“I don’t think we should pass bills we haven’t read, [when] we don’t know what they cost…if you rush this thing through before anybody even knows what it is, that’s not good democracy. That’s not doing [sic] work for our constituents.” –Paul Ryan, 2009
On July 29, 2009, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) gave a television interview on MSNBC during which he uttered the quotation above. It was a little more than six months after President Barack Obama took office, and well after the newly elected commander-in-chief had begun his crusade to remake the American healthcare system. The Affordable Care Act—by then tawdrily renamed Obamacare—had received vociferous opposition from Republicans in Congress, many of whom viewed the president’s convincing electoral victory as a rebuke of their party’s position and future.
Fast forward nearly seven years and just about everything has flipped. Ryan is on the front end of new healthcare legislation, arguing for speedy approval, while the Democrats continue their slide backward to the brink, pushing aside desperately needed self examination while deflecting an irresponsible amount of the blame for Hillary Clinton’s stunning election defeat, from which they are still reeling, onto Russian interference.
Have we jumped the shark? Are we living in the Upside Down? Nope—we’re just experiencing American politics as usual, where lobbyists and pundits lie every day of the week (and twice on Sunday), voter bases are played for fools, and the only politicians who aren’t hypocrites are those yet to be elected.
And yet in 2017, the level of political hypocrisy Americans are subjected to on a daily basis has reached a fever pitch, shattering any remaining hope for reasonable discourse. Anyone still insane enough to consider themselves above it either places inordinate faith in their party’s morality, doesn’t give two shits about politics, or falls somewhere even further outside those sad extremes.
The major parties have rendered themselves wholly impotent, with Democrats barely coalescing to pick up their shattered remains and Republicans held hostage by the candidate that hijacked their ticket last July.
Turning a blind eye to politics, meanwhile, not only rings hollow in a time of unrivaled division, but borders on impossible. You’re telling me you haven’t seen one little clip of Tucker Carlson’s open mouth in between interrupting guests? Or Shepard Smith “slamming” the president for his treatment of journalists? Or maybe for all you non-cucks out there, Steve Bannon’s #EPIC evisceration of the mainstream media? Everyone knows what the phrase “alternative facts” means, even if no one can define quite what those alternative facts are.
This is the type of rhetoric that makes it easy to not only jump into the fray but instinctively entrench ourselves on one side or the other. Gone are the days of agreeing to disagree, or simply remembering we’re all human beings and not walking iterations of internet comments sections.
Even more dangerous than the venomous discourse, however, scarier even than the depths of hypocrisy in which we’re clearly comfortable dwelling, are the precedents it sets. I grew up believing the myth that those in charge of our laws, security, and societal systems had a tremendous understanding of the world far beyond my own and fully comprehended the consequences of their words and actions, only to let that notion blow itself away like a fart in the wind.
The Democratic Party, which considers itself the bastion of social progress, is mired in conspiracy thinking so murky that the facts forming its foundation aren’t just questionable, but mostly missing. Its officials rail against the executive as if their party will never occupy the White House again. Can’t they see that Republicans will use the same turgidity to delegitimize a Democratic president from the moment he or she takes office, further upending the credibility of our government and its executive office? (Wait…have we been here before?)
And the party of Lincoln, meanwhile, defends word-mincing white supremacists while harboring a not-as-discreet-as-they’d-hope relationship with its radical fringes that deny not only demographic statistics but non-white demographics altogether. Surely they grasp their fealty to a brutally organized administration and complicity in some form of bureaucratic restructuring leaves them wholly exposed in future elections (if Democrats ever get their shit together)?
Let’s not even get started on leaks, which depending on who you support or what you believe or where they come from, are good or bad or both. There’s no way this glut of anonymous information in an era of all-time distrust of politicians and institutions could come back to bite us as a society, tearing the continuum of our reality and blurring fact and fiction, plunging us into an age where everyone is both right and wrong all at the same time, and the only way to disseminate your own truth is to build an audience big enough to shout it at others…right?
And don’t you dare blame this on Donald Trump. Famed playwright Tennessee Williams once mused that “the only thing worse than a liar is a liar that’s also a hypocrite,” and if there’s one thing we can credit the president for was that he was lying right to our faces from the jump. We all knew it—even those who convinced themselves he really had all the answers and could fix it by putting the team on his back. He was big and bold because he knew it would work, and goddamn did it ever. Sure, he’s as vile a political figure as we’ve seen in this country’s history, and at his current rate will go down as the most corrupt president of all-time, but let’s not kid ourselves and think we were getting anything different.
No, these issues of hypocrisy are systemic, emanating from politicians old and new with pockets lined by moneyed interests and eyes fixated, clutching (and increasing) eternally craved power. Ambition is required to get ahead in any industry, but politics is that which affects each of us on multiple levels, and it would be sweet security to know that those in power remember that outside of their actualized version of “Game of Thrones,” there are millions of people to whom they are accountable.
Sadly, the easiest way to fight bullshit is to pick up pieces from the wad that just hit you and start slinging back. Eventually it spatters and spreads outward, while the rest of us are forced to breathe foul air and resist collecting bits of our own, all the while wondering where we might be able to cleanse ourselves, or whether it’s possible to wash the stink off at all.