The United States withdrew from the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in June, citing the body’s fixation with Israel and their inclusion of nations with egregious human rights offenses. Nikki Haley, the United States Ambassador to the United Nations, told the media that the UNHRC is “a hypocritical and self-serving organization that makes a mockery of human rights” . However, in the same month, the Trump administration continued the family separation policy on the Mexican border—which, according to a panel of child psychologists, caused “irreparable harm” to children who were detained and separated from their parents indefinitely .
Hypocrites calling out hypocrisy is nothing new. In politics and media, it’s just another workday. “Critically acclaimed” commentators on both sides—from figures like Stephen Colbert and Trevor Noah on the left and Ben Shapiro and Charlie Kirk on the right—have essentially made a living “exposing” their political enemies flip-flopping on issues. If liberals and conservatives can agree on one thing, it’s enjoying the sweet catharsis that accompanies seeing public figures they disagree with proven wrong. However, in the Trumpian Era, the catharsis of exposing hypocrisy seems to fall flat. We have a president who doesn’t seem to care about the voices opposite or even adjacent to him, and effortlessly dismisses media fact checkers who expose his fallacies and disagree with him. He believes that the media’s decreasing favorability with the public is one of the “great achievements” of his presidency . Trump’s decisive self-distancing from media approval sends a clear message that I believe is a great achievement of his presidency: being a hypocrite, or changing your position on issues, really isn’t that big of a deal.
The initial intent of calling out political hypocrisy is not fundamentally bad. Nobody wants elected leaders who claim a certain ideological alignment and then contradict those values in office. Political systems at their very foundation are supposed to be governed by the people’s political ideology; a tangible and governable manifestation of their morality. People vote for politicians who represent their moral and social values. And elected politicians should be held accountable for upholding the values they ran upon, even if those values are divisive or leave them susceptible to critique. However, when the media creates a stigma surrounding the ideological evolution of a politician, deeming them a hypocrite, politicians begin to fear taking these strong moral stances. If a politician re-evaluates their stance on an important issue to better reflect their constituents; values, shouldn’t that be a good thing? It is important to distinguish the difference between the moral evolution of a politician and a politician who flip-flops in order to maintain the status quo and avoid criticism. Politicians can still evolve stances while retaining ideology, but to abandon ideological stances simply to be agreeable is dangerous.
When the media does not describe the difference between ideological evolution and flip-flopping, politicians are scared to make any sort of change in their platforms. Today, there is a casting aside ideology-driven politics and embracing a new, safer doctrine: don’t contradict yourself. Hypocrisy has become, as Gawker founder Nick Denton described, “the only modern sin” . Political leaders carefully step around controversial topics or important issues that are divisive. By attempting to foster bipartisanship to appease everyone, however, politicians compromise their moral and ideological foundations that got them elected in the first place. If certain issues are important on moral grounds, to compromise your stance on those issues on the grounds of retaining favorable media coverage is not only hypocritical, but immoral.
Just because a politician is loyal to their ideological underpinnings does not mean that bipartisanship is impossible, but instead of compromising on their values, politicians can find where their values intersect. For example, senators Bernie Sanders and Mike Lee were able to work together this past year to introduce and pass a resolution designed to end U.S. intervention in Yemen’s civil war . The two senators’ ideologies are almost entirely diametrically opposed, but because they shared similar values regarding the constitutionality of war in Yemen, they are able to powerfully work together in a manner that promotes genuine, healthy dialogue and results
This is why President Trump’s dismissal of media depictions of his character are so powerful and effective. Not because there is nothing to critique President Trump for, and not because media critiques are invalid, but because he shows that he values his positions and constituents more than he values pleasing the media.
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