Trump Is Not a Hypocrite

Charges of hypocrisy only apply to people with values.

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Editor’s note

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Many thanks! —JS


Mitch McConnell once sent liberals into a tizzy. If a Supreme Court justice died in 2020, an election year, the majority leader said the Senate would confirm a nominee. 

This was in direct contrast to what he said after Associate Justice Antonin Scalia died suddenly in 2016. McConnell said the Senate would not confirm Barack Obama’s nominee. Why? Because it was an election year. He said the people should decide.

Liberals complained mightily about that, accusing McConnell of hypocrisy. But from his point of view, there was no hypocrisy. One is hypocritical only if one holds values that are higher than power. If power is one’s highest value, voila! No hypocrisy!

I thought of McConnell while reading about the current president’s claim this week that four citizens of color whom he said “hate America” should consider leaving it. 


Accusing the GOP of hypocrisy isn’t enough.


This would appear to be another example of hypocrisy. After all, Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton with a message of “American carnage.” Yet no one has suggested that he leave. Only when four citizens of color complained about historical institutional racism in this country did anyone demand that they love it or leave it.

This, of course, was racist. This, of course, was hypocrisy. But we should not leave it there. What Mitch McConnell did and what Donald Trump is doing are not only hypocritical. Both men are illustrating a vision of American democracy.

A horrible vision.

In complaining about McConnell’s hypocrisy, liberals were in essence mad that he did not play according to a set of agreed-to values. McConnell never had any intention of doing any such thing. That’s what Democrats would do. But he’s a Republican. 

This is not to say liberals were naive. It’s to illustrate the depth of McConnell’s betrayal. Liberals tend to think of society in universal terms, meaning what’s good for one person is good for all. This universalist mindset jives well with a democracy in which the nationalist ideal, per the Declaration of Independence, is equality. 

Equality is the political expression of what Jesus taught his disciples. Along with loving God with all your heart and soul, Jesus said that everyone should treat everyone else as they would be treated. He was of course teaching the Golden Rule, which is the ancient value system that now informs our notion of the social contract. Though we are individuals, we are also a society. We’re all in this together. We are one nation. 

McConnell and the Republicans do not believe we are all in this together. They do not believe in equality. They do not believe we are one nation. They do not believe even in the Golden Rule. They do not believe what’s good for one person is good for all.

They therefore do not recognize your legitimacy as a citizen or your legitimate claim to the American franchise. They therefore reserve the right to fool you into thinking they are willing to participate equitably in collaborative democratic effort. They therefore reserve the right to erode or even sabotage that effort. Indeed, if the Republicans’ policies are any indication, your death would be their preference

Once you understand this, you understand why equality—the Golden Rule—is so very dangerous to the Republican program. Do unto others as I would have done unto me? Don’t be ridiculous! I want to command and control what others do. I want to be the richest, the strong, and the most powerful. I want to fuck people over. I don’t want them fucking me over! I’m going to do everyone I can to prevent that from happening.

Getting mad at McConnell for hypocrisy is like getting mad at your cat for not understanding English. He does not hold values higher than power, so expecting him to respond to charges of hypocrisy is like expecting your cat to talk. The proper response therefore is to stop giving McConnell, Trump or the Republicans the benefit of the doubt. Expect them to sabotage democracy. Democracy threatens them.

If liberals stop at hypocrisy, they aren’t going to reach people they need. Liberals must meet a horrible vision of American democracy with a moral vision of their own. 

—John Stoehr


My gratitude

I want to take a moment to thank David Sakheim for inspiring today’s edition. I’m grateful for all the conversations we’ve had about hypocrisy and everything else.

David, thank you.

(David is also a devoted subscriber! Do what he does! Subscribe!) —JS