By James A. Kidney
Everyone is pleased to wave goodbye to 2016. No surprise. The angry, disturbing year had many events that made one pull the covers over your head and return to a mindless deep sleep. But these were mere portents, signs of things to come. That includes terrorism, political and social disruption, and an uneasy sense that America is not what we thought it was.
Three hundred and sixty-five days from now, we may well be wishing it was 2016 again.
A lot of good things happened in 2016, as recorded by Quartz, PBS, and even the snarky Huffington Post. Just Google “good things that happened in 2016” and you will find many more examples. All of these compilations begin with a bow to the terrible, awful, really, really bad election of Donald Trump. Few of them include political developments in the U.S. as a ground for optimism about the future.
To this observer, 2016 was characterized by hypocrisy and anger.
As the nation continued to sever into two or more “tribes,” anger at “the Other” welled up. The Other was, depending on your view of life, liberals, conservatives, Democrats, Republicans, the Green Party, Jews, Muslims, Fundamentalists, whites, blacks, Mexicans, the East and West Coasts, the Southern and rural U.S. — you name it. The intense anger, sometimes accompanied by violence, was assisted by either false news (mostly on the right) or an overripe belief that “my identity is worth more attention than yours” (on both sides). Add to this the disrupted smugness of the left and much of the middle their own certainties that caused many to feel personal insult at the election of Trump.
This anger continues unabated even before the new president takes office. Trump fuels it in ways that emphasize his semi-literacy, insensitivity and shallow thinking, all miraculously revealed in 140-character tweets. He is able to evade any calling-out of his conduct by not holding press conferences, which would expose his characteristics, or otherwise responding with meaningful statements addressing the nation’s concerns about his appointments and his behavior. His “let them eat cake” approach from his personal Fifth Avenue Versailles is designed to deny his opposition a voice (unless you call the squawkers on MSNBC your “voice”), thus raising the anger higher among the majority of voters who did not pick him for president. As any street thug can tell you, being ‘dissed is bad; being ignored is worse.
But anger is primitive. Hypocrisy is a much more interesting subject, one not shared by the rest of the animal kingdom.
Hypocrisy is a wonderful human invention. It is a necessary ingredient in both religion and politics. It allows all of us to imagine we are disciples of one ideal or another without actually having to seriously alter the prejudices we were born with or nurtured in.
Religious hypocrisy was on display throughout the presidential campaign as one fundamentalist leader — and more than a few mainline church pastors — blessed the campaign of Donald Trump, surely the major party candidate in U.S. history least embodying the ideals of Jesus, Moses, Mohammed, Buddha or any other spiritual Mother or Father.
We have seen the political hypocrisy of both Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals, playing out in tandem since the election results came in. People are just acting like people, accompanied by a little Trump-crazed temper tantrum or chest pounding aggressiveness of a victor, as the case may be. But the absence of a reliably thoughtful, straight talking leader has created a dangerous vacuum on all sides of politics.
The dual hypocrisy is illustrated on the left by the angry attempt to overturn the results of the election in 29 states. This program was on two fronts: Demanding a recount in a handful of states to test for fraudulent voting and seeking to persuade electors not to vote for the candidate voters told them to elect.
The former plan, funded by $6 million in contributions to the Green Party, suggested, without proof (other than the surprising result), that there might be voter fraud despite years of protest by liberals against plans by Republicans to restrict the franchise on the grounds of voter fraud. Back in those days (before Nov. 8), Democrats protested that there is no evidence of a bogeyman called voter fraud. There still isn’t, despite suggestions of Russian interference with the election. But the Green Party, supported by the Clinton campaign, filed its lawsuits demanding a recount. The movement quickly died, presumably giving the Green Party a healthy fund to again defeat the will of the majority in 2020.
The attempt to persuade electors to ignore those who voted for their candidate and send the presidential election to the House for a decision was nonsensical tactically (House Republicans are not known to buck their constituents, who voted for Trump). The plan also was a tribute to hypocrisy. Liberal supporters demonstrated a complete disregard for the voice of the people in a majority of states by seeking to have them disenfranchised because the Democrats did not like losing according to the rules in place.
The hypocrisy didn’t stop there. As The Wall Street Journal opined, it was curious to see liberals consulting the fine print of the Constitution for a strict construction after years of defending the efforts of President Obama to bend the balance-of-powers to favor the Executive Branch. Many observers, mostly conservatives, found his executive orders to be of questionable constitutionality, including a few courts. As Obama uses his executive power to issue new regulations in the last month of his tenure, liberals are hopeful they will withstand a Republican assault. Of course, that would strengthen the power of President Trump (get used to the name). This is the price of hypocrisy.
The Republicans did the same thing under George W. Bush, either limiting or expanding the law by executive fiat when Democrats controlled Congress. Remember signing statements? They basically were used to say laws passed by the Democratic congress would not be enforced. Of course, since it was then the liberal goose cooking, Democrats howled, as Republicans have done about executive power since 2010, when they took over the House.
The Republicans doubled down on hypocrisy this year in North Carolina, joining the Democrats in deciding that disenfranchising voters was a fair price for trying to remain in power. Balance-of-powers and voter sentiment be damned, the state legislature said. So what if a Democrat narrowly won the governorship. We will narrow his powers before he takes office in a blatant grab for unbalanced power. At least the North Carolina hypocrites were elected representatives, probably doing what their gerrymandered constituency wanted them to do.
Sauce, goose and gander — a perfect Dickensian Christmastime recipe. One should not get too upset at the hypocritical nature of politics. If it is your bull getting gored, you favor the bull. If it is the other guy’s, you vote for the matador. Hypocrisy sometimes is necessary to reach compromise. But hypocrisy in 2016, and in the foreseeable future, is used to wage war.
A sure bet in 2017 is that the anger and hypocrisy will double down as Republicans sacrifice many of their long-held principles to satisfy Trump voters and Democrats suddenly find that obstacles put in place by the minority (“our goal is to make Trump a one-term president,” to paraphrase Mitch McConnell in 2008) sound less like treason than patriotism.
Wishing you all a Happy New Year. Stay safe.