at logic might seem interesting, even thought-provoking, and that’s why it’s a useful political tool. Whataboutism appears to broaden context, to offer a counterpoint, when really it’s diverting blame, muddying the waters and confusing the hell out of rational listeners.

“Not only does it help to deflect your original argument but it also throws you off balance,” says Alexey Kovalev, an independent Russian journalist, on the phone from Moscow. “You’re expecting to be in a civilized argument that doesn’t use cheap tricks like that. You are playing chess and your opponent — while making a lousy move — he just punches you on the nose.”

Vladi­mir Putin has made a national sport of what-abouting. In 2014, when a journalist challenged him on his annexation of Crimea, Putin brought up the U.S. annexation of Texas. The American invasion of Iraq is constantly what-abouted on state television, to excuse all kinds of Russian behavior.

In Edward Snowden, “Russia has found the ultimate whataboutism mascot,” the Atlantic’s Olga Khazan wrote in 2013. “By granting him asylum, Russia casts itself, even if momentarily, as a defender of human rights, and the U.S. as the oppressor.”

The term was first coined as “whataboutery” and “the whatabouts,” in stories about the Irish Republican Army in the 1970s, according to linguist Ben Zimmer. But the practice goes back to the chilly depths of the Cold War.

“An old joke 50 years ago was that if you went to a Stalinist and criticized the Soviet slave-labor camps, the Stalinist would say, ‘Well what about the lynchings in the American South?’” philosopher Noam Chomsky once said.”


Read the entire article at the link.

Trump is an expert on this; most of us “bite” at least some of the time. He’s also a master practitioner of the “big lie” — a technique used by Lenin, Stalin, and Hitler, among others.




  1. Yes. The “Big Lie” a/k/a “Who remembers the Armenians in a Hitler conversational context. Whatabout is Trump’s “shiny object” his 140 character Twitter limit precluding rational discourse.

    It’s all Kakistocracy. Government by the least qualified and unscrupulous. Part is to convince enough people to believe all Democracy requires is every 4 years vote either for the incumbent or another rich suit, equality distasteful to the other half of the electorate. Vote your tribe.

    It breeds corruption and conspiracy. What’s most scary is that so many of our baby boomer friends think that’s just what this country needs now to smite diversity inconsistent with their mythical 1950’s memories.

    Google: Bannon Northern Christian White Russia, and learn all you need to know about a political fantasy to preserve White Supremacy through a strategic alliance with the other mostly Northern European ancestry big country with nukes. And few immigrants. All before the 2022 congressional election reapportioned per the 2020 Census.
    According to a recent poll Poll: Half of Republicans would back postponing 2020 election if Trump proposed it | TheHill see

    And don’t think Bannon outside the tent pissing in is a triumph for democracy, except in its most limited sense that a White Supremacist like Steve Bannon should never have been is the USA payroll. Good riddance.

    But Trump was Trump before Bannon. The fact that Bannon lost to the family (Ivanka and Jared) should not be overrated. Happens all the time. And solves the inherent contradiction for both Trump and Bannon that Ivanka and Jared are Jewish.

    Being in Charlottesville for the past 10 days was most interesting, hearing the neo-Nazis resentment over Ivanka converting to Judaism. You could almost see Charlottesville as a failed pathetic putsch like when Hitler and Luddendorff did the 1923 Beer Hall Putsch. Or merely History repeating itself first as a tragedy then as a farce.

  2. I agree, Gus, that the departure of Bannon won’t change anything. Trump’s problem with Bannon wasn’t his White Nationalist racist agenda, which is what Trump ran on and continues to promote. It’s that Bannon 1) was taking too much credit for things, and 2) he was even more of a leaker than Trump himself. If Sessions wants to keep his job very long, he won’t pursue the leak investigation too vigorously — probably just bust a few civil servants for whistleblowing — because it would eventually lead to the “Leaker In Chief.”

  3. The underlying theory for bringing the pathological pisser into the tent is that it’s better with him pissing out the from tent.

    But if both Trump and Bannon want to piss inside American Democracy, consistent with Putin’s wishes, it makes perfect sense for Bannon to get “his hands on his guns” ASAP. At Making more than an SL salary. Follow the money.

    Trump won’t worry too much until Congress or Mueller investigate how Cambridge Analytics fed Facebook data to Russian hackers who flooded pre-election internet individualized news feeds (chain emails, bogus internet news sites, etc) for anti-Hillary fake news.

    But Hillary is very old news. Voting for Hillary gave me a month long headache until I was able to vote early in Charlottesville so I could rationalize that I had already voted against Trump every time possible in 2016, Virginia GOP primary and November 2016 election. Hillary’s paint by the numbers campaign will be the inept campaigning textbook chapters in American History books. Don’t get me started.
    PS. I’m recovering nicely from minor health issue, which of course meant thinking more about our good friend Juan passing. Very humbling and grateful for the friends we still have.

    1. Glad you are recovering well. Yes, I’m grateful for my friends and family and that I’m still here to enjoy them. Each day is a gift. Surely something to think about when guys like Sessions push to make more folks who aren’t criminals do more time in immigration detention. Read the other day about a now-released toddler who had spent more than half his life in immigration prison. For what?

      1. Thanks. Turns out that both Susan (in Iowa) and Julia, Ryan and Margot (Oregon) are out of town for the week and needed dog and 3 cats taken care of. Just the type of activity a lazy old Cuban needs to feel active. I did get to spend the week Charlottesville became the CNN flavor of the week here.

        The murder of Heather Hayer took place right in front of my son-in-law Ryan’s office. My other daughter Carmen lives 1 and 1/2 blocks from where it all happened by the CVille walking mall. And recovering from a 2 day precautionary stay at Arlington Hospital, missing Cecelia’s party, etc. I spent all my free time watching everyone talk about Charlottesville.

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