Saturday, March 18, 2017

NPR: Donald Trump Embraces One Of Russia's Favorite Propaganda Tactics — Whataboutism

Mod: This is a pretty good article about a tactic that often gets used here by certain ideologically committed commenters. Our very own Trump Guy comes to mind. 

Donald Trump Embraces One Of Russia's Favorite Propaganda Tactics — Whataboutism (NPR link): President Trump has developed a consistent tactic when he's criticized: say that someone else is worse. This week, when the Congressional Budget Office estimated that Republicans' health care plan would leave 24 million additional people uninsured in 2026, Trump's first move wasn't a direct response. Instead, he took to Twitter to blast the Affordable Care Act (commonly referred to as Obamacare), criticizing how much was spent on promoting it and asking people to tweet their own criticisms.


Prior to that, when the floodlights were on communications between then-Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions and the Russian ambassador, Trump's tweets were all about Democrats' contact with the Russians:


Famously, he even did a reverse version of this — defending not the U.S., but Russia — when he told Fox News' Bill O'Reilly about his "respect" for Russian President Vladimir Putin, as former Hillary Clinton State Department and campaign adviser Jake Sullivan noted in Foreign Policy in February.

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.

A schoolyard taunt, brought to a global level

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.

Whataboutism — particularly directed toward the U.S. — was so pervasive in the USSR that it became a joke among Soviets, often in a subversive genre called "Armenian Radio" jokes, explains one Russia analyst.

"Armenian Radio would be asked, 'How much does a Soviet engineer get paid?' and they'd be like, 'I don't know, but you [in America] lynch Negroes,'" said Vadim Nikitin, a Russia analyst and freelance writer. Eventually, that punchline came to be synonymous with the whole phenomenon of whataboutism, Nikitin said.

But whataboutism extends beyond rhetoric, said Dmitry Dubrovsky, a professor at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs.

"It's not only a narrative practice; it's real policy," he said. "For example, the Russians installed a special institute to cover the violation of human rights in the United States."

Dubrovsky is referring to a branch of the organization called the Institute for Democracy and Cooperation, which is widely considered pro-Kremlin. In fact, IDC shuttered its New York office in 2015 because it said it had achieved its goals, Buzzfeed reported: "The human-rights situation has improved in the United States," IDC Director Andranik Migranyan told Gazeta.ru.

One big reason whataboutism is so attractive: it's a simple way to shrug off criticism or even responsibility for any wrongdoings.

"You're saying that in the negotiations we have, that no one is perfect, and no one can claim to be, and as such, what this does is let you off the hook," Nikitin said.

So when Trump denigrated Obamacare amid heavy criticism of the GOP's health care plan, he seemed to be saying that whatever the GOP plan's flaws, at least it isn't the worst they could do (the worst, in his eyes, being Obamacare). Instead of giving a reasoned defense, he went for blunt offense, which is a hallmark of whataboutism.

Trump and Putin's common weapon

Whataboutism has been common in Putin's Russia. The Atlantic cited one such example in 2014, noting that when the Kremlin faced criticisms of its treatment of protesters, government officials responded, "What about the United Kingdom? Breaking the law during public gatherings there could lead to a fine of 5,800 pounds sterling there or even prison."

One reason that Trump and Putin might both find whataboutism useful, said one expert in Russian politics, is that they have common political impulses.

"[Putin and Trump] are both populist leaders. They always try to be as uncertain as possible. And for a populist that's important," Dubrovsky said. "Whataboutism is a very substantial part of populism rhetoric."

The idea, Dubrovsky posited, is that a populist leader wants to keep his masses of supporters on his side. Getting too specific on a policy or a position risks creating rifts within that base of support. Pointing to a common enemy, on the other hand, is a great way to unify a group.

In addition, there can be an implicit toughness to whataboutism, in that it openly acknowledges that nobody is perfect.

"I think what the Russian discourse is [is] that it's, in fact, very difficult to cleave perfectly to [a set of morals]," Nikitin said. "And anyone that claims to the contrary can be unmasked as, in fact, being just as flawed as anyone else is."

Whataboutism flattens moral nuances into a black-and-white worldview. But in this worldview, it's very difficult to be the good guy; idealism is the ultimate naïveté, and anyone who dares to criticize another can be "unmasked" as a hypocrite. This creates a useful moral equivalency, as Nikitin added: if nobody is perfect, there's license to do all sorts of imperfect things.

The idea, he said, is that "you've got to be practical and kind of bloody-minded and get your hands dirty. Anyone who claims otherwise is lying."

That closely mirrors what Trump told O'Reilly: "What, and we're so innocent?"

It might come off as brash truth-telling, but it's nevertheless a defense of a world leader who has been accused of killing his critics.

At least one Russian foresaw the Trump-Putin rhetorical parallels, even in the early days of the administration. In late January, Russian journalist Alexey Kovalev warned American journalists that Trump might take on some Putinesque media tactics:

"The thing is that when you think it's your mission to make him [Putin] admit a lie, or an inconsistency in his previous statements [because he tends to make U-turns in his statements on policies], when you try to point out those inconsistencies or catch him red-handed lying, there's no point because he'll evade your question, he knows that he can just drown you in meaningless factoids or false moral equivalencies or by using what is called 'whataboutism.'"

Kovalev was right on many counts: Trump has indeed proved to be inconsistent, make political "U-turns," repeatedly state falsehoods, and, of course, engage in whataboutism. And while Kovalev (and perhaps others) may have foreseen it, it's no less striking that while Putin's Russia is causing the Trump administration so much trouble, Trump nevertheless often sounds an awful lot like Putin.

sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

81 comments:

  1. That's the same thing trump troll does! Misdirect and misinform

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    1. That's how the president's team won - misdirection.
      Political magicians.

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    2. I tried to be open minded about Trump supporters but honestly, I haven't met one that deep down wasn't a racist

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    3. I doubt you have ever tried to be open minded. How do you know what people are "deep down."

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    4. I doubt you have ever tried to be open minded. How do you know what people are "deep down."

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    5. 12:13 you must be one of those that are racist on the surface

      most Trump supporters are flat out obvious that they are racists

      those that say "I"m not racist" but support Trump, are liars - they are racists

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    6. Your unsubstantiated "most Trump supporters are racist" is based on what? Your ability to read minds, your super powers of observation or perhaps it's what you have been told to "think." That type of generalizing is what racism is based on. Stop branding people as racist and liars. Everyone is now a liar and a racist because they didn't vote for Hillary? Wow, I'll have some of what 2:34 is smoking!

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    7. based on observing them - what they say - they voted for a racist - support a racist and are in fact racists.

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    8. So then it is your super powers?

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    9. I think it is the smell.

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    10. Thank you, another childish comment that gives away your thought process. There is not one, you just repeat what what you've been told. Polly want a cracker?

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    11. It's the smell. Ask your owners to clean your cage.

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    12. You are possibly the most pathetic individual I have ever read a comment from on this blog. If you can't keep up with 6:09 just sit quietly and pet your calming pony.

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    13. Thank you, Milo.

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  2. MSNBC: Good work on the news release of Donald Trumps taxes.
    Now that the country knows that President Trump is rich and pays a higher amount of taxes; the "I hate Trump" followers are grasping for anything that will continue their rants of, this election was so unfair; "we want a do over" .
    Now, where is that reset button?

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    1. It paid a bit of taxes 15 years ago before Putin exploited it. Big deal

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    2. See what I mean? Misdirect and misinform. No real discussion to be had.

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    3. "Whataboutism" that sould be the name of this blog. You accuse "Trump Guy" of it while you do it yourself. Silly people, am I the only person who read the article?

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    4. 6:40, all the more reason to suspect that it was a strategic release.

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    5. 9:49 - Your star sticker is in the mail.

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  3. TDS. Trump Derangement Syndrome. You need to seek medical attention.

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    1. What about Obama's birth certificate? Did you find that yet?

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    2. Hurry quick before your insurance goes up

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    3. What about Milo and the nazi guy who didn't file his taxes?

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    4. TDS and ODS are not covered under Trumpcare.

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  4. Hmm, whataboutism you say... You mean what about Sierra Madre? Dare you to post this.

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    1. MOD. I double dare you to delete @7:00's incomprehensible comment.

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    2. What about the incompressible comment 7:41 posted? Just because you couldn't read it yet doesn't mean it makes any sense.

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  5. All of this is about stereotyping and people who use that kind of thinking are ignorant.
    How can anyone support the ideology of living a life of destroying others.

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    1. I don't think it was ignorance. Dishonesty maybe.

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    2. It is very elite to call an idiot and idiot. It makes it seem like you think you are better.

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    3. As Trump knows, destroying other people--whether stiffing employees and contractors or taking away insurance from 24 million people (actually killing many of them and causing wide-spread suffering) to give tax breaks to the uber wealthy--can be very profitable. Evil does what evil does.

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  6. Whatabout Nzai's in the White House, and making it OK to smear People with Disabilities, Muslims, Mexicans, public schools, the arts, elderly hunger, child hunger, accussing the news of being wrong all the time?
    Whatabout spending government money on yourself and your children traveling to your golf game weekend after weekend?
    Whatabout the wiretapping Obama issue even when proven he was wrong?
    Whatabout we are the laughing stock of the world?
    Hmmm, whatabout the whatabout, the whatabout cuz he can't speak, write, negotiate?
    Whatabout it ?

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  7. Whatabout conspiracy theories.....fools and waste of American time...

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  8. 7:41am. Are you Vegan?

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  9. Whatabout that Stock Market? I have a great distain for fake news; it's horrible that my investments continuing to climb.

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    Replies
    1. It's high time for a blunt conversation about investing and market crashes
      http://www.cnbc.com/2017/03/13/the-scary-conversation-about-a-market-crash-thats-being-avoided.html

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    2. Horrible that you only credit trump for the climb. It's been climbing for almost a decade

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    3. Nothing coming from the Trump camp is very true.

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  10. House Committee Uncovers DAMNING BOMBSHELL – Russia PAID Michael Flynn To Appear With Putin
    http://addictinginfo.org/2017/03/18/house-committee-uncovers-damning-bombshell-russia-paid-michael-flynn-to-appear-with-putin/

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  11. What about Trump's promised lawsuits against the women who said he groped them?

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  12. Whatabout MSNBC, Rachael Maddow getting the highest ratings of her career on the night she released President Trumps Tax Documents, now her ratings are none existent.
    President Trump' s taxes have shown that he paid more than President Obama and that he paid more than MSNBC!
    Thanks for the whatabout President Trump is rich and pays out a lot in taxes "real" story. The Pregressive's just lost a talking point. Gatta love the truth over drama fake news.

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    1. What about Trump Guy?

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  13. Good question 8:24 am. Where did the woman go. Whatabout "their" lawsuit? How come they ain't chasing the gravy train?

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    1. I think Donald's lawyers are all tied up preparing his defense against those treason charges that are coming down. It will be the best impeachment show since Richard Nixon took his chopper flight to San Clemente.

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    2. Kellyanne Conway on surveillance: We have 'microwaves that turn into cameras'
      http://www.latimes.com/politics/washington/la-na-essential-washington-updates-more-than-just-spying-microwaves-why-1489416182-htmlstory.html

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  14. Whatabout that Islamic Extremist that just blew up airport in Paris? Whatabout if he had boarded a plane for the US, because the vetting process is being held up?

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    1. What about it?

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    2. What about your racist paranoia? Domestic Right wing extremists kill more Americans than foreigners. Toddlers with guns kill more than terrorists in the us

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  15. Food Stamp Capital of the U.S. is white and Republican
    http://alternativemediasyndicate.com/2017/01/08/food-stamp-capital-of-the-u-s-is-white-and-republican/

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  16. whatabout the fact that LA is applying for hosting the 2024 Olympics and since now Trump is rolling back auto emissions, gas mileage, etc. if LA actually was awarded the summer games the smog would be similar to the 60's and 70's when the air was as thick as it is in China now. All in the name of mo' money, mo' business.

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    1. Whatabout if LA becomes a Sanctuary City? No federal funding or the possibility of the 2024 Olympic's; no smog.

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    2. What about Pasadena?
      Pasadena Losing Federal Funds? A Red Herring on Pasadena Becoming a Sanctuary City
      http://www.pasadenanow.com/main/guest-opinion-pasadena-losing-federal-funds-a-red-herring-on-pasadena-becoming-a-sanctuary-city/#.WM1gnRiZNsM

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  17. Whatabout Trump Guy?
    Whatabout this is a great comparison and contrast of "whataboutism's", thanks Moderator! Turn about IS fair play, wouldn't YOU agree.
    Does this indicate that you "get it"?
    Hillary out in the woods, comprehension of her election strategy beginning to be whatabout?

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  18. Macy's closing 100 stores, JC Penney 138.

    Qs: Where are the President's great negotiating skills? Can't he pull himself away from Fox News and taxpayer funded multimillion dollar golf outings in Florida?

    Answer: Whatabout Hillary's emails?

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    1. Whatabout radical Islamic terrorism?

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    2. What about what about?

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    3. Almost as bad as radical Christian drone strikes, military invasion, and government coups

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  19. Local Trump trolls now attacking local media to hide their lies. Goosestepping right along with their russian backed messiah.

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  20. Check out the Facebook page: THE PEOPLE VS. DONALD TRUMP

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  21. In five weeks out of the first two months in office, #45 has spent as much money on trips to Florida (I mean we the tax payer) than in an eighteen month period for President Obama. When the flack in this discussion on the new last night wanted to say "well Obama spent lots on travel to Hawaii" the reporter was able to come back (so cut off the whataboutism) with this statistic: 5 weeks spending vs 18 months! You gatta love the news guys who do their homework.

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  22. See the video from yesterday of the Irish Ambassador reminding #45 of the plight of Irish Americans as they came to the US in large numbers after the potato famine. And then the German Chancelor, asking if he didn't want to shake hands. All he could do is hunch forward in that hideous arm chair in the oval office. No class, no matter how much money. On the Facebook page THE PEOPLE VS. DONALD TRUMP there is a photo of Melania "eating" diamonds with a fork, and the quip regarding the roll back for the Meals on Wheels program. Such hypocrisy!

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    Replies
    1. Class and money have never been synonymous. And in Mr. and Mrs. Trump's case, they are a downright oxymoron.

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  23. Trump tweets while America burns.

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    Replies
    1. That is perfect. Get together an emoji for that!

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  24. Thanks for drawing attention to this, Tattler. I was going crazy with the responses people gave while defending the president while he was running - the only answer to anything about tax returns, or business connections, or Russia was "Benghazi" or "emails." It's the Roy Cohn school training of attack, attack, attack.

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    1. It seems pretty obvious that the radical right has studied Russian propaganda techniques closely.

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    2. Roy Cohn spent his life hiding his homosexuality. That develops a certain kind of skill set.

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    3. J. Edgar Hoover and he must have been close.

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  25. 10:38am. Whatabout Ivanka's clothing line?Macy's stores closing, consumers could not buy what was removed from the racks. If the brick and mortar wont carry a product line, the internet is a click away.

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    1. Patriotic Macy's customers were boycotting cheaply made Chinese manufactured products. They had no choice but to flush the line.

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    2. So 1:23 is saying that because Macy's dumped Trump's product line due to his bigoted remarks about Mexicans and dumped Ivanka's line due to poor sales (ya know, good old fashioned capitalism/discipline of the market), Trump won't do his job and help try to save the jobs of thousands and thousands of people?

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    3. Yep. Classic whataboutism.

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    4. Her sales are up 346%, read the news people, 346%. If that's poor sales I'll take them. Acording to you, it is OK the punish Ivanka for something her father said?

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    5. All Trumps are crooksMarch 18, 2017 at 10:54 PM

      Ivanka Trump Brand Sued for Unfair Competition
      https://www.courthousenews.com/ivanka-trump-brand-sued-unfair-competition/

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    6. There you go, classic whataboutism 10:54.

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    7. Seems like a few folks here are still punishing Hillary for what her husband did decades ago. Ivanka sales spiked... let's see how her market is 6 months from now.

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    8. Spike due to discounts. It won't last.

      Does she disavow her father's lies? No, she continues to encourage and support him, so she's being "punished" (your word 9:30) for her own doings.

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  26. Wouldn't you know- Roy Cohn was Joe McCarty's attorney... and Donald Trump's attorney. Elite swamp thugs.

    Trolls get trumped again!

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  27. Pioneer in Rock and Roll, Chuck Berry RIP.
    You are the King of Rock and Roll.

    ReplyDelete