In a World Where Tribal Loyalties Trump Moral Standards, There’s No Such Thing as Hypocrisy

November 20, 2020 Updated: November 20, 2020


Way back in the mists of time—say around the turn of the century—hypocrisy was the worst of sins in the eyes of the left liberals who then predominated in the media. Sometimes it seemed like the only sin, or the only one they were still willing to regard as sin.

I believe that it was the horror of appearing to be hypocrites themselves that led the media of 1998 to give the full scandal treatment to Bill Clinton’s dalliance with Monica Lewinsky, a scandal they would otherwise have been glad to hush up—as today they have hushed up the Biden influence-peddling and the FBI’s “Spygate” scandals.

Not to mention what many see as the biggest scandal of all time: that of the stolen election of 2020.

But, as these examples suggest, the left have moved on since those days. No longer liberal, even in name, the progressives are now more often steely-eyed radicals and revolutionaries. Or else they are so much in sympathy with the revolutionaries that, though willing enough to point to hypocrisy in those they regard as their enemies, they are utterly impervious to any such accusation against themselves.


The examples have lately come so thick and fast that one can hardly keep up with them—beginning with the most stunning hypocrisy of all: the complaint that President Trump is a “bad loser,” refusing to accept the results of an election he has lost, made by people who have spent the last four years refusing to accept the results of the election he won.

It was only the other day when Hillary Clinton was insisting that “Joe Biden should not concede under any circumstances because I think this is going to drag out, and eventually I do believe he will win if we don’t give an inch and if we are as focused and relentless as the other side is.”

Or isn’t, as the case may be. Under the circumstances of Joe Biden’s apparent if still highly dubious victory, what’s sauce for the goose definitely is not sauce for the gander. President Trump’s refusal to concede is only further proof that he is the worst person in the world.

Almost as striking has been Joe Biden’s solemn pronouncement: “Let this grim era of demonization in America begin to end here and now.” Now whom do we know who has been most signally demonized in America in the last few years, not least by Joe and those of his fellow Democrats who are now calling for “unity”?

It’s as if they were telling us that unity is only possible—as it is obviously only possible for them—when they are in charge. But what, then, becomes of their long-standing complaint about President Trump’s “divisiveness”?

At least we can see the reason for these big hypocrisies. They “demonize” the President to gain a political advantage—one that showed up at the polls among the millions who voted against him rather than for his opponent—and not because they really believe in all the evils they attribute to Mr. Trump, many of which they are guilty of themselves.

But what about the small hypocrisies which, so you would think, it would cost them little or nothing to avoid? What about those Democratic politicians that lay down strict rules for lockdowns and social distancing and then go themselves, or suffer others of their party to go, to crowded demonstrations or Biden victory celebrations—or, like Governor Gavin Newsom of California, to birthday parties?


I think we can come up with a couple of explanations for these hypocrisies, the little as well as the big ones, that are worth considering.

One is that living, as so many of these apparently unconscious hypocrites do, so largely in the media echo chamber, where only the supposed sins of Mr. Trump and the Republicans are ever criticized, they may begin to think themselves immune from criticism, whatever they may do.

There’s certainly something in that, but I think the explanation needs to go deeper.

A couple of years ago, William Voegeli wrote a piece called “Racism Revised” for The Claremont Review of Books that pointed out that the definition of “racism” had been changed by the most advanced progressives when the rest of us weren’t looking. Now, instead of meaning prejudicial and discriminatory speech or behavior by members of one race against another, the word as used by most left-wing writers and speakers today means only such speech or behavior by white people against blacks or other “people of color.”

The people of color, in other words, can never be racists themselves, only the victims of white racism.

When you think about it, such a doctrine is no more than a logical corollary of the “identity politics” that has so largely taken the place of the old, universal standard of morality which has come down to us from the Enlightenment and which demands that everybody must be equally subject to the same rules.

Twenty years ago, that single standard was still powerful enough in the minds of both politicians and the media to serve as at least a partial deterrent against any hypocritical deviation from it when they themselves were tempted to do things they would have found objectionable in others. It is so no longer. And not only when it comes to “racism.”

Just look at all the ways in which, while mouthing their favorite slogan about no one being “above the law,” Democratic politicians today consider themselves and their party to be above the law in all kinds of ways—when it comes to illegal immigrants, for example, or sanctuary cities or unprosecuted crimes committed by Black Lives Matter or Antifa demonstrators. Or election “irregularities.”

The media, of course, have been treated as being above the law for decades. Even the most rabid right-winger today would never dream of prosecuting The New York Times or The Washington Post for publishing illegally obtained classified information. From their position of privilege, they have led the way for the new elite who believe in one rule for themselves and another for everybody else. In such a world, there can be no such thing as hypocrisy.

Another way of putting this is to say that we have reverted to the sort of tribalism that existed throughout the Western world before the Enlightenment and that still exists in many parts of the world today. That’s quite an accomplishment for a movement that still, ironically, likes to describe itself as “progressive.”

James Bowman is a resident scholar at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. The author of “Honor: A History,” he is a movie critic for the American Spectator and the media critic for the New Criterion. 

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.