Steven S. Drachman: What Is It About Whataboutism?

I don’t love talking politics with people on the other side of the widening political chasm, because I never learn anything.

Here’s the reason: whataboutism.

It’s a strategy once employed by the USSR when condemned by the international community. Unable to defend their most recent atrocity, they would point to some imperfection in the Western democracies, and ask: What about that?

It’s so amazingly flawed, I don’t understand why anyone would want to employ it.

But this is what I found during the Trump years: If you told a MAGA-ite that you opposed some Trump policy, he would say you were a hypocrite because you were criticizing Trump for that, rather than Hillary for her emails, or Cuomo, or Weiner, or any liberal who had ever done anything bad.

Why not defend Trump instead? Because he is indefensible, of course!

But then why did they like him?

It was a subject that did interest me. I did want to know.

Back in the Trump years, I had a friend who was a Trump supporter. He loved talking politics.

“Trump’s doing a great job,” he would say.

“Well,” I might ask. “What do you like about the job he is doing?”

“Well,” he would reply, “hypocrite much? I mean, why so critical of Trump? What about Obama? Why don’t you criticize him?”

“I do criticize Obama,” I then reply, “when I disagree with him. But we’re not talking about Obama. You said Trump was great. I asked what you like about him.”

“And I am flipping it around. How can you even ask that question, considering Bill Clinton’s terrible treatment of women? Why aren’t you talking about that? I mean, I have never seen such hypocrisy.”

Then this: “If I behaved like you,” he would say, “with such a double standard, and someone called me on it, I would self-reflect. I’d recognize it. I’d say, you know what? I’m being a hypocrite.”

“I just want to hear your perspective. You love Trump. I admit that I don’t. But I want to understand your views.”

“So you don’t like Trump?”

“No, I don’t agree with his position on climate.”

“Well, what about Hillary and all her corruption? Why don’t you say anything about that?”

“So you like Trump because Hillary is just as bad?”

“No, I am just pointing out your hypocrisy.”

“Why don’t we talk about something other than politics?” I would ask.

“Sure, because you can’t defend your hypocrisy.”

At least we’re better than that!


Yes, when I look around at my fellow progressives, or whatever we call ourselves, they’re all doing the sort of whataboutism that the Trumpies engaged in during the last administration.

 On the withdrawal from Afghanistan, we say, Well, what about what Trump did to the Kurds? And: aren’t the Republicans hypocrites because they criticize Biden for this and they didn’t criticize Trump for that?

I never understood that line or argument when Trumpies did it, and I don’t know why we would want to do it ourselves.

Yes, it was my view that Trump was not a terrific president. But now he is gone. Our guy is in charge. If he does a stupid thing, the fact that some Republican once did something similar doesn’t make it any less stupid.

Yes, Republicans criticize Dems more than they criticize fellow Republicans. Is that a huge shock? They’re the opposition party!

It’s such a boring discussion to have. Are we saying that because Trump was awful, or that because Republicans are hypocrites, no one can ever criticize a Biden policy?

Do you support the withdrawal from Afghanistan? Do you think it was done well? If so, then say that, defend it. If you think it was done badly, acknowledge that.

Hint: It was done badly.

Let’s not become what we hate.


Steven S. Drachman is the author of Watt O’Hugh and the Innocent Dead, which is available in trade paperback from your favorite local independent bookstore, from Amazon and Barnes and Noble, and on Kindle.

Image by Steven S. Drachman from a photo by Tumisu.