When Republican senators Mark Foley and Larry Craig were forced to resign because of sex scandals just over a decade ago, Byron Williams accused them of harboring “the hypocrisy of the hypocrisy.” Articles about the right-wing’s biggest sex hypocrites flood out every time a Donald Trump is exposed as having sexually assaulted someone or a Roy Moore is found to be a child molester.
The primary problem with Foley, Craig, Trump, and Moore, however, isn’t hypocrisy but immorality. Foley abused his power to proposition a page for oral sex. In addition to sexual harassment and abuse of power, Trump and Craig also committed adultery.
Sexual harassment and assault is a crime and an immoral violation of one’s rights no matter what one’s ideological or moral values system one follows. If a sexist man who believed that it was his right to grab women anytime, anywhere committed sexual assault, it would still be immoral despite the fact that that evil man wrongly believed it was his right.
To focus overwhelmingly on the “hypocrisy” aspect could have the unfortunate effect of downgrading immoral acts committed by immoral men. In effect, we are giving a free pass to the worst of the worst.
A common refrain from Trump supporters when Trump is caught lying, speaking like a 5th-grader, or having a temper tantrum at 5 am, is that, “We knew what we were getting with Trump.” Why, we did indeed know that he was guilty of multiple character flaws. He still is. Period.
If Osama bin Laden had been caught and brought in front of a judge, should he get off if he argued, “I have directed terrorist attacks for years. I openly talked about it and threatened it in propaganda statements. You already knew this”? Pathological dishonesty, incompetence, corruption and the like are in and of themselves.
When hypocrisy really matters
The Republicans just passed a tax bill that increases the deficit by $1 trillion and repeals the mandate that individuals purchase health insurance. Sens. Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, and John McCain voted for repealing the healthcare mandate now and against it when it was part of a healthcare bill in July.
McCain cited process at the time. The healthcare bill was being pushed through over a period of months, with final passage crammed into a week, with no time for amendments or consideration. The tax bill was being pushed through over a period of less than months, with final passage crammed into a week, with no time for amendments or consideration. The tax bill was introduced on November 2, in fact, and passed the Senate in the middle of the night, with amendments written in pen in the hours before the vote. Republicans, who said the Democrats didn’t give them time to “read the [Obamacare healthcare] bill,” voted against Democratic efforts to slow down the process. (The healthcare bill was written and considered over more than a year.)
Rand Paul voted for the tax bill and the earlier Trumpcare bill.
Bob Corker said, “I am not able to cast aside my fiscal concerns and vote for legislation that I believe, based on the information I currently have, could deepen the debt burden on future generations.” When it came time to vote for final passage, Corker cast aside his “fiscal concerns” and voted for legislation that he said he believed could deepen the debt burden on future generations. He voted for adding $1 trillion to the debt.
He voted for it not after its debt-impact was meaningfully reduced but after a provision was added that would benefit real-estate holdings like ones he and one of his aides own. Corker isn’t even running for reelection, so he’s not voting for this to win the party’s backing.
Voting for cutting taxes or raising taxes isn’t inherently immoral in the way the acts listed in the first half are. 52 Republicans voted for the tax bill and most of them got much less individual blowback. Most of them were given yes votes from the start who didn’t comment to the press about how hard they were pondering the bill. They might have voted for it because they actually believe it’s a good idea, because they want to benefit themselves and their fundraisers, or because they want to win reelection. Whatever reason, they didn’t hold themselves to standards they later violated.
Raising the deficit isn’t objectively wrong. Economists and pundits can debate it, and there might be a majority view, but it’s an argument at end. But saying you will not vote to raise the deficit and then doing just that is telling an untruth. Bob Corker lied.
In the end, hypocrisy is a sin in so far as you are lying to the public, and lying is a sin it itself.
Addendum: The corruption of using the legislative process to extract private benefits at the public expense (such as by increasing the deficit when the legislator voting on the bill thinks doing so will be bad for the public) is also immoral.
Photo by US Congress.