Hypocrisy is always part of politics. The opposition party always fancies itself noble and principled, ready to reform if only given the chance. The ruling party "always thinks," as John Adams put it, "it has a great soul, and vast views, beyond the comprehension of the weak." Power corrupts, and rare indeed is the politician with any trace of immunity to its foul.
And yet! For all my cynicism, for all my recognition this is nothing new and that critiquing political duplicity is also an ancient pastime, I cannot help but be impressed at the cavernous depths of hypocrisy in American politics today. It's all hypocrisy, all the way down. A plague on all houses is too light a judgment, and nowhere is this truer than in the impeachment inquiry into President Trump.
The president and his defenders have so perfected the insincerity of their support for orderliness, due process, and the rule of law that I almost admire their craftsmanship. A phalanx of House Republicans stormed closed-door impeachment hearings Wednesday, with their leader, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), claiming such direct action was necessary because GOP lawmakers were excluded from the "secret" meeting — a meeting the 48 Republican members of the House Intelligence, Oversight and Foreign Affairs committees were all perfectly welcome to attend. Gaetz is not on those committees, which is why he and his fellow rabble-rousers were not equally welcome. Undaunted by such details, Gaetz declared Thursday his tactics were justified because if "Democrats are going to have a world with no rules," the GOP must recognize it is "fighting against an angry pack of rabid hyenas" and act accordingly.
You might expect the hypocrisy I am identifying here to be Gaetz's whining about Democrats' alleged rule-breaking while engaged in actual rule-breaking of his own. That's part of it. But only part! In 2017, before they lost control of the chamber, House Republicans passed rules designed to quash Democratic lawmakers' protests. They prohibited "disorderly or disruptive conduct," including efforts to "impede, disrupt, or disturb the proceedings of the House." Do I even need to tell you Gaetz voted "yea"? Or that Trump himself, while insisting he is so deprived of due process that he may be considered a "lynching" victim, heartily endorsed Gaetz's stunt? Or that the Senate GOP plans to vote to condemn the House impeachment inquiry before the process is complete on the false grounds that it is somehow unlawful?
Enough of the Republicans. Let's look left, where we find a lusty denunciation of Trump's "lynching" remark. The censure is justified, but inevitably undercut by its issuance from a party whose members, including notables like former Vice President Joe Biden, used the same term to describe the impeachment of former President Bill Clinton.
The broader Democratic approach to impeachment is equally fraught with inconsistency. For months, Democratic leadership spoke of Trump as an existential threat to American democracy — and yet declined to impeach. Once the decision was made to move forward with an inquiry, Democratic members of Congress who have been in politics since the Clinton era busily set about reversing their stances from that time.
"The impeachment of a president is an undoing of a national election," declared Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) in 1998. Without "a broad consensus of the American public, a broad agreement of almost everybody, that this fellow has got to go because he's a clear and present danger to our liberty and to our Constitution," Nadler said, "you cannot impeach a president, because to do so is to call into question the legitimacy of all our political institutions." Current polling shows more than four in 10 Americans oppose impeaching Trump, but Nadler now feels impeachment is "imperative." Why would we expect otherwise from a party which only cares about executive abuses when it doesn't control the executive branch?
Such endemic hypocrisy is not isolated to Washington, though it certainly finds fertile soil in the swamp. In this regard our elected representatives truly embody the spirit of the nation; a recent poll shows Americans equally want "compromise and common ground [to] be the goal for political leaders" and an end to "leaders compromising their values and ideals and [failing to] stand up to the other side."
Perhaps, as the Georgetown Institute of Politics and Public Service analysis of its survey results suggests, this demonstrates a "complex and nuanced perspective on American politics." Or perhaps it's just crass hypocrisy, and Americans want compromise from their political opponents and bold stands for themselves. Perhaps no one's hands are clean in this impeachment, and everyone deserves the mistrust they get.
Perhaps we're all hypocrites now.
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