Whataboutism is a classic debate tactic of old Soviet apologists to deflect criticism of Soviet policy; whenever an American would levy a critique, the response would be, “What about the bad things America does?”
Whataboutism is a rhetorical tactic where a person responds to an accusation or difficult question by making a counteraccusation or bringing up a different issue altogether, rather than addressing the original point. This strategy is often used in debates and discussions to deflect criticism away from oneself by pointing out the flaws in an opponent or in a different situation.
The underlying intent is to divert attention from the initial subject and to reduce the impact of the original argument by suggesting hypocrisy or inconsistency.
Whataboutism: A Cold War trope
The term “whataboutism” gained prominence during the Cold War, particularly in the context of Soviet Union propaganda, where officials would frequently respond to Western critiques of Soviet human rights abuses by referencing issues in the West, such as racial discrimination in the United States.
This tactic is not confined to any specific political or ideological group; it is widely used across various contexts as a means of muddying the waters and avoiding direct engagement with uncomfortable questions or criticisms. Whataboutism can undermine productive discourse by preventing a focused discussion on the matter at hand.