Remember that time President Barack Obama wore a beige suit during a press conference? Big scandal in 2014.
Critics lambasted him for straying from the traditional dark presidential attire. Rep. Pete King, R-N.Y., for example, called the tan getup “unpresidential” and said it projected “lack of seriousness.” America’s enemies, King warned, would see not a strong leader but “a person who’s going to go out and do a few fundraisers over the Labor Day weekend.”
Now that Donald Trump — the least serious, most unpresidential president we’ve ever had — has shown America’s enemies that he’s willing to withhold military aid from an ally like Ukraine in order to secure foreign dirt against his potential election opponent, jeopardizing U.S. global interests for his personal gain, King is again expressing outrage.
But not about any of that. No, no, no.
What’s outrageous this time, says King, is that a whistleblower exposed it. “The president of the United States … should have absolute confidence that his conversations with a foreign leader are not going to be made known to Congress or anyone else,” said King. As for Trump’s Ukrainian extortion attempt itself, there’s “nothing remotely impeachable” about it.
If King’s outrage meter seems to be in need of recalibration, he’s not alone.
Trump’s defenders — many of whom went apoplectic when Obama failed to wear a lapel flag pin, or when Bill Clinton lied about a consensual affair — have no apparent problem with a president who pays off a porn star to win an election, profits from the presidency in blatant violation of the Constitution, and betrays U.S. allies, American principles and his own oath of office on a regular basis in service to his towering id.
Technically, this is what’s known as hypocrisy. But in the case of Trump’s defenders, we really should find a stronger word for it, because that one doesn’t begin to describe the mind-bending psychology at work here.
What labyrinth of a thought process must it take, for example, for conservatives to go bonkers in 2009 over what may or may not have been a slight bow by Obama to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, then raise hardly a peep over the fact that Trump stood next to Russia’s Vladimir Putin in Helsinki last year and, in front of the world, took Putin’s word over U.S. intelligence regarding election meddling?
What kind of self-convincing does it take to treat a shady-looking foreign business deal of a former vice president’s son as if it’s another Watergate, while shrugging at the fact that the sitting president’s adult children — and that president himself — are so blatantly using the office to market their hotel and resort properties, real estate holdings and even self-branded apparel lines that there might as well be billboards on top of the White House?
Remember how much flak Obama took from conservatives for his golf outings on the taxpayers’ dime? Then-private citizen Trump was among the loudest critics. But once Trump became president, it took less than three years for him to surpass Obama’s total eight-year golf tab (with many of those government dollars for Trump’s outings going to Trump’s own properties).
Try — just try — to find the conservative outrage over Trump’s tax-funded golf tab. I dare you.
What Abraham Lincoln called “the base alloy of hypocrisy” has always been a prominent part of American politics. It was our slave-holding founders, after all, who declared, presumably with straight faces, that “all men are created equal.” Political hypocrisy has no ideology or party. Any liberal or Democrat who claims otherwise is being, well, hypocritical.
All of that said, Trumpism has broken new ground on the hypocrisy front. It’s become a cliché, but an inarguably true one, to point out that had Obama committed any one of Trump’s many transgressions — his kowtowing to dictators, his caging of children, his nose-thumbing at congressional oversight, his destructive and unnecessary trade war, his impetuous foreign policy blunders, his gleeful trashing of political norms and civility, his prodigious, outrageous mountain of verifiable lies — Republicans would have summarily impeached him, no questions asked.
This matters because such jaw-dropping hypocrisy indicates how thoroughly embarrassment and shame have fled our political environment in the age of Trump. Shame serves a useful purpose in politics; its absence allows opportunistic politicians to follow their worst instincts, unhampered by even the standards they themselves have insisted upon in the past.
For our walking personality disorder of a president, hypocrisy and shame have never been issues. He revels in the former and possesses none of the latter. But to watch an entire segment of our political landscape adopt that stance is as jolting as seeing a president in a beige suit. It’s the latest disturbing indication that, while Trump will eventually be gone from office one way or the other, Trumpism could be with us for a long, long time.