I always hesitate to ascribe themes or trends to years because it is more obvious than ever that there is no logical force dictating our news events. Therefore, it is wise to be suspicious of any narrative which ties together unrelated happenings too perfectly. With that said, I will always remember 2017, other than as the year Donald Trump became president and my second child was born (hopefully not in that order), as the year in which hypocrisy died, and almost nothing really mattered.
Those two latter concepts are actually quite related. There was a time, not that long ago really, when a public figure was exposed in an act of blatant hypocrisy, it was an extremely damaging, if not professionally fatal, event.
However, much like its close relative “lying,” hypocrisy has now officially lost almost all of its stigma and ability to influence outcomes. My theory has always been that Bill Clinton surviving his impeachment for the Monica Lewinsky/Perjury scandal short-circuited the once prodigious power of being caught in a blatant lie. This year, it seems Donald Trump’s presidency did much the same to hypocrisy.
Trump’s hypocrisy was so flagrant and common that examples of his past words/actions directly contradicting his current words/actions were ubiquitous. So commonplace, in fact, that one of the most popular lines on Twitter became “there’s literally a tweet for everything.” It was all so astonishing that, at times, it almost seemed that there had to be some time travel involved.
There are so many instances of this phenomenon that I hesitate to start naming them. But how Trump gets away with constantly playing golf after bashing Obama for doing less of the same, or how he trashes the media’s use of unnamed sources or inaccurate reports when his own Twitter feed is littered with far worse instances of the same garbage (Exhibit A: Obama’s birth certificate is fake) is a mystery to me.
The all-time winner, however, has to be how Trump somehow was able to sign sweeping tax reform into law without ever having released his own tax returns, even after having promised to do so. I still believe that future historians will find this fact, regarding a man who got elected after saying at a presidential debate that it was smart NOT to pay taxes, to be most confounding.
Weirdly, and not coincidentally, Trump’s perpetual hypocrisy had basically no impact on his public standing, especially within his own political party. For, when you are constantly committing a particular sin, you inherently desensitize others to its meaning and effectively immunize yourself from its potential impact (conversely, an un-inoculated President George H.W. Bush was brought down by one simple, “Read my lips, no new taxes” falsehood).
Seemingly taking Trump’s lead, the “conservative” media also decided, essentially overnight, that not only was hypocrisy no longer something for which the president should be held accountable but that it was now perfectly acceptable to routinely engage in it themselves. There was no better/worse example of this than how they handled the story of Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Imagine for a moment if Hillary Clinton had won the Electoral College while winning states in which she was given no chance, lost the popular vote handily, then it was learned that Russia had actively aided her campaign, that she was the only one in her administration who expressed real doubt about it, that there was no effort from her to punish Russia or prevent it from happening again, and an ongoing/ensuing investigation resulted in the quick guilty pleas and indictments involving her former campaign chairman and her original National Security Advisor (who had dined with Vladimir Putin and a right-wing fringe candidate who took votes away from Trump, in Russia, on Russia’s dime, during the campaign).
If anything even remotely close to that scenario had occurred, I can assure you that Fox News Channel would be on a 24/7 “Fox News Alert” about how the election result was clearly illegitimate and that our very sovereignty/security as a nation was imperiled. Sean Hannity would be doing his show every night (including weekends) live from outside the White House, probably while dressed in black and threatening to set himself on fire at any moment.
Instead, because the team uniforms of this scenario are reversed (how Trump gets credit for being part of the “Republican Team” when he has never worn that jersey his entire life is yet another baffling reality), the ensuing coverage could not possibly be more dramatically inverted. Now, the very same people (seriously Mark Levin?!) who rightly castigated the Clinton machine for destroying Ken Starr during the “Lewinsky” saga, are desperately doing exactly the same thing to Robert Mueller who, unlike Trump, has an actual history of being a Republican.
Even Trump-skeptical conservatives like Ben Shapiro now think nothing of engaging in hypocrisy. Just last week, the hero of college free-speech advocates reported Rosie O’Donnell to Twitter for alleged violations of their speech rules, an act which he claimed, get this, was intended only to expose Twitter’s own hypocrisy (which it didn’t).
The “mainstream” media also often acted like all the old rules were no longer in force. For instance, at least two of those named/honored as the Time Magazine “Person of the Year” on the issue of sexual abuse, Megyn Kelly and Rose McGowan, are people who had, by their own admission, remained silent about what they say they knew about alleged abusers while it was in their financial/career self-interest to do so, even during most of the year 2017 for which they were specifically praised for being “Silence Breakers.”
When being a liar or a hypocrite cease to be cultural “felonies” or even “misdemeanors,” then the significance of one’s words/actions quickly diminish dramatically. After all, if someone can simply reverse course in the future, based on no new information except for their own shifting self-interest, even 180 degrees in extremely short timeframes, with virtually no real accountability, then words/actions, now as disposable as used toilet paper, mean nothing.
In short, this is why, in 2017, almost nothing really mattered, and why you shouldn’t expect that to change in 2018.
John Ziegler hosts a weekly podcast focusing on news media issues and is a documentary filmmaker. You can follow him on Twitter at @ZigManFreud or email him at [email protected].
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.