Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, there has been a lively debate among readers of the blog about whether Russia is to blame for its actions or whether it was provoked by NATO and the U.S., and whether anyone in the U.S. has the right to criticize Putin because the U.S. has dirty hands in many conflicts (e.g. Vietnam).

Those who say Putin is not to blame for launching a war have been accused of whataboutism. I understood what it means, because I remember long ago debates where any criticism of Stalin was met with “but what about the treatment of Blacks in the South?” The response was intended to defuse the criticism.

Wikipedia has a long entry about this kind of argument.

And John Oliver devoted a show to it in 2017, while Trump was in office. As he shows, Trump was a master of whataboutism. His show serves as a useful primer on whataboutism and trolling, which was another Trump speciality.

Whataboutism is a debating technique that changes the subject and stifles debate. (“Who are you to criticize because you are just as bad, so we can’t discuss your original criticism.”)