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Talk One Way, Walk the Other: The Epidemic of Hypocrisy in Conservative America

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This piece is appearing in newspapers in my very red District (VA-06).

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Is there much doubt whether people — if they were asked whether they’d rather live in a nation in which there was

  • More honesty or more lies
  • More compassion or more cruelty
  • More supportive relationships among people or more antagonisms —

— would answer in each case that they’d prefer the first and more whole of those pairs?

People naturally prefer “wholeness” to “brokenness,” prefer an order that sustains and nurtures life to one that degrades it.

I would assume that if the conservatives with whom I spoke on the radio back in the 1990s were asked if they’d prefer to live in an America where

  • leadership works to bring people together for a common purpose or one who divides people and fosters conflict
  • each political side treats the other with respect, or as unworthy of respect

they would not say they’d prefer the more broken way.

I will assume as much here, because if those conservatives would say they prefer the path of bitterness and anger and cruelty and division – rather than honesty, kindness and the rest — I would have seriously misjudged them.

Yet that assumption brings a mystery into the picture: if people say that they’d prefer wholeness, but then in their actions in the world they support brokenness, what does that mean?

The question arises because it could hardly be clearer that today’s conservatives are actually supporting brokenness. We can start with but one of those spectrums—the one running between “bring people together” versus “divides people and fosters conflict” — to see how blatant is the contradiction between the presumed stated preference and the actual political choice.

Of 13 presidents during my life, only Trump has made no effort to reach out to those who didn’t vote for him, to be president of all the people. On the contrary, this President has gone out of his way, from the outset, to antagonize those Americans who were not his supporters, and to inflame conflicts between political, religious, racial, and ethnic groups.

(Not to mention provoking hostility from nations that for generations have been America’s greatest allies and friends. Trump’s approval in Great Britain, our closest ally: 11%.)

Likewise with other forms of brokenness:  presidential lying orders of magnitude more frequent than anything ever seen before; and policies of cruelty (e.g. separating young children from their parents) of a kind we’ve never seen before from an American administration.

Yet this President’s consistent choice to choose the more broken end of the various spectrums of political conduct –spectrums that map rather readily onto the concepts of good and evil — has not been opposed by most Republicans.

Which leads me to want to ask those good and decent conservatives who would declare, if asked, that they prefer the more whole ends of those spectrums:

“Are you aware of the contradiction between your preference for wholeness and your giving political support to brokenness? If you are aware, can you offer any insight into how that contradiction arises? If not, how do you suppose that contradiction escaped your notice?”

Many might conclude, when people who say they prefer wholeness nonetheless support brokenness, that their stated preference is not sincere. To speak one way and act another is the definition of hypocrisy, and according to the usual understanding of “hypocrisy,” the hypocrite is dishonest with the world, only pretending to care about the good.

I imagine the truth to be different: that a part of them really does want the wholeness they claim to want, but that the contradiction arises from their being driven – perhaps unknowingly – by another part of them that’s drawn to the opposite of their conscious values.

It is not easy for human beings to be all of a piece. And sometimes that challenge of integrity can be made still harder by external forces that work to manipulate people for their own purposes.

In previous columns, I have proposed that otherwise good people have been deceived – over the past twenty-some years – into embracing a spirit in their political lives the very opposite of that which guides them in their church communities, their neighborhoods, their businesses.

The spirit that has taken over conservative America has made an idol of power. That’s why the force that’s hijacked the Republican Party focused its efforts to lead people into darkness specifically on those people’s role in the realm of power—i.e. on their beliefs and actions in the political arena.

What I see, then — in this contradiction between sincere belief in the good, combined with consistent political alignment with the evil – is not dishonesty or pretense. That contradiction shows, rather, a kind of brokenness at the human level—not being integrated, not being aware of how a “malevolent spirit” has gained control of a specific realm of one’s conduct.

The destructive force transmits its pattern of brokenness from level to level. Thus the spirit of power-hunger and greed –operating at the top — worked for years to foster brokenness in the Republican base.

And Trump– a man who consistently chooses to break good things – would not be President of the United States has not millions of Americans been driven into a state of political consciousness where that very brokenness was appealing, where his appalling conduct was gratifying to identify with.

So the question for America now, about these Trump-supporting Americans, is this: can the better angels of their nature – with their preference for the more whole – recapture the ground now given over to the worse, whose support for brokenness in American politics is endangering the future for all of us?