The Elevation of Hypocrisy

Bender gets Claire with the iconic fist pump as the theme song rolls at the end of The Breakfast Club. Harold Hill gets Marion in The Music Man. Han Solo gets Princess Leia. The bad boys seem to get the girls in movies, and it happens often in real life too (look at Charlie Sheen).

In politics, which to people who follow it as a profession is like trying to pundit-guess a bottle thrown into the Atlantic as to where it wash up and who will open it, the basic principle still holds. Many times, the bad boys get the votes. Viewers all hope that Harold Hill reforms and becomes a good man. Han Solo does become a good man (but still a scoundrel, because to paraphrase him, it’s all he’s good at).

Oh, and my favorite: Bluto Blutarsky drives off from the ruined Faber College homecoming parade with the abducted Mandy Pepperidge, the cheerleader who dated preppy Greg. According to the “Where are they now” DVD extra, Senator and Mrs. Blutarsky win the presidency, while everyone who’s seen the movie knows what happened to poor good guy Greg.

There’s a basic instinct in politics to elevate hypocrisy and reward it. We know that campaign promises are made to be broken. We believe that politicians plan to break them before they woo us. While we crave a genuine good guy in politics, we know we’ll end up with the scoundrel.

It just so happens when there are actual good guys in politics, many of us look at them all squinty-eyed. It’s not really cynicism. We’ve been stood up too many times that we’re just–careful. And skeptical. For example, take Ted Cruz. I happen to think he’s a genuine good guy. I’m not the only one who thinks this. But because he’s really smart, like my friend with whom I’ve played “Hearts” for 30 years who can count everyone’s cards in his head, when he wins we think he’s cheating.

When a good guy cheats, or appears to cheat, it’s a scandal. When a scoundrel cheats, it’s fun. I’ve concluded that everyone in politics needs to be a little bit of a scoundrel. I think you see where I’m going here, but it’s not quite that simple. Because even the good guys are subject to scoundrel-love.

I’m talking about the divide between true #NeverTrumpers and good guys who love the scoundrel because he’s what the voters love. People I respect as genuine good guys are coming over to Trump’s bad boy side. Newt Gingrich, Dennis Prager, and now Marco Rubio have embraced the hypocrite, at least as the less-bad of two poor choices. We’re even asking if Ted Cruz will support the nominee.

As President Obama says every time he lies, let me be clear: Those who have called Trump unfit for office, a liar, a con man, and a vulgar philanderer are hypocrites when they support him. That makes Marco Rubio a hypocrite; Ben Carson and Chris Christie are hypocrites. Should Ted Cruz support Trump, he will be a hypocrite for it.

But as much as I hate to write this, is that all wrong? Do we expect perfect ideological consistency from our political figures? Of course not. We write hagiographies of Reagan but he too practiced hypocrisy*. If I went through each candidate’s record (as they do to each other) I’d find them rife with hypocrisy. Compromise and strategy are part of politics, where nobody gets everything they want, but everyone promises exactly that to voters.

The appeal of Reagan was that he was blithe about his own admiration of FDR, about his own divorce, and about his own conversion from a liberal. As I’ve written (and fellow Resurgent writer Phillip has also written) before, Trump is no Reagan. But Trump is open about his hypocrisy. He wears it like his trademark ball caps.

Trump is hypocritical in just about every way: His non-existent conservative pedigree; his railing against money buying influence in politics while bragging about his using money to influence politics; his moniker of Make America Great Again™ while openly living a life opposite to the values he invokes; his America First foreign policy of beating other countries into deals best for America but worse for them but promising to get along with everyone and produce global security.

Nobody could deliver on these promises, and only a hypocrite (or a Democrat, but what’s the difference) would even make them. But Trump isn’t pretending to be anything else than a hypocrite who wants to do the “right thing,” and the “right thing” is whatever you–the voter–would do sitting in your living room chair like Archie Bunker talking to Meathead. Of course, your mileage may vary with a President Trump. This is the entire reason I think Trump will make a terrible president and many will be disappointed.

They expect Trump’s honesty about his hypocrisy to extend to his intentions for America. I don’t expect that at all. I expect Trump to be all about Trump, without the intellectual horsepower of a Bill Clinton or the moral compass of a George W. Bush. As I wrote many months ago, it’s Biff Tannen for President.

Back to my question: is this all wrong? Is it wrong for Rubio, or Christie, or Cruz, or anyone in politics, to become a hypocrite and support Trump? The answer is no. Politics is the elevation of hypocrisy to achieve the greater good. It scales up from personal ethics and cultural morality, but it does not scale down. If the country wants a choice between Trump or Hillary–the choice between Biff and going to Hell in a handbasket–then it’s not a politician’s job to be unfailingly consistent.

I hate the fact that many Republicans, in and out of office, are lining up behind “the nominee” because I think the line of stupid GOP choices has been crossed, run town the tunnel, and out of the stadium without looking back. But that choice was made by people not running for president. We should not fault those who practice hypocrisy for a living for being hypocrites now that the act is a fait accompli.

(Note that this grace doesn’t apply to cowards and pimps who got on the Trump Train for their own benefit, or the cheap dates who did to make Trump look like something he’s not.)

The biggest benefit of this race may well be that it exposes the elevation of hypocrisy in such stark tones. Politicians need to own their hypocrisy and bear their crosses, even if it makes them into a bit of a scoundrel. Because the audience enjoy it more when the bad guy gets the girl.

*Read this excellent analysis of Reagan’s hypocrisy, and where he was successful despite it.


About the author

Steve Berman

The old Steve cared about money, prestige, and power. Then Christ found me. All at once things changed. But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!

I spent 30 years in business. Now I write and edit. But mostly I love. I have a wife and 2 kids and a dog and we live in a little house in central Georgia.

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