Saturday, May 19, 2018

Static Trump and Dynamic Hypocrisy

My opinions about Donald Trump have not changed in the last two years. In fact, they haven't changed in decades. To me, he's always been an archetype of the very worst kind of person. He's been my go-to example any time a discussion required a specific example of a horrible human being-- willfully ignorant, bullying, uninterested in honor and placing no value on honesty, yet oddly transparent in his complete narcissistic self-serving grabbiness.

Nothing in the last two years has made me exclaim, "Goodness! I can't believe that Donald Trump said/did/approved of that!!" He has always been what he's always been. Anyone who clutches their pearl and acts shocked-- shocked!!-- about something Trump has said/done/lied about has either failed to pay attention, or they're just faking it for effect.

It is Trump's very terrible consistency that makes him such a accurate marker of the hypocrisy of others.

In the study or literature, we talk about static and dynamic characters. Dynamic characters change, and their movement and growth usually defines the guts of a story. But static characters, like a solid door frame with growth hatches or telephone poles that appear to dart past the car window, are what growth and change are measured against. In Great Expectations, young Pip loves and respects his lower-class brother-in-law Joe, but older gentleman Pip is embarrassed and ashamed of his country relative. Joe has not changed a bit; Pip's change tells us nothing about Joe, but it tells us everything about Pip's growth into a snob.

Donald Trump is a telephone pole.

Why am I comfortable calling evangelical leaders and establishment GOP figures hypocrites? Simple. If the evangelical community really believed in Trump's godliness, they would have been championing it for years. Franklin Graham would have been standing up a revivals declaring, "If you want to see the face of God, turn on The Apprentice!" The man is in his seventies-- a GOP that truly believed he was a paragon of conservative virtue would have been trying to recruit him to run for office for decades (and we'd know about it, because he would have told us so, repeatedly). And all of them, all of this great army of Trump lovers, would have been there cheering him on through his previous Presidential runs.

So what changed? Well, it wasn't Trump. Or rather, only one thing changed about Trump-- he suddenly had real power and could grant favors, help fulfill dreams like a gutted social safety net or a radical-packed bench. And so some GOP stalwarts and a busload of evangelical leaders stand revealed as embracing no real values except the hunger for power, no principles except the principle of Gimme Stuff.

And, I'm sorry to say, they're not the only ones.

Suddenly folks are discovering racism in America. And they're discovering it because it's useful as a narrative for opposing Trump, which leads some to act as if racism has suddenly flared into existence because Trump is in the White House. Have racism, misogyny, homophobia, xenophobia and all the other ugly ias's gotten worse? I have my doubts. More obvious and less sneaky, probably, but also more frequently noted, called out and reported. I'd love to believe that it's because we're suddenly all so woke and alert, but I don't-- I suspect a whole lot of people are suddenly concerned because these stories now reflect badly on Trump.

Consider, for instance, Kesha. The recording artist could easily have been the mother of #MeToo, suing her hugely abusive producer. But she filed the suit in 2014, and so she was left hanging in her suit mostly alone.

It's no surprise that some folks are not reacting to the newly woke with "Oh, you've uncovered abusive racist evil behavior! Thank you for coming to save us!" but more along the lines of, "Racism?! No shit, Sherlock. What took you so long?" All the ugly isms of America are longstanding static telephone poles by the side of our long national road, the door frame against which we can measure our own growth.

This phenomenon turns up in other places, too. It pains me to admit it, but some of us in the public school advocacy space didn't have much to say about segregation until it emerged as a charter school problem. And reformsters, hoping to revive their brand, periodically "discover" that certain reformy ideas are actually bad-- even though the ideas are no worse than when they were first pitched.

Of course, every one of the spaces described above is occupied by some people who have always been there. And there are people who come by their personal evolutions honestly, through hard-won personal growth and newly developed understanding. But when somebody suddenly adopts a whole new position on something that hasn't changed a whit, you have to ask-- is this an honest change in perspective, or does it just serve their purpose to stand on a different side of the pole.

Growth and change are critical; people who refuse to learn and grow tend to be less than awesome people. But there's a big difference between growth guided by principle and growth guided by expediency. It's one thing to grow as a way to give expression to principles and values, and quite another to shift position in order to cushion beliefs from impact with a hard reality. It's one thing to be guided by looking at your star, and another thing entirely to block that star from your vision so that it doesn't interfere with your chosen path. Because ultimately those second choices require you to lie to others, the world, even yourself. And once you do that, you start to turn into a really awful person.


  1. One of these things is not like the others.

    While I'm sure there is some "shock!" about racism, I think that there are two groups here that are not being hypocrites, and solid reasons for them both:

    1- There are the white people (like myself) who were insulated from black voices more or less our whole lives, but are just now, with internet being a way for people to speak out, hearing conversations about racism they'd never heard before. I will also say, in my conversations with minority friends, there is *absolutely* an uptick in racist incidents. They had all experienced a sort of soft racism (expectations adjusted because of race, ignorant comments, etc), but started getting active, violent racism starting on election day (one friend had a beverage thrown at him and was told to "go back to where he came from" the day Trump was elected). I don't think this is 100% Trump's doing, but I think the internet culture that birthed Trump support also is pushing this movement along.

    2- The modern face of anti-racism is BLM, and that started under Obama, and while it's just a modern iteration of an old movement, it received new life and a new generation started being more active after Treyvon Martin, again, years before Trump. To paint the members of a group like BLM as hypocritical opportunists in the age of Trump would be incorrect- you can say negative things about them, but they've been fighting this fight for a while now.

    I think the real people you mean here are the politicians and news people who wring their hands and pander without actually solving problems like school segregation. You make it sound here like you think those who actively fight racism, most of whom have been doing so since before Trump, are hypocrites and/or opportunists, when many are fighting for their lives.

  2. I tried to be clear that these spaces are occupied by people who have long fought these fights, and that you can tell them from the others precisely because they were there before Trump. From where I stand, there are more than a few white folks who suddenly noticed racism once it fit the Trump narrative to do so, but they are by no means the whole movement.