Moral hypocrisy – basically making an exception of oneself when it comes to behavior that is wrong – is deeply embedded in political conservative ideology, in my opinion. In a written piece entitled “Why we are all moral hypocrites – and what we can do about it”, researcher Jared Piazza, who looked into morality, highlights the following: “In one study, we had people consider which traits they rate highest in people who occupied different roles in their life – from staff at the grocery counter to teachers, judges and parents. Moral traits, such as being honest, fair and trustworthy, were valued more than other traits, such as being sociable or intelligent, across these roles. We have also found that people with a moral failing are typically seen in a more negative light than people lacking other traits.” In this blog, I wish to think about politics in light of moral hypocrisy, inconsistency, bias, and a crass kind of moral reasoning that, not surprisingly, can be called quid pro quo.
Definitionally, morality is doing right even if (or especially when) it comes at some cost to the individual. Finding a wallet with a $20 in it and returning it to the hostess stand is an example of moral behavior. Not having sex with everyone you want to if you are committed to another also counts. Whether to cheat on a test or not is certainly a moral test (for some, the only impediment to cheating on a test is simply whether they are going to be caught and punished). There are many moral theories (ways in which one can construct a set of beliefs and principles about how to behave rightly)(LINK), and from a developmental psychology perspective, there are stepwise levels to be achieved (or not!) in morality (LINK).
I believe Dr. Piazza is writing in the realm of garden-variety mental patterns, not the bloodsport that is our current politics (in America, at least). He writes: “The wisdom emerging from research is that we all want to see ourselves as ethical people, yet at times we succumb to temptation and behave unethically. These moral failures challenge our perception of ourselves, and so we engage various mental maneuvers to neutralize this threat. This could be either before or after we act, and we’re often unaware of it.”
The GOP, frankly, has a long history of acting without character. It claims that deficits are bad – but only when a Democrat is in power.
It brings a president up on charges for lying under oath about an affair, but will not convict a president who offers a bribe to a foreign government to get help in an election, and then covers it up, and then obstructs investigation, and will not appear to testify under oath.
Values such as privacy and the rule of law are given lip service, but laws such as the USA Patriot Act are rammed through Congress by a group of moustache-twirling villains such as Dick Cheney, James Sensenbrenner, and Tom DeLay.
Many times have these supposedly Christian men preach values such as chastity, obeisance, and goodness in public but behave very badly in private (the affairs, the homosexual encounters, the violation of campaign finance law, etc.).
I could go on and on and on. Katherine Q. Seelye reported this, which is classic Republican hypocrisy: “William J. Bennett, author of The Book of Virtues and one of the nation’s most relentless moral crusaders, is a high-rolling gambler who has lost more than $8 million at casinos in the last decade. Pressed, he said, ‘My gambling days are over.'”
All this malfeseance would be funny if they didn’t try to cudgel Democrats over the head with morality, or if taxpayer dollars weren’t being spent on all manner of exquisite bullshittery in the era of Trump. It used to be more clandestine; now, Trump’s modus operandi is: Ya, I did it. It’s how shit is done in this God-forsaken town. Get over it. It’s not wrong. The Dems do even worse stuff – go ask them the tough questions.
Indeed, if there is one thing that the Trump impeachment trial in the Senate made clear, those 50 GOP Senators know exactly what they are doing; there isn’t anything unconscious about their willingness to run a sham trial to protect the president. Why? So he won’t berate them and sick his extremist minions on them come election time. In a word, to these Senators, their job is worth more than their character. This is true moral hypocrisy, because they would have us believe that they are good (often, Christian) people who are not doing bad things. In effect, they would seek to manipulate the minds of the folks who are still supporters of Donald Trump.
I say 50 Senators because Mitt Romney spilled the beans and showed what smoke and mirrors those moral reprobates he serves with are. It was an amazing speech that amounts to what many observers and I consider to be a pretty principled stand, in full view of the public, knowing full well he will face the wrath of the Fuhrer (my term for Trump now that he is going to be even more vindictive, craven, and unmoored than his first three-and-a-half years in office. I know that it is character and morality that Romney evinced because he said he asked God for guidance – which either means he is lying and engaging in a gross type of moral hypocrisy – or he is telling the truth. Clearly, lying real quick on the Senate floor, and voting to disallow witnesses and documents, and then voting to acquit the president of his treachery, would be the much easier path.
Indeed, one can almost be sure that when one observes a person choosing the more difficult of two moral alternatives – e.g., to lie or to tell the truth in public – that it is the morally correct path. The easier one is the lying and the moral hypocrisy – which is why it is alluring. Human beings like to choose the easiest path, mentally and emotionally, all things being equal. Moral dilemmas, by definition, mean that all things are not equal, and that it is difficult to decide rightly and wisely.
Researcher Oyvind Kvalnes indicates that moral dilemmas are “situations in which the decision-maker must consider two or more moral values or duties but can only honor one of them; thus, the individual will violate at least one important moral concern, regardless of the decision.” He points out that these mental and emotional challenges fall into four main categories: “truth versus loyalty, individual versus community, short term versus long term, and justice versus virtue.” The Romney moral dilemma clearly fits into at least one of these categories: truth vs. loyalty. In full view of his colleagues and the world he told the truth, and Trump hates disloyalty (as does the GOP in general). Thus, the recriminations and retribution began the very next day in a speech that can aptly be compared to those given by Roman emperors, Mafia dons, Nixon, McCarthy, and J. Edgar Hoover.
I have never seen a person so emotionally vulnerable, compensatory, and vindictive as Donald Trump. He has been known for hitting below the belt, cheating, and destroying his economic and political enemies his entire adult life. That is what happens when you are raised extremely deficiently and made a millionaire at age 8, as he was. He was not shown the love and the boundaries that facilitated the development of good ego strength, proper internalized morality, and respect for other human beings. This is the individual that 45% of Americans thought would destroy the system they hated so, and put those they were afraid of or angry at back in their place. You can see how that is turning out so far.
Because Donald Trump and many others like him have deficient moral development, and don’t reason well about ethics, yet seek power and prestige, they must cut ethical corners. Though many of us encounter moral dilemmas in which two difficult alternatives are faced, for most of these high-achieving political types (probably 10%+ of whom are sociopaths) there isn’t much of a dilemma; they simply choose the alternative that will be the most expedient and the most personally rewarding. Basically, the opposite of morality: moral hypocrisy.
A moral hypocrite is one, such as Susan Collins (R-ME) who will show outward signs of being concerned about the president’s behavior, about America’s safety and prestige, and what is right and what is lawful. She will, like an actor, portray ambivalence or mental consideration of various issues and variables. She pretends she has the character and intellect to deliberate like a James Madison or a Margaret Chase Smith (ironically, the first woman Senator from Maine, and Collins’ predecessor). Smith was famous for standing up to the Republican juggernaut Joseph McCarthy in what amounts to a very inspirational story (LINK) (well, for me at least; apparently not for Susan Collins).
In a quote that went down in history 50 years before Romney found his courage, Smith said: “The nation sorely needs a Republican victory. But I don’t want to see the Republican Party ride to political victory on the Four Horsemen of Calumny – Fear, Ignorance, Bigotry and Smear. I doubt if the Republican Party could – simply because I don’t believe the American people will uphold any political party that puts political exploitation above national interest.”
So we are talking about moral hypocrisy when one claims to be an upstanding Christian and, say, is merely a sycophant to a moral monster such as Donald Trump, a mere con man and P.R. artist who exploited societal divisions to wedge his way to the highest office in the land. This is the case when one allows all manner of moral turpitude and wanton behavior from Trump and does so because they view their own position of power as a more valuable good. There is a word for this: selfishness. The word sell-out could also be applied. It falls into the category, ethically, of a quid pro quo.
A moral quid pro quo in the realm of politics can be easily exemplified by most or all of the 50 Senators who voted not to have a fair trial and who voted to not hold Trump accountable under their oath sworn before the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and the American people. These 51 swore to do impartial justice, and only one did. McConnell (R-KY) even noted aloud that he was in cahoots with the White House, and Joni Ernst (R-IA) spilled the beans about this whole debacle being about smearing Joe Biden so that Trump could remain in power.
So it goes like this, I surmise:
“I greatly value my position as United States Senator. It doesn’t pay all that well, but the perks are AMAZING! I am in fact addicted to having that amount of prestige, that kind of power, and those financial opportunities during and after my term.
“Donald Trump is a fucking bull in a China shop, but he’s the only game in town. He is holding two aces. Folks like Lindsay Graham (R-SC), Jeb Bush (former R-FL) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) said it like it is – that Trump is a con man, a mad man, an unscrupulous son of a bitch who is trying to ruin the Party of Lincoln. But, we live in a brave new world, and Trump is the Emperor with no clothes. But he is indeed the Emperor.
“Having Rudy Giuliani engage in “cowboy diplomacy” and run a “shadow State Department” while he is really just digging up dirt on the Bidens – who really didn’t break any law – is shady as hell. Un-American.
“Trump’s behavior amounts to bribery, extortion, and is obnoxiously un-presidential. If Obama did anything similar, we would have brought him up on charges so fast the Constitution would catch on fire. But this is not Obama, this is Trump.
“Clearly, Trump holds the power. He has decimated the Republican Party of my father and grandfather. It is now the place where extremists hold sway; it’s the Tea Party on steroids. If I do what is right, and hold a fair trial, and therefore, consider his behavior of withholding $391,000,000 to an ally fighting a hot war with our adversary, Russia, to be abhorrent, the shit is going to run downhill.
“That will mean I will face a primary opponent who is probably a moral hypocrite – perhaps a white nationalist, an abortion zealot, or an irresponsibly “small government” crusader. Maybe a xenophobe or a billionaire or a 2nd Amendment extremist. Basically, someone worse than me. And someone who will take my power and send me packing.
“My only decision here is one of the moral hypocrite: to claim that what the POTUS did was perfectly acceptable, or wrong but not impeachable, or based on some kind of minutiae that my base will buy. These folks are sticking by Trump even though he said he grabs women by the pussy. Who said that the Constitution basically lets him do whatever he wants. Who indicated he could shoot someone on 5th avenue and not lose support.
“Those are not the kind of people you want to fuck with. They listen to that moral hypocrite extraordinaire, Rush Limbaugh, and are easily mentally swayed. They are in the thrall of Trump because he hates the same people they hate. They love to see him really stick it to the folks they believe are harming them either socially (Hollywood liberal snowflake types) or economically (they can’t quite make a case that the Democrats outsourced jobs or brought about a world economy, but it is putting a lot of economic pressure on them). They also know that Trump does things like says, “Democrats are against coal! Coal is now clean! Don’t let them take your jobs!” That kind of red-meant bullshit works with the class of person who is either not very educated or puts personal welfare well above the welfare of others. Basically, un-Christian-like behavior.
“Point is, these people will hand me my walking papers if I don’t stick by Trump in an era of Twitter, of massive political polarization, and deep economic and social challenges to the fabric of society.
“It is true that Trump has done much unpatriotic stuff to tear at the fabric of our society. But we have been facing challenges that are very deep; some demagogue was going to come along at some point and try to rally the people and foment factionalism that the Founders of the Republic hated so. I bet Washington and Franklin are rolling in their graves to see the faction, the moral hypocrisy, the Machiavellian political calculations that mark my Party now.
“Hey, I gotta look out for #1. Either I’m with Trump or I’m against him. This is no time to engate in some mamby-pamby liberal considerations of right and wrong, of morality, of patriotism. I’m in it to win it, and my only hope is to swallow my pride and vote to acquit this treacherous prick of his misdeeds. Let’s hope he doesn’t do something so egregiously wrong again, and that it doesn’t become a conspiracy. The “deep state” is something we hang around the necks of the liberals, it’s not supposed to be developing like a cancer in the Trump Administration! Let’s hope he either starts to get in line, or that he can fire and torment and bully folks into letting him have his way. Soon he will be gone, and then things will be better. I can’t imagine he would try to cheat in the election again! I can’t imagine….“
EPILOGUE: “Shit! Romney came out on the floor of the Senate and unmasked me. That Mormon son of a bitch. Fuck, what am I going to do now? I have to face my constituents, having let a president who is far worse than Nixon off the hook! This is not going to be good. Be calm. Ok, maybe if I stick so close to Trump that there is no daylight between us, he will protect me and get my back after I got his. Ya, that will be my best bet. I’ll become even more extreme and really throw red meat to my base: liberals want to take your guns, liberals want to have abortions at drive-thru clinics, liberals are getting rid of your jobs, liberals are letting dangerous Mexicans in at the border, liberals are letting black people get away with a free ride. Ya, my constituents hate the idea of minorities getting a free ride. Unfortunately, Trump is running up the deficit and is going to try to get the ACA dismantled and almost started a hot war with Iran a little while back. And the Dems have a pretty good crop of candidates who actually pretty much tell the public the truth and have some decent plans for improving our flagging republic. Hold on, this is going to get worse before it gets better…”
This kind of moral flexibility and ethical disregard is about money. It’s about power. It’s prestige. It’s about political position. It’s very corrosive to a society.
“That extreme capitalism fosters moral corrosion is not a new message. Teddy Roosevelt said as much a century ago”
He also wrote: “”Cheating thrives where unfairness reigns, along with economic anxiety. It thrives where government is a weak captive of wealthy interests and lacks the will to do justice impartially. It thrives where money and success are king and winners are fawned over whatever their daily abuses of power.”
Sex and abortion are minor, minor issues when it comes to how politicians game the system and feather their own nests while being paid by taxpayers. “The character issue has become a central part of recent presidential campaigns, but it has always focused on sexual license. There are more important things” author Anna Quindlen wrote. I compltely agree. I would rather have a sexual sado-masochist or homosexual or cheater in office if they conduct themselves with professional propriety and always act with the highest levels of character on behalf of the public’s trust. Sexual propriety is just an albatross that the GOP hung around Clinton’s neck in 1999 because their base would buy it, and the right to choose an abortion as birth control is particularly used as a smokescreen to divert attention from more pressing and clearer moral choices/issues facing America in 2020.
Partisanship amongst American groups and individuals is actually fomented and fanned by politicians – usually Republicans, I have to point out – because it serves to distract from us coming together in union to demand they serve our interests, not those of the moneyed interests and the ruling class. A public that fights about race, sociocultural issues, and scarce economic resources is one that is too harried and worried to hold politicians accountable. Those on the far Right would rather Trump be in office – a disgrace though he may be – if he runs up the scoreboard on issues they are obsessed with and/or misguided about (e.g., gun rights, abortion rights, immigration, Medicare for all, etc.). It’s a “deal with the devil”, to use a Christian analogy. It is morally repugnant.
Much of the obvious and hypocritical things the Christian Right has done in this country’s long history have led predictably to counter-reactions on the Left (both good and not so good, which the Right then decries as intolerance and hypocrisy). Trump then points to liberals and smears them for political points (say, NFL players taking a knee to protest social injustice, or liberals wanting to insure all Americans against sickness and debt, or the massive student debt issue we will soon face a reckoning about). This is pernicious and immoral, even if it riles up his base. Let’s just all calm down, show each other respect, and abstain from trying to use the ballot box or the power of the state to enforce our chosen beliefs and we will have a more civilized country. We may have been founded on Judeo-Christian values, but we were also built by very careful men with great effort to be a pluralistic society where differing individuals and groups have to find a way to get along without resorting to faction and civil war. We used to be much less divided into two political parties, but in the age of the Internet and with companies such as Facebook and Twitter valuing the almighty dollar above all else, values such as toleration, courtesy, and freedom are under grave threat. Bullying, lying, and cheating are being shown from the president on down to be functional and acceptable values. Let’s organize and work to show Trumpism to be the extreme and corrosive social force that it is, much like we must make a stand about white supremacy, domestic terrorism, and intolerance. We can usher in a new era of mutual respect, truth, and propriety. Ω
If you haven’t started to cry, or smashed your computer monitor with a hammer, here are a few quotes about morality, thoughts on moral hypocrisy, truth, honor, character, politics, and social criticism:
It must, I think, be admitted that the evils of the world are due to moral defects quite as much as to lack of intelligence. But the human race has not hitherto discovered any method of eradicating moral defects; preaching and exhortation only add hypocrisy to the previous list of vices.
The first virtue of all really great people is that they are sincere. They eradicate hypocrisy from their hearts. They bravely unveil their weaknesses, their doubts, their defects.
Hypocrisy in politics is nothing new. But public acceptance of it is. In our hyperpartisan atmosphere, we’re increasingly willing to grant ‘our side’ a pass, lest we give aid and comfort to the enemy. … Believing ‘it’s only bad when the other guys do it’ is one of the canaries-in-the-coal-mine signs that authors Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt identify in their new book, How Democracies Die. ‘If one thing is clear from studying breakdowns throughout history,’ they write, ‘it’s that extreme polarization can kill democracies.
When a man has an idea of what he must be and how he must act, and undermines this by not ceasing to act in the opposite way, he must realize that his principles, his beliefs, his ideals, will inevitably fall prey to hypocrisy and dishonesty.
If I have been critical, it is not because I relish criticizing the behavior of the president of the United States. It is because I believe that it is my obligation to do so, as a matter of duty and conscience.
Jesus has now many lovers of the heavenly kingdom but few bearers of His cross.
I became a born-again Christian in 1981. I still believe in God, but not the pastors and blind followers who I found to be greedy, self-centered, judgmental, hypocrites who “talk the talk,” but do not “walk the walk.”
Trump’s flagrant lying, unprecedented in the history of the American presidency, is not a personal idiosyncrasy but his way, like Hitler’s, of numbing the public to his usurpation of power that belongs to Congress and the courts. It was Joseph Goebbels who famously wrote that the bigger the lie, the more effective it is. As noted by Timothy Egan of The New York Times, it is also what characterizes Kim’s North Korean regime, ‘where the masses are forced to believe [their leaders’] lies, something Trump clearly envies. “He speaks and his people sit up in attention,” Trump said of Kim Jong-un; “I want my people to do the same.”
Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.
Most issues these days don’t fall as neatly on the scale of right and wrong. There is also the unfortunate tendency of the two major parties to be rank hypocrites about various issues depending on whether they are in power or not. Republicans tend to be very concerned about the budget deficit when they are out of power, not so much when they are in power. Conversely, Democrats are more suspicions of the military when they are out of power than when they are in power.
The world’s leaders are full of pious hypocrisy, and they need to be exposed and replaced. But many of the people I know are beginning to ask a different set of questions. Not which power tools do we use to destroy a system, but which surgical instruments will help us create better alternatives.
I am a Christian, and it seems to me that the right wing of the Republican Party preaches virtue on the one hand and intolerance on the other, while welcoming the money changers into the temple of government.
Conservative politicians talk about “upholding values,” but they make no effort to uphold values by rooting out corruption in the business world or protecting the environment or lending material support to working families.
Yes, we have in this country, dominated by corporate wealth and military power and two antiquated political parties, what a fearful conservative characterized as “a permanent adversarial culture” challenging the present, demanding a new future. It is a race in which we can all choose to participate, or to just watch. But we should know that our choice will help determine the outcome. ~ Howard Zinn