Why only now so many media outlets are finally highlighting the many, serious conflicts of interests with a Trump presidency is a mystery, but what’s even more interesting are the countercries from the right about why the media wasn’t all over Clinton for her conflicts of interest.
Seriously. I’m not joking.
Amidst reports of Trump’s conflicts of interest with his various business ties in the United States, his various businesses abroad (including India, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey), his family’s involvement in both his politics and his businesses, his various legal cases in front of the National Labor Relations Board and the Department of Justice (… the list goes on and on), some conservatives are lambasting the lack of scrutiny Clinton faced.
I kid you not.
Writes one conservative friend on Facebook, “why is there an issue with trump conflict of interest? i heard no such hew-and-cry when it was the clinton foundation. #alt-left-delete”
A simple Google search of “Clinton conflicts of interest” gets 6.1 million hits. So, for those who chose to look elsewhere during the past … oh, say, 20 years or so, reporting on Hillary Clinton’s supposed conflicts of interest and alleged pay-to-play schemes was wide and deep. (By way of comparison “Trump conflicts of interest” gets 2.3 million hits on a Google search.)
We could argue ad nauseum who of the two presidential candidates—Trump and Clinton—has the most conflicts of interest (and I’m sure those arguments will go on and on and on for at least the next four years). But what’s also interesting is the level to which supporters deny the conflicts of interest of their favored candidate while shouting about the conflicts of interest of the candidate they refused to vote for.
The Guardian recently ran an article about this insane and overt hypocrisy.
The examples go well beyond the latest cries over who has the most egregious conflicts of interest. Evidence of hypocrisy seems to be everywhere—from Clinton supporters carrying “Love Trumps Hate” signs while protesting, burning cars, smashing windows, and beating-up Trump supporters to Trump supporters claiming their candidate is not a racist while giving “Hail Trump” Nazi-like salutes, spray-painting churches with swastikas, and vandalizing cars with anti-LGBTQ graffiti.
If everything weren’t so. very. serious. right now, perhaps we could laugh at our own hypocrisy. Because it does seem like we get in vicious-circle arguments, arguments that go something like this:
“Clinton ran a pay-to-play Department of State!”
“What? You think Trump won’t do the same? He’s got business in dozens of countries around the world!”
“Yeah? So what? Bill Clinton took a million-dollar birthday present from Qatar!”
“But that was Bill, not Hillary. Besides, Trump let Ivanka and Kushner sit in on foreign policy meetings with Britain and India!”
… and on and on it goes, each side lambasting the other while justifying the actions of their own, both sides refusing to admit to the ugly truths or even half-truths of their favored candidate. As reported in that article in The Guardian, our response to such situations is pretty typical: “[P]eople are far quicker to notice and call out hypocrisy when it goes against their own beliefs. A politician you oppose promotes family values but is caught having an affair? Hypocrite! Drum them out of office! But if it’s a politician you support? Gutter journalism! So he’s not perfect, give him another chance!”
I have to laugh at this, because I’m totally guilty of it. I supported and proudly voted for Hillary Clinton. I did so knowing, although not really liking the fact that, she continually walks the line and, probably more often than I would like to admit, occasionally crosses over it. But, I weighed that against the various issues and decided that the things she stood for, her overall experience, her policy positions—all of those and more pushed the scales in her favor.
Of course, Trump’s conflicts of interest will get no such leeway in my book.
I am a hypocrite.
The thing is that we could go back and forth and back and forth all day, every day, for the next four years over who is a bigger hypocrite and why. We could come up with countless examples that prove—clearly, decisively—that your candidate is a much bigger hypocrite than my candidate. And none of that wrangling will get us anywhere.
Until we all admit that, at least when it comes to politics, we’re all pretty much hypocrites. Those of us who take politics seriously and personally are loyalists who will fight tooth and nail to support our candidate while finding fault in our candidate’s opponent. It’s so easy to find fault in others. It’s so easy to hear what we want to hear, read what we want to read, snooze in our own echo chambers, oblivious to the cries coming from outside—that is, from the other side.
This hypocrisy doesn’t go unnoticed by our elected officials. In an article in The Atlantic, Steven Weiss quotes Rep. Barney Frank:
“If there’s any blame to be doled out in connection with political hypocrisy, Frank implies, it’s to be placed on the heads of voters who criticize legislators for it, instead of accepting it as a necessary part of democratic politics. ‘Legislators who accommodate voter sentiment are denounced as cowardly, and those who defy it are just as fiercely accused of rejecting democratic norms,’ he writes. And while ‘both of these opposing views of a representative’s obligations are wholly defensible,’ something ‘less’ defensible to Frank is ‘the tendency of most voters to alternate between them, depending entirely on whether or not they agree with the official’s substantive position.'”
How do we find a way out of this swirling vortex of hypocrisy? First we have to be willing to see it in ourselves rather than just in everyone else. Then we have to admit that, when it comes to hypocrisy, we are all guilty.
Jeremy Sherman writes in Psychology Today that “[w]e accuse other people of lying as though lying was a rare crime. And we accuse politicians of lying, though mostly the politicians we don’t like. Lying is distorting or concealing the truth. We all do both. We say things we know aren’t exactly true or aren’t the whole truth. We give more weight to some truths than others. We discount what we consider inconvenient truths and amplify convenient truths. And we don’t correct people when they say things that aren’t true.”
Lies and half-truths are part and parcel of politics—both on the part of politicians and on the part of the electorate. That’s us. Recognizing this hypocrisy in ourselves is crucial if we wish to move our ineffective political shouting matches toward more productive political discourse. That means that we have to stop listening only with our guts and take a deeper look at the candidates who are vying for our votes.
In another article for Psychology Today, Sherman writes that:
“[i]n politics for example, your gut tells you which candidate is honest and which one is the hypocrite. The honest one is the one who’s on your side, the one your local culture supports, the one you’d rather have a beer with, the one who just feels honest. And whomever he or she is attacking is the real hypocrite. Step back from your gut sense and you’ll notice that your opponents have the same exact gut sense, but in support of the opposite candidate. They’re sure the honest one is the one on their side, the one that their local culture supports, the one that they’d rather have a beer with, the one who just feels honest to them. Same exact gut sense but flipped. To your opponents your candidates are the hypocrites, and you are too for supporting them.”
Hypocrisy is everywhere. Of course it exists in everyone—and definitely, absolutely everyone who voted for that monster.
That monster, of course, is whoever wasn’t your candidate.
I admit to my own hypocrisy. I choose to recognize it and confront it, and to willingly open my mind to the fact that most everyone else who takes politics seriously and personally takes their own candidates seriously and personally as well. I accept that they truly believe, in their guts and in their minds, that their candidate is the best candidate. I accept that their choice—and my choice—might not be entirely logical or rational, but I also acknowledge that that doesn’t mean that that choice is wrong or insane or evil. I choose to work harder to listen to the other side’s concerns. That doesn’t mean I won’t call out hypocrisy when I see it, but I’ll also work harder to call out myself and to admit to facts that are in opposition to my own thinking.
Because calling out everyone else as a hypocrite does nothing to move the conversation forward. And if we’re not talking to each other, if we’re not engaging each other, if we’re not listening to each other, if we’re not hearing each other, then we have only ourselves to blame for the state of the world.
I choose to admit to my own hypocrisy. I hope others—on both sides of the political aisle—will do the same.
Will you join me?