On Hypocrisy: A Dialogue with Myself

“Do I contradict myself? Very well, then, I contradict myself; I am large — I contain multitudes.”—Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass


 Me: Trump is a fascist. We have to do stuff

Other Me: Oh please. Listen to yourself. Remember when Bush was a fascist? Cheney? It’s not an alternate spelling for “Republican,” you know? Weren’t you the guy who said, “democracy means that approximately half of the time everybody is going to be governed by people that they really, really don’t like.” Of course, that was when Obama was president and you were telling people to get over it.

Me: But this time is different. He really is a fascist. Muslim bans? “My authority will not be questioned”? I mean, we’re one step away from sieg heiling when he walks in.

Other Me:  Yeah. It took you 30 seconds to get to Hitler this time. Remember when you wrote a whole column about not comparing stuff to Hitler? You coined the terms argumentum ad nazium and dicto simplicihitler and relentlessly ridiculed people who couldn’t think of another way to disagree with politicians than to compare them to the Third Reich. As you said yourself, until he starts shoving people into ovens, he’s not Hitler.

Me: I didn’t mean Hitler 1943. More like Hitler 1936. You know, the guy in Triumph of the Will who wouldn’t shake hands with Jesse Owens.

Other Me: Let me give you a hint: fascists believe things. Consistent things. Like actual ideology. Trump is just a channel for a bunch of unrelated grievances that people have with Democrats, liberals, the media, Starbucks, and health care. Trump isn’t focused enough to be a fascist. He’s more like a walking comments section.

Me: Have you ever read Sinclair Lewis’s It Can’t Happen Here?

Other Me: I’m you, genius. You know what I have read.”

Me: OK, so you remember Buzz Windrip. Lewis’s president. He was pretty much the same thing—just a stupid channeler of discontent who came to power by making glaring generalizations about immigrants and “America first.” But he became a tool in the hands of much more sinister figures who were ideologically allied with Hitler and Mussolini.

Other Me: Again with the Hitler. Can’t we just agree to give that one a rest?

Me: Now stop that. The “don’t say Hitler” response is just as knee-jerk as the “this guy is Hitler” response. If you want to look at ideological patterns, you have to use the examples available. You can look at how ultra-nationalist governments have come to power in the history of the last 100 years without saying that somebody is like Hitler in every way. I mean, Lewis was writing in 1935. Hitler wasn’t “Hitler” in 1935. A lot of people in America and Europe admired what he was doing, and there are triggers in human nature that he knew how to pull. It isn’t hyperbole to look at those triggers and see how somebody might be pulling them today.

Other Me: Yeah, so how are you different than all of the Tea Party Yahoos who said Obama was a fascist in 2008. And 2009, 2010, etc. You wrote a whole damn book about how they were wrong. And now you are saying pretty much the same thing as they were.

Me: Not really. They were wrong. I’m right.

Other Me: You KNOW that’s not good enough. Everybody thinks they are right and everyone else is wrong. This is human nature. Confirmation bias. You know this. You have written, like, a hundred blog posts and articles about it. Like this one. And this one. Everybody says that they are right and everybody else is wrong. This is just chimpanzees throwing poop in a zoo.

Me: I’ll give you all of that. But that doesn’t mean that every position is equally right, or equally good. There really are bad ideas, and some people’s ideas are better than others. The existence of biases doesn’t mean that all equally biased positions are equally wrong. Some ideas really are dangerous. Some people really are Hitler. You can be perfectly biased and perfectly right at the same time. And besides, I have to think that I’m right. If I thought I was wrong, I would want to change my mind. You can factor out all of the “yeah, I could be wrong” stuff you want. But at some point, you have to decide that you are as sure as you can be about something and then try to convince other people to think like you do. That’s how democracy works.

Other Me: Then why aren’t you trying to be persuasive? You know how to be persuasive. You teach this stuff. Nobody is persuaded by sarcastic comments. Nobody is persuaded by irrational hyperbole. And you know perfectly well that nobody was shamed out of voting for Trump. If anything, the way that liberals treated potential Trump voters is precisely the reason that we ended up with the guy as president. When you lead with “your candidate is a fascist,” there is pretty much no way that you are going to win somebody over to your side.

Me: I’m not convinced that people are actually rational. You’ve read Thinking Fast and Slow and The Righteous Mind. People come to decisions quickly and then use logic to justify their decisions.

Other Me: Well, then drop all of that high-sounding, middle-school civics stuff about entering into dialogue and winning people over to your side. Or maybe you could give people some credit and treat them like, you know, people. Generally, people are willing to listen to arguments if they think that you take them and their ideas seriously. Have you tried, you know, not freaking out about the existential fact of Donald Trump being president and instead trying to make rational arguments about why X, Y, or Z are either good or bad things to do?

Me: Well yeah. But the whole point of Trump’s attacking the media is to vitiate any final arbitrator of truth claims and therefore delegitimize all fact-based epistemic closure.

Other Me: Do you have any idea how stupid that sentence sounded to anybody who has never taken a graduate seminar in the humanities? The fact that you talk like that is a big part of the problem. But you are also a hypocrite. I mean, you couldn’t have been happier when Obama denounced Fox News and talk radio? But now that he is denouncing your guys you are getting all polysyllabic and mighty.

Me: Oh, come on. There is a huge difference between Rush Limbaugh shouting on air that Obama is a Kenyan-born Muslim whose main goal in life is to destroy America and CNN reporting that Trump’s National Security Advisor resigned amid a controversy about his contacts with a Russian ambassador.

Other Me: There is a big difference to you, but look how you are framing it. You are placing what your guy did in the most friendly context you can imagine and what the other guy did in the most hostile context you can imagine. It would sound just as bad the other way, which is why Fox News and talk radio have such big ratings. Hypocrisy is when you apply one standard to yourself and another, different standard, to somebody else. And it seems to me that this is exactly what you are doing when, say, you complain about Trump governing by executive orders when you were fine with Obama doing the same thing.

Me: But the other side is engaging in hypocrisy when they do the opposite. They were furious when Obama issued executive orders, and now they are thrilled about what Trump is doing. I don’t think that you can really meaningfully talk about hypocrisy in a political context, since people are always going to see their own side one way and the other side another way. For example, I think that presidents do have the right to issue executive orders, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t accountable to Constitutional courts.

Other Me: Yeah, but when Obama got reversed, you said stuff like “he tried to exceed his authority and he got his hand slapped. That’s how the process works.” When Trump did, you said, “OMG!!!!!! HITLER!!!!! FASCISM!!!!!!! WE ARE ALL GONG TO DIE!!!!!!!!!!!” And when people used this kind of language with Obama you called them deluded wing-nuts.

Me: I never use multiple exclamation points. Not. Ever. And also, “deluded wing-nuts” is redundant.

Other Me: You know what I mean

Me: And Trump really is a fascist.

Other Me: So I’ve heard.


  1. I feel significantly less alone in the universe knowing people smarter than me are also wrestling with deciding which cognitive dissonances are constructive to tackle. How do we ground ourselves in such a present tense? Where are the bearings and the bootstraps? Thanks for the vulnerability in this, and the self-deprecating humor. Much needed in my corner.

  2. From someone who doesn’t usually agree your posts, this was a great read.

  3. I’m serious, Michael: this is one of your very best pieces of writing ever. May it be read and pondered far and wide.

  4. Brilliant!

  5. I didn’t vote for Trump. I don’t like Trump. I hate listening to the man imitating human speech. But I long for the day when I can check into BCC and find articles about anything other than Trump. Give it a rest!

  6. Wonderful, M.A. Love your voluble perspicacity & even-handedness. Lots of genuine lefty suffering out here. They should read this.

  7. Haha! I have found myself having this exactly conversation (with a less graduate-studies vocabulary).

  8. Here is what I think when I think about this: Please, Lord, let me be as wrong about this as the conservatives were about President Obama.

    Feedback noted.

  9. Every once in a while…infrequently…a blog post comes along that is brilliant and honest. This one. Thank you.

  10. Bruce Spencer says:

    We survived six years of Richard Milhous Nixon… we can survive four years of this guy.

  11. This dialogue is very nicely done. But.

    It’s like taking a splash of cool water on really hot day. It refreshes, it gives you a few moments of welcome relief. Then you remember that it’s still as hot as hell.

  12. Mike, where does this dialogue leave you? What’s next?

  13. Steve–the dialogue isn’t over. It was just already too long, so I stopped. I go through this every day. Some days one guy wins and some days the other guy wins. I don’t see a resolution–just an increasing level comfort with being uncomfortable.

  14. That’s good. People who are comfortable right now are, i believe, the ones in real trouble.

  15. This is the first time someone with extreme alt-right views , Steve Bannon, has the ear of the President of the United States and is now on the NSC. This was the first time the White House commemorated “Holocaust Remembrance Day” without mentioning the word “Jews” once.
    This is the first time it has been suggested that Russia influenced an American election.
    This is the first time a POTUS has labeled legitimate news outlets, fake. This is the first time possible treason was committed with Flynn talking sanctions with Russia–and if Trump knew that is treason on his part as well. This is the first time John McCain has said what he has about an presidential administration . This is the first time….

  16. ….the judiciary had stop a president from an constitutional executive order and the POTUS labeled them “so-called”.

  17. that should read, unconstitutional.

  18. “Here is what I think when I think about this: Please, Lord, let me be as wrong about this as the conservatives were about President Obama.”

    Right there with you, John C.

  19. This is exactly why discussions are nearly fruitless. When I posted something about opposing Bannon’s appointment a tea party family member laughed at me because they’d been crying wolf at Obamas czars for eight years. “You’re doing exactly what I did,” /condescendingly pats my hand/.

    How can I argue there’s not an equivalence between trying to expand health care coverage and banning Muslim immigration. They think the first is still unconstitutional, regardless of scotus ruling. There’s too much knee jerk outrage on both sides, to be sure. And I think the arguments are best made when you focus on actions/policy instead of impugning trumps character. Is it possible to really convert a trump voter? Am I a Van Jones who advocates for reconnecting or anAva Duvernay who sees it as a waste of time and energy and to just get out there create, act, engage where you can. I’m not sure.

  20. Not a Cougar says:

    Jill, this is certainly not the first time Russia has entered into the U.S. presidential election. Kruschev openly bragged about helping to get Kennedy elected.

    As for white nationalist views in the White House, how about Wilson who segregated the federal bureaucracy? How about Korematsu? Or the U.S. takeovers of the Philippines and Hawaii?

    This is hardly the first time the presidency has been occupied by wild cards. Read about Andrew Jackson simply ignoring the Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of the Cherokee Nation on the Indian Removal Act or Lincoln singlehandedly preventing Maryland from joining the Confederacy by preventing their legislature from assembling.

    As for not trusting news, you do know that the U.S. Government established strict control of all media during WWII, going so far as to read (or at least attempt to read) all mail sent home by U.S. servicemembers and then physically cutting out anythung deemed a security risk.

    I post all of this, not to make fun of your fears, but to suggest that 1) our historical hands aren’t nearly as clean as we Americans sometimes like to think and 2) while we’re not done with history just yet, this isn’t the end.

  21. I don’t like the idea that you can no longer use an argument, because another group of people previously misused an argument.
    You see Trump behaving, in a pro oligarchical, authoritarian, extreme and intolerant way. So you say “This is fascist”.
    When the Tea Partier said that Obama was fascist, and you asked what was fascist about his actions the response is “I just don’t like it.” Or when talking with my wife’s grandmother, Obama hadn’t done anything really bad yet, but he secretly really wanted to. He just hadn’t got to the final stage of his secret plot yet.
    I’m fine with the President issues Executive Orders. The difference is that now Trump comes in and starts trying to making Steve Bannon’s laws without the Legislative Branch. Obama’s Executive Orders were usually minor course corrections after having given Congress the chance to change something, but one of the two houses wouldn’t bring up items in their dockets for votes.
    It’s really as if one side is intentionally delegitimizing all arguments, so that way, reasonable people will feel hypocritical when making legitimate use of those arguments.

  22. Mike, this really speaks to me. Simplicity is elegant and easy, but oversimplification needs to be resisted at every turn.

  23. This is exactly why I don’t know how to respond to either side. The hitler argument turns me off, yet I do agree he’s a jerk. I am not sure if he’s hitler level jerk yet though. Anyway, I am ready for not trump posts as well, but I get that it’s a major conundrum/issue for christians because there’s a moral imperative. But maybe let’s try every other post? 😂 Appreciate the constant stream of thought though from you guys.

  24. To compound the issue, I think people have a severe mistrust of media (on both sides) and so trying to decipher what is “true” and where people are using propaganda tactics is extremely difficult. I try to be a rational thinker who avoids jumping to extremes, but I have an unsettling feeling that there are secret combinations afloat – I just can’t tell where they are and who they are trying to benefit.

  25. Thanks for sharing this, Michael. Personally, I’m a fan of all the Trump posts. Much of my church-related angst has been superseded by a new pile of country-related angst, so I appreciate reading y’all’s thoughts trying to process this too.

  26. “Some people really are Hitler.”

    In reality, only one person really is/was Hitler.
    Any other claim is politically motivated rhetoric and simile, as mentioned in the OP.

  27. Well, Hitler being a surname, lots of people were Hitler. But yes, only one person was the Hitler that led the Nazi party. But even so, some people really are Nazis.

  28. Ziff,
    “Much of my church-related angst has been superseded by a new pile of country-related angst…”
    Exactly my experience.

  29. “Much of my church-related angst has been superseded by a new pile of country-related angst…”
    The dissonance in my life is that I’m unable to separate my church-related angst from my country-related angst, and I don’t understand how or why anyone tries to — seems an important way to be valiant is to vote for/support secular governance that supports your spiritual goals.

  30. I’m thinking you would give Jeff Dunham and Peanut a run for their money in “Arguing with Myself”.

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