At last. After four torturous years, a malign, brooding, and frankly ludicrous presence is finally about to be expunged from our lives. I’m not talking about Donald Trump , but rather the infuriating and idiotic form of verbal exchange his presidency has encouraged in this part of the world: whataboutisms. From the moment he swaggered into the White House, it’s been impossible to question any dark or sinister aspect of life in Asia without being met with a whataboutism. Human rights abuses: what about the separation of children from their parents on the Mexican border? The rise of militant nationalism: what about Charlottesville? Racism: what about George Floyd? Corruption: what about the Russia inquiry and Trump’s tax bill? From coffee shops to legislative chambers, from Shanghai to Hong Kong, and from Manila to Jakarta, whataboutisms have flourished menacingly, poisoning the well of political discourse and raising the bar of false equivalence to such a dizzying height that even the nimblest debater cannot hope to overcome them. It isn’t just debate they are designed to subdue and suppress, of course. Whataboutisms have provided a smokescreen for an alarming erosion of personal freedoms. Is there any country or territory in the region that is demonstrably fairer or freer than it was four years ago? US-China relations: Trump divisions could haunt Biden presidency Ridiculous as they are, whataboutisms matter because they serve a darker purpose. Like so many seriously unpleasant things (gulags, Olympic doping, novichok, Putin), they were invented in Russia in Soviet times and used by apologists overseas to divert attention from annoying criticism of the regime’s minor failings, such as grain harvest shortfalls, Chernobyl or the Great Terror. The philosophy behind them is cynical in its simplicity. Never directly answer awkward questions but instead divert attention to an outrage overseas. Taken to their absurdist logical extreme, whataboutisms make any atrocity defendable so long as something worse once happened that hasn’t been raised and roundly condemned in the past five minutes. Genocide: what about the Holocaust? Forced labour: what about the slave trade? Religious intolerance: what about the crucifixion? Trump’s insidious distinction was to provide momentum and a real-time context to whataboutisms, lending every barroom advocate of political and human rights abusers across the region free rein to divert, obfuscate and avoid confronting the precariousness of their stance. Well, it’s time now, gentlemen. The babbling buffoon who got you drunk on cheap vodka has slipped out without so much as settling the bill. So, the next time you try to defend extreme regimes and positions, forget whataboutisms: what about just answering the question and seeing if you can actually argue your case?