Episode 53: The Increasingly Dull Edge of ‘Hypocrisy’ Takedowns
Citations Needed | October 10, 2018 | Transcript
Intro: This is Citations Needed with Nima Shirazi and Adam Johnson.
Nima Shirazi: Welcome to Citations Needed, a podcast on the media, power, PR and the history of bullshit. I am Nima Shirazi.
Adam Johnson: I’m Adam Johnson.
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Adam: I agree. We need your support actually. (Chuckles.) Um, it’s a lot of work. Trump says he opposed the war in Iraq, but in fact he supported it in some obscure interview from 2004. McCain was for the tax cuts before he opposed them. Republicans say they’re Christians, but support a philandering liar. Hypocrisy dunks, which reached peak popularity during the heyday of The Daily Show, for a long time where the kind of bread and butter of liberal discourse.
Nima: But as outright lying and contradiction are not only ignored but actually embraced by Trumpism — in this age of Trump — this worldview has lost any remaining purchase that it may once have had. Gawker founder Nick Denton said in 2009 that, “Hypocrisy was the only modern sin,”, that doctrine-driven ideologies had been replaced by the nihilistic, ersatz ideology of just not contradicting oneself. So now, consistency, even in the service of nothing and only in the defense of power, has become the highest moral status.
Adam: But what we’re going to argue today is that, as the emptiness of this approach to politics grew more stark, a new generation of politically-engaged people sought out traditional ideologies. On the Left, this is sort of broadly manifested as socialism, or what we’ll call socialism, which offered an alternative to the self-contained, cultish Liberal smarm. And so today we’re gonna discuss the limits of hypocrisy as a mode of criticism, when it can still be useful — we’re not totally anti-hypocrisy — and why never contradicting oneself is more so evidence of cowardice than it is a principle.
Nima: Our guest today is writer, researcher and co-host of the Delete Your Account podcast, Roqayah Chamseddine.
Roqayah Chamseddine: Hypocrisy-baiting, it’s one of the most favored and most marketable reactions to Donald Trump because it gives pundits and comedians like the people that I’ve already mentioned and all the rest, you know, of the center-left talk show universe an opportunity to simulate an ideological position when, in fact, all that they’ve done is lean on what’s least demanding of them politically so that they never have to toe a real political line.
Adam: So, I want to start off by saying that what we’re not arguing here is that hypocrisy has no use in political discourse. Hypocrisy can be a useful diagnostic. It’s something that you and I, Nima, have pointed out before.
Adam: You know, Israel says it cares about human rights, but does X. America says it, you know, cares about civilian casualties, but does Y. Hypocrisy can be a good way of teasing out broader ideological problems, but in and of itself is not a very useful critique, which is to say if you don’t address the underlying substance of why something is bad, why it’s morally bad, why it violates some code of first principles, the charge of hypocrisy is pretty meaningless and, I think you would agree, takes up a lot of oxygen in liberal discourse in a way that comes off as kind of infantile. That the fact that Trump is friends with some Muslims after he commits a Muslim ban is not a particularly interesting own. The fact that he’s a racist is bad. The fact that he’s an inconsistent racist does not make it any worse and this is something we see time and again.
Carl Bernstein: There’s a lot of hypocrisy going around here. Trump’s hypocrisy about the supposed three million votes.
Eric Bolling: Our very own Michelle Fields exposing climate change hypocrisy among Hollywood elites.
Andrea Mitchell: This is an issue of political hypocrisy, if nothing else, aside from the allegations of pedophilia.
Ari Fleischer: They should change the name of the Democratic Party to the Hypocrite Party.
Maya Wiley: If hypocrisy were a crime, Trump would be serving a life sentence.
Kirsten Powers: And I think we talk a lot about the hypocrisy of the Trump supporters, I think there’s a lot of hypocrisy on the other side as well.
Bernie Sanders: About being tough on the establishment. ‘Oh yeah, we’re gonna take on the whole establishment,’ and you appoint the entire establishment to your Cabinet. The hypocrisy would be really funny if it wasn’t so sad.
Sarah Huckabee Sanders: We’re pointing out the hypocrisy. Again, none of these this would be taking place if Democrats had done this in a normal order.
Sean Hannity: And now that Trump is president, the King of Hypocrisy Chuckie Schumer is now singing a much different tune about James Comey.
Kristin Tate: What a hypocrite. This is the height of hypocrisy. Obama is the king of okie-dokie stuff. Remember in 2008 he just talked about “hope and change” and was never very specific about his policies and the media never questioned about that.
Nima:And it also gets to the idea of who is the target of these kind of ‘hypocrisy owns’ and do they have shame? I mean, is that, is that, do they see that as being a moment of reflection of saying, ‘Oh wow, well, I guess I’m being inconsistent on that,’ or is inconsistency just part and parcel of the kind of political animal that politicians become? Right? That they say what they need to say, they’re opportunistic when they need to be, they can contradict themselves and then circle back or at other times people can actually evolve in their thinking and so you can’t just throw out ‘hypocrisy’ as this kind of catch-all gotcha. And what we’ve seen is not only kind of reporting on hypocritical elements of promoted policy by politicians over the years, but it really came to the term “flip-flop,” which is, you know, used ubiquitously in political media. Um, it’s used in campaign speeches to kind of slam your opponent. But the flip-flop, which obviously came into the common discourse in 2004 during the Bush Kerry presidential campaign, is nothing new and was nothing ne then. Even 14 years ago. So, The New York Times, back on October 23, 1890, published a report about a campaign speech delivered by John W. Goff, candidate for District Attorney in New York City. In that speech, Goff said, “I would like to hear Mr. Nicoll [that’s his opponent] explain his great flip-flop, for three years ago, you know, as the Republican candidate for District Attorney, he bitterly denounced Tammany as a party run by bosses and in the interest of bossism…. Nicoll, who three years ago was denouncing Tammany, is its candidate to-day.” And so that, back in 1890, October of 1890, is one of the first mentions of the term flip-flop in the very same usage that it retains today in political discourse.
Adam: And, you know, since the great flip-flop of 2004 where Bush ran the, the hit add where John Kerry is windsurfing in the, they, he goes, “flip-flop” and then they have the wind sail go back and forth.
Male Voice-Over: In which direction would John Kerry lead? Kerry voted for the Iraq War. Opposed it. Supported it. And now opposes it again. He bragged about voting for the $87 billion to support our troops before he voted against it. He voted for education reform and now opposes it. He claims he’s against increasing Medicare premiums, but voted five times to do so. John Kerry, whichever way the wind blows.
Adam: We’ve had it forever. I mean, you know, we have 2008, we have Slate, “The Flip-Flop Brothers,” which was um, which was about McCain and Obama being sort of equally flip-floppy. New York Times 2008, “Flip-Flops Are Looking Like a Hot Summer Trend.” “12 Huge Presidential Campaign Flip-Flops,” from Business Insider, this was 2011 during the Romney Obama run. “Romney & Gingrich Flip-Flops,” Vanity Fair.
Nima: “Mitt Romney’s Biggest Flip-Flops,” said Rolling Stone in 2012. “McCain must be getting dizzy from all the flip-flops” said CNN in 2014. “Deconstructing Hillary Clinton’s trade deal flip-flop” reported The Washington Post in 2015. “A Glaring Climate Shift Joins Trump’s Long Line of Flip-Flops,” and The New York Times in June of 2016. And then you get into the real kind of Clinton and Trump and Sanders era flip-flop articles from the 2016 campaign, which are just, um, it was, it was just constant. It was a constant deluge of articles about flip-flopism.
Adam: Yeah. And so this, this kind of reached its low point I think, over the last two years with Donald Trump. What Donald Trump did when he first started running was he kind of baked into the cake that he was a huge prick by telling you he was a huge prick. He sort of lampshaded it, right? There’s an old screenwriting trick they call “to put a lampshade on” something, getting away with a plot contrivance by pointing out that it’s a plot contrivance right? And Trump did this. He put a lampshade on it. Early on he said, ‘I’m a hypocrite. I donated to Democrats and Republicans because I needed to influence politics.’ And they were like, ‘Well, you’re, you know, you donated to Democrats.’ He’s like, ‘Yeah, I already said that.’ This was, you know, Trump is not a bright guy in a lot of ways. But he has a, he has a very strong sense of marketing and he understood intuitively, I think five years before other people would have realized it eventually, that we lived in a time where people are capable of thinking you’re a total piece of shit scumbag liar, but still liking you? And they like you because you tell them you’re a piece of shit scumbag liar.
Adam: But, for some reason, maybe due to some rhetorical tick or some kind of condition, liberals kept pointing out his hypocrisy, as if it mattered.
Nima: As if anyone who was supporting Trump was doing it because of the nobility and consistency of his policy positions. And the fact that he was like this, you know, a font of integrity who, you know, held up certain values. It’s like, no, no, no, the entire campaign was built on the opposite of that.
Adam: And yet they kept doing it. So when Trump initiated the Muslim ban for immigration, people would show pictures of him with Saudi princes as if that somehow showed what a hypocrite he was, as if the problem wasn’t the racist ban, but his, that somehow he’s racist and inconsistent.
Nima: Right. The same thing happened when he called all Mexicans, like, murderers and rapists and people were, like, ‘Yes, but you also have hired Mexican people in the past.’
Adam: As if racists have never hired non-white people before to, like, clean their shit.
Nima: Right. But it’s like, but, but wait, remember slavery?
Nima: Yeah, it doesn’t work that way.
Adam: And then Ann Coulter had this citizenship test where she said no one who didn’t have American parents could be American. And then, of course, Trump’s mother’s not born in America. And so they were like, ‘Oh, owned! You owned Trump.’ And it’s like, I don’t think people know that like if we lived under an Ann Coulter dictatorship, it’s not as if she wouldn’t say, ‘…except for white countries.’ Like, they’re just racist. It’s not, you know, ‘Oh, you got owned by your own logic.’ And she’s like, yeah, well clearly when she meant —
Nima: Like their not actually talking about everyone who wasn’t born in this country, there’s something else going on here.
Adam: They’re talking about non-white people who were not born in this country.
Nima: Right. There’s an actual ideology that undergirds all of this and it’s not going to be exposed by being like, ‘Oh, but you didn’t say those people too.’
Adam: The worst defense, or one of the worst defenses of hypocrisy bating is when Trump launched airstrikes into Syria ostensibly for humanitarian reasons because they gassed civilians and this was something broadly supported by Democrats, by Congressional Democrats, Senate Democrats and is something that Hillary Clinton had been advocating for years and Hillary Clinton later said she supported the airstrikes. So you couldn’t criticize the airstrikes against the Syrian government, because the liberals supported them. So the go-to hypocrisy take was Trump says he cares about Syrians, but bans Syrian refugees. Now banning Syrian refugees is bad, of course. Bombing the Syrian government is bad, although they supported it, but, like, this was like in lieu of being able to actually criticize the substance of what he did because they agreed with it.
Nima: Right. And, and it’s the same thing as when they talk about Iran. So it’s, you know, sanctions against Iran are pretty much routinely supported. I mean there is some, some idea of, okay, but if you want to keep the Iran Deal, sanctions undermine that, but like generally the idea of punitive actions against Iran is broadly supported by all politicians. But they go back to this exact same thing, Adam, just as you said, it’s like, ‘Oh, but you know, you keep saying you’re doing this because you support the Iranian people against their own government and yet you banned them from coming into the country.’ It’s like, okay, it’s, no one in the government, like Donald Trump certainly, does not give a shit about the Iranian people. That is not why sanctions are being levied. That is not why, you know, like he can somehow be owned or be, you know, kind of called out on political bullshit by being like, ‘But if you love them so much, why won’t you let them into the country?’ It’s like, no, there’s a much broader ideology at work here that is not going to be exposed by this hypocrisy reporting.
Adam: And this is something that comes up all the time when we discuss the Christian Right. The Christian Right loves Donald Trump. I mean they absolutely adore him more than the adored George Bush because the Christian Right has baked in hypocrisy into the cake. If you’ve spent any time in an Evangelical church or Evangelical settings like you’re allowed to sort of be the world’s biggest hypocrite so long as you show up on Sunday and ask for forgiveness. They are also incredibly savvy and they’re deeply, deeply cynical and they know that Trump will get them pro-life judges and that’s all they really give a shit about. So people constantly say the Christian Right is hypocritical because they support Trump. It’s like they know that they don’t give a shit.
Adam: Like, again, I think we’ve reached a point now where I think hypocrisy is just so ingrained into the concurrent Republican Party and current conservative thinking, which is of course very, very pro-Trump, despite how many times David Frum tells you otherwise, that hypocrisy is already baked into the cake and it doesn’t really provide a useful critique. And so the question that comes up from that is, okay, well what’s the, what is the criticism? And then you have to offer, you have to offer ideological counterbalance instead of simply saying that they said X but they did Y, you have to explain why X is bad. And this is, I think, a far more difficult thing for people to do, especially when they agree with X, when they agree with Trump bombing or they, you know, they, they agree on banning people from Iran because of national security reasons like, so they have to kind of come up with this contradiction which is again, it’s like what you said, it’s an ersatz ideology. It’s not a real worldview.
Nima: The hypocrisy that’s being called out never takes into account the fact that, in being hypocritical, whether the policy being advocated or actually enacted has changed, like, whatever is being called out, is still all about building a certain kind of power for a certain kind of people and diminishing the power and diminishing the rights and diminishing the lives of other kinds of people. That is not changing based on who’s being hypocritical at any given point. And so calling that out, again, as you just said, Adam, without delving into what’s behind all of this, like it’s not just good enough that you know, well, ‘10 years ago McCain said this and now that he’s running a campaign, he says this!’ Like, ‘What an asshole!’ It’s like, yeah, no shit, like, that’s how politics works. But without actually investigating those actual policies and the implications of them and what they’re rooted in, what the purpose of them is, what it was 10 years ago and then what again it is now, it just winds up being an exercise that you could just and as we’ll see, you could just automate.
Adam: Yeah. And then this popular liberal mode of argumentation was perfected by Jon Stewart and The Daily Show and even The Daily Show today. This is something that’s still the bread and butter of The Daily Show, uh, to the extent that it’s culturally relevant. I’m not sure that it is. And this was something that Jon Stewart pretty much based his entire worldview on. And you can say, ‘Oh, he’s just a comedian’ and he was but for a good 10 years, Jon Stewart was considered the most influential liberal in the country. Um, you know, you can hide behind the whole just-comedian-thing all you want.
Nima: That’s a lot of bullshit.
Adam: That’s mostly horseshit. And because people are influential because they are influential. They’re not influential because of some, um, you know, ontological trick of unseriousness where you say, ‘Oh, well, you know, he’s actually in this category of comedian, so therefore he’s not,’ I mean, what does that mean?
Nima: Completely meaningless thing —
Adam: Right. People are influential because they’re influential.
Nima: (Laughs) Right.
Adam: Um, it’s an outcome-based thing. It’s not, it’s not about how you define yourself. And he did this all the time. And in the last one especially, you notice that he went after McCain for, um, for contradicting himself on Iraq. Didn’t really get into the explanation of why Iraq was bad per se, just that on the issue of putting American troops at risk he somehow contradicted himself, which is, like, okay, but like, you know, to the Iraqi women pulling shrapnel out of their chest and they really care that he contradicted himself? Does that, is that sort of the most morally important question?
Nima: Right, right. The actual supporting of the war crime in the first place is where the analysis actually needs to begin, not simply, sort of, you know, circling back on yourself and, like, hedging.
Adam: Yeah, and in Jon Stewart’s defense, he sometimes would go to the underlying substance, but very, very often he didn’t, you know, very often he did this sort of mugging to the camera, like look at this thing that they said and then they did the opposite thing and I think that that was fine enough for awhile, but I think eventually that kind of wore thin. And now I think a more perverse version of this, and this is something we talked about offline, Nima, is South Park, a show that didn’t even have the kind of partisan scaffolding of Democratic Party politics, which at least had some kind of quasi morality to them, right? It was pure sort of libertarian nihilism. The show that is the highest, the highest moral order in the South Park world is to not be a hypocrite and that nothing is really important in the cartoon. The biggest cardinal sin you can commit is to care about something. Right?
Adam: Caring about things is so lame and it’s what those wacky Lefties and wacky Far-Righters do and they’re all part of the same hypocrisy and there’s no such thing as power dynamics or or, or sort of moral impetus to act.
Nima: Right. As Sean O’Neal at AV Club actually put it, “To South Park global warming is just a dumb myth perpetrated by ‘super cereal’ losers. Prius drivers are smug douches who love the smell of their own farts. Vegetarians end up growing vaginas on their face. ‘Transgender people’ are just mixed-up, surgical abominations. The word ‘fag’ is fine. Casual anti-Semitism is all in good fun. ‘Hate crimes’ are silly. Maybe all you pussies just need a safe space.” And so, you know, basically defining your worldview as ‘everyone just needs to shut up and get over it’ really has no real grounding in any sort of context of the world, of how power works, of how people actually operate, of how identity actually works. And so you wind up just getting this, you know, and I’ll kind of merge the Comedy Central South Park with Comedy Central Stewart and Colbert into this like nothing burger of ‘let’s just have a Rally to Restore Sanity. And it’s like, well, what is sanity? Right? Like, sanity is, in their definition, just amble along and McCain is a hero and shut up and let’s just get to like, you know, dignified politics where it’s just a matter of opinion, agree to disagree and, like, nothing actually changes ever and the empire ambles along and you know exactly the same shit will happen again and again and again because no one is challenging anything in any sense of any case.
Adam: Right. And I, and I, and I do want to draw a distinction between South Park and Daily Show. I think that The Daily Show did have a little bit more of a moral center and did sort of compel people to care sometimes. I think it was just mostly, just kind of, it was a lot of empty smarm.
Nima: Whereas South Park was just like pointing and laughing.
Adam: Yeah, South Park is just more or less nihilist. Now, in fairness, I haven’t watched the show in a couple of years. I think maybe they’ve maybe made amends to that somehow or kind of become self aware. But specifically around the topic of being a vegetarian. You know, for, for five years I was vegetarian and I was a vegan. I haven’t been in quite some time, but there was this huge, anytime you’d tell someone, I’d probably say maybe once a month somebody say, ‘Oh, lol, you’re going to grow vaginas on you.’ Because that was the South Park episode where the vegetarian grew vaginas because that was supposedly edgy humor and it’s like, well, you know, animal rights should matter. The welfare of animals and the systemic torturing of animals is something that we should be engaging with. At the very, the very least we should think about it. Right?
Nima: And not just dismiss people who care and act accordingly. I think that’s the thing that it’s just, it’s the, it’s the smug dismissal, if not more, kind of vicious, you know, scrutiny and vicious, kind of like berating of that, you know, anything on that kind of spectrum from like smug dismissal to actually like pointing and laughing and calling out people for giving a shit about things that actually affect the world and affect people’s lives and animals lives and our environment or, you know, entire countries or the bombs that are dropped on people, like, all of these things, if you care, South Park said like, just get over it, you know, nothing matters, the people who care are the dupes and the douches and that can be funny up until a certain point and then you’re just like, ‘Eh, really?’ Like, that’s where you’re coming from?
Adam: Yeah. And I think what this creates is, and again, I, you could say, ‘Oh, this is just a comedy show’ and this and this. I think that’s bullshit. I actually think it’s sort of really does inform how people view things in a popular way. Um, and when people are vegans or vegetarians and they tell people that, the first thing a lot of people do, this is somewhat anecdotal, but based on my observations in others, is that it’s, it’s, ‘Oh, do you wear a leather belt, do you have leather seats?’ Like, we love this idea of hypocrisy gotcha-ism. It’s like this weird brain tic because what it does is it prevents us from being introspective and it prevents us of having to like question or first principles and question what we believe because if everyone’s a hypocrite, right? If everyone’s full of shit, if everyone’s a phony, then we don’t have to think about anything.
Nima: Well, exactly. And then you don’t have to actually give credence to anything that anyone is bringing up that makes you think about how you live your life and may potentially feel guilty about or feel like maybe that should change. Right? So, like, that’s exactly what’s behind that, you know, oh, well, you know, uh, ‘You say you’re vegan, uh, and yet, you know, you have a down comforter and there’s feathers in there.’ So basically the guilt you just made me feel for eating a BLT, I now get to dismiss wholesale because you don’t even listen to yourself and therefore what you just said to me holds no weight and I can completely ignore it and completely go on living my life as if I hadn’t heard you in the first place.
Adam: And the problem I think with creating a culture of hypocrisy as the only sin, to put it in or the only modern sin, to put it in Nick Denton’s words, is that I think in a world where hypocrisy, which we define as saying something and doing something else, becomes our media’s favorite proxy for fraudulence. The net result is not that politicians and pundits will say one thing and then do it. It’s that they just won’t say anything in the first place because you could never be a hypocrite if you never take a position in the first place. Right?
Adam: One of the reasons why so many of our politicians and so many Blue Checkmark pundits and journalists are so fucking boring and so empty is because they never actually say anything because you can never be a hypocrite if you never actually make the initial position known. Right? If you just remain super vague and talk in platitudes, you can never really be a hypocrite.
Nima: Right. You can never be called out, which to them, again, is the ultimate sin.
Adam: Right. And that I think is a total moral cul-de-sac. And then as we discussed earlier, I really do think that this kind of nihilism is what drew people to alternative ideologies. I think it’s what draws people to far-left politics. I think perversely, I think it draws people to maybe more fascist ideology as well. Not to horseshoe, because I think one is good and one is bad, but I do think that a failure of kind of talking about politics as a matter of first principles and a matter of worldviews and a matter of moral visions, but it’s actually who can sort of follow the rules. It’s uninteresting. It doesn’t sustain people’s attention and I think it starts to be exposed as just sort of dull, uh, it’s, it’s, it’s the peak of, of middle management liberalism where the goal is to sort of follow the rules and not to really stand for anything and I think hypocrisy as an end in and of itself, because again, I think it can give a good diagnostic, but as an in and of itself as a sort of knee-jerk criticism, I think spells a kind of empty worldview.
Nima: And so to delve into this more, we are going to be speaking with writer, researcher, and co-host of the Delete Your Account podcast, Roqayah Chamseddine. Stay with us.
Nima: We are joined now by Roqayah Chamseddine, writer, researcher and the co-host of Delete Your Account, the wonderful political podcast. So it is great to talk to you again on Citations Needed, Roqayah. Hi.
Roqayah Chamseddine: Hello. How are y’all doin’?
Adam: Doing well, thanks so much for coming on. Today we’re talking about hypocrisy, which we sort of broadly define as criticizing people for saying X and doing Y. This is something I know you’ve commented on quite a bit on Twitter and in some of your writing about how the sort of liberal instinct to point out hypocrisy is a little bit of a siren song. That it’s a little bit of a cul-de-sac, that it’s kind of ostensibly interesting but doesn’t really get you anywhere politically. To what do you owe the kind of popularity of it? And uh, and I would argue, and we argued earlier, that it’s becoming less popular for that very reason, not the least of which, as we discussed, Republicans just don’t have any shame and don’t give a shit.
Roqayah Chamseddine: Yeah, I mean, I think it’s really clear to anyone that’s been watching what’s been happening in the U.S. since the election of Donald Trump that liberals see hypocrisy and even scandal because we always talk about how shameful he is, they find those two things as being the strongest indictments against his administration. And this has turned into like a directionless obsession with duplicity. And I’m, I’m characterizing it as being without direction because I fail to see, just as I’m sure that both of y’all fail to see, what this accomplishes in terms of building a case against Donald Trump that’s capable of undermining the influence he has, not only on the country but on his base, and yet we’re constantly being pilloried with, you have Trevor Noah, Colbert. It is, like, constantly calling out, ‘Oh, you know what? He said this a few years to go on Twitter, but now he’s doing this’, as though that has any impact whatsoever in tearing down the actions of his current administration.
Adam: Yeah. To your point, it seems like whatever shame may have existed or whatever modicum of shame that existed within the Republican base, even though I don’t think it was really ever there, is completely gone now. So I’m not sure who the constituency is for this is, other than other liberals.
Roqayah Chamseddine: Yeah, absolutely. And look, I’ll use your terminology here because I think you’re the first one that actually use this “hypocrisy-baiting”, but it’s one of the most favored and most marketable reactions to Donald Trump because it gives pundits and comedians like the people that I’ve already mentioned and all the rest, you know, of the center-left talk show universe an opportunity to simulate an ideological position when, in fact, all that they’ve done is lean on what’s least demanding of them politically so that they never have to toe a real political line.
Adam: (Chuckles.) I like the idea that it’s just not regulatory.
Nima: (Laughs.) Right. It just doesn’t —
Roqayah Chamseddine: Yeah, really.
Nima: It’s just really easy to do. And I mean, even if, uh, even in the kind of hailed anonymous oped that was published in The New York Times, so much of that is not based on resistance to Trump in terms of actual policies that are being implemented.
Roqayah Chamseddine: Yeah, exactly.
Nima: It’s just like, well, he’s kind of erratic and you can’t count on him. And he says this, then he says this and he’s just kind of uncouth and like he’s not operating the right way by being consistent and level headed and having the gravitas that a president should have and that’s the criticism that kind of gets folded into this, you know, idea of duplicity and this idea of hypocrisy. And so again, completely skirting any real issues of the implications of these policies and why they should be addressed and resisted and challenged.
Roqayah Chamseddine: Absolutely. And look, this happens, this continues to happen because we have a pundit class that refuses to engage with Donald Trump as a symptom of anything or even as more than an incivility because it isn’t enough for them to point out, you know, what he said this thing and now he’s a hypocrite. I mean, we know that Donald Trump is a plaster saint. We know he’s a hypocrite. Like we don’t need that force fed anymore than it already is. What these people aren’t asking is, okay, how does Trump exist and function within the current system in the U.S.? How do his mannerisms carry the nation to the brink of war? That’s what they’re arguing right? And his, you know, he’s acting in an uncivilized manner. Okay. Then how does the U.S. function as an imperialist force in the world? If we wanted to talk about war, why are people like George Bush being rehabilitated if you’re so concerned with war and its impact on the world? All right, a lot of them are talking about, ‘Oh, I can’t watch, you know, all these kids being warehoused in detention facilities.’ Okay then in what ways is this administration furthered already violent and discriminatory immigration policies that are codified in a manner that’s intended to dehumanize people and not one of these people we’ve mentioned has done more than show us what we already know, that Donald Trump is a hypocrite. All of this, like, recycled outrage that poses no threat to this administration. He’s well aware that he’s fucking full of shit. You know what I mean?
Adam: He even told us that.
Roqayah Chamseddine: Right. ‘I could shoot somebody in the middle of Time Square and people would still vote for me.’
Adam: That’s the @shanley, uh, of, uh, ‘Tell your followers they’re pieces of shit and they’ll still love you.’
Roqayah Chamseddine: Right. Exactly.
Nima: Do you think, Roqayah, that there was a place for this kind of hypocrisy, you know, baiting or calling out of hypocritical statements, do you think there was a place in our politics at any point, let’s say even recently in the, in the past, you know, 20, 25 years where that actually stood out as being an effective way to address politics? Or do you think it has always been kind of hypocritical in itself that even the media and the commentators doing the calling out are themselves hypocritical? Has it always been that way?
Roqayah Chamseddine: The issue when it comes to the calling out of hypocrisy is that we’re calling out people that are not towing any type of hardened ideology in a way that we can actually attack. If you get what I mean. For example, if we’re going to go and say, ‘Oh, Donald Trump was bashing Obama for going in, you know, targeting Syria and then he’s doing it now.’ All right, but the United States is an imperial government, isn’t it? We’ve had people in power who have been just as enmeshed in the world in a violent militaristic fashion as we are now. So I don’t see a purpose in calling out these people and saying, ‘Oh, well you’re just, you said this and now you’re doing this.’ What? I don’t, I genuinely do not see any point in it and the both of y’all are free to counter that, but I don’t see any point in our history where this functioned in a way that has provided any benefit to anyone.
Nima: Something that winds up being missed, maybe, is that, when calling out hypocrisy, a lot of the articles or a lot of the montages on late night TV that do it rarely then say which position they agree with, like, which position they think is the right one and so is it a political evolution where now you agree and you used to disagree or is it simply by virtue of being inconsistent that you then can’t be taken seriously?
Roqayah Chamseddine: I feel as though it goes on because, for example, if Colbert was to say, ‘Oh, well now Donald Trump is bombing this country and attacked Obama for doing it,’ okay, well, why don’t we talk about the bombing in and of itself? So then we have to go and say, well, Obama bombed this country. He might not have been duplicitous about it, but he still did it, so is this wrong or not? And there’s never a conversation from these liberal media figures about whether or not that is wrong because it’s like you said, it is so much easier to say, well, you’re just full of shit.
Adam: Yeah, it’s a moral framework where somehow Hitler is more virtuous than John Kerry.
Nima: (Laughing) Because he didn’t change his mind as much.
Adam: He was pretty consistent. He pretty much wrote Mein Kampf and did everything in the book. Pretty consistent guy.
Roqayah Chamseddine: I mean that’s why some of them get away with saying things like, well, ‘I’d rather they just be upfront about them being horrible people. I can’t stand whenever somebody is just so uncouth. You know what I mean?’ It is just like, no, it’s not how real life works. These people are fucking over human beings every single day. I don’t give a flying fuck that they’re liars.
Adam: Yeah. It’s the avoidance of substance and the avoidance of like actual ideological engagement —
Roqayah Chamseddine: Absolutely.
Adam: And it’s not just comedy shows. I mean this is like CNN its half of their political reporting.
Roqayah Chamseddine: Yeah Washington Post says that all the time as well. Lighting up the darkness with bullshit. I mean —
Adam: Yeah. It’s a close cousin to fact-checking. Right? It’s, ‘Let me talk to your manager’ liberalism and it’s like, okay, well you’ve found some contradiction where they broke some norm or some rule, but it’s like, why is it bad?
Roqayah Chamseddine: Yeah. It’s like, ‘Oh, you got a gotcha.’ Okay, so what?
Nima: Well, right. Well that’s why so much emphasis has been put on like so and so, you know, ‘eviscerates Trump and they have the receipts.’ It’s like, oh, the receipts are like a Google search for when they said the bullshit that you knew was bullshit when they said it this time too like, we’re not actually talking about anything real.
Roqayah Chamseddine: Right. That’s absolutely true, yeah.
Adam: I want to broaden the conversation here a little bit to the actual like sin of hypocrisy and how to make a distinction between hypocrisy and changing one’s opinion. Our favorite New York Times columnist, who I think is now being sent to your part of the world —
Roqayah Chamseddine: Bari Weiss?
Adam: Yeah, Bari Weiss, wrote an article that was basically like thought it was a really huge burn —
Nima: She’s being exiled to Australia? Like a prisoner?
Adam: Pretty much. Yeah. I think James Bennet was like, lets just send her to Australia, but she still writes, but apparently they have WiFi there now so she can still write bad takes.
Roqayah Chamseddine: Yeah. No she coming here in the upswing of the people who, what we had like Lauren Southern and all these other fucking horrible people and we have like a right-wing fascist government already. So she’ll fit right in.
Adam: So she wrote this thing about [New York State Senate candidate] Julia Salazar being a hypocrite because she was a college Republican and it’s like, okay, you know, like a lot of people who grew up as, as right-wingers and militant Zionists can’t conceive of a world where people actually change their mind.
Nima: Change of heart, right? Maybe evolve on an issue.
Adam: And I want to ask you because I’m curious, how do you make a distinction between evolution and hypocrisy? Like where’s that distinction? You know, we see this a lot with a lot of sort of insta-socialists when Bernie Sanders ran. Um, and I’m certainly not, you know, fourth generation Marxist or whatever. And I don’t at all claim to have any unique authority in these spaces, but how do you think that one draws that distinction in your mind or do you have a criteria?
Roqayah Chamseddine: I mean, I think a good case would be Kamala Harris who was a career prosecutor and now people are trying to project her as being the ideal progressive who is you know now out there talking about defending civil rights and we need to talk more about police brutality and things of that nature, when in reality her administration was working very hard to make sure that cops were not held to any kind of standard and she was, what was it? She wrote a book called Smart On Crime and referred to people as sort of customers and not people. So I look at her as an example. There is no evolution there. There’s no concrete evidence of any sort of material benefit to any of the communities that she harmed with her policies. And for me that is the biggest indication of whether or not someone is genuine or they’re just putting on a front in order to gain attention or to gain votes. If there is not evidence of it, then there’s no point in putting your name behind that person because you’re, there’s a big chance that they’re going to do what Kamala Harris is currently doing, which is to vie for votes based off of a platform of immense trauma and violence. So that’s where I’m at with that issue. When it comes to people who aren’t as powerful, I’m not really sure how to go about it because on one hand you’ll say, we all grow up and we change our minds and I completely believe that, but I want to see evidence of it. I’d really like to see an actual change. So I don’t know.
Adam: I think there’s some, the reason, I don’t want to dismiss hypocrisy altogether because I do think that there’s something to be said for sincerity. Right? And one of the ways one measures sincerity, because especially if we’re going to back a candidate, is to look at their previous positions.
Roqayah Chamseddine: Absolutely.
Adam: And a lot of people are satisfied saying, ‘Oh, well, Kamala Harris, or, or Kirsten Gillibrand or even Cory Booker have like embraced the Sanders platform so therefore it’s as good as Sanders’ and it’s like, well, there’s something to be said for sincerity, right? There’s something to be said for, like, whether or not, once they’re in power they will actually do things or have conviction about those thing.
Roqayah Chamseddine: Right. I mean how many, how many Democrats now are suddenly talking about Medicare for All and whenever, what, a few months ago they were calling people like us for saying that healthcare is a human right? They were calling us basically crazy for, ‘This is not going to happen.’ ‘You can’t run on this.’ ‘That’s never, never gonna happen.’ Laughing at people. And now suddenly because they realized, ‘Oh fuck, people actually want this. Okay, well we’re gonna, yeah, you know what? I’m for it.’ No, I want to see policy implementation. I want to see your name on shit and not just, you know, little tiny letters. I want you to be full on in it. And, not only that, I think because these people have been so ruthless in denouncing something as necessary and vital as Medicare for All that they should be denouncing their former positions. They should be saying, ‘You know what? I was wrong. Here’s why I was wrong and this is why I’ve changed my mind.’
Adam: I have an even more cynical reading. I actually don’t think they switched because it’s popular.
Roqayah Chamseddine: Oh, absolutely.
Adam: I think they switched because it was that the money and votes that would be generated from supporting it went from 45 to 55 percent over the money that they could get raised from the pharmaceutical and healthcare industry. Like, there’s actually like a calculation you can run where you say, okay, because they all looked at Bernie Sanders campaign and the thing about the Sanders campaign that they realized was not even so much that his positions were popular, even though they were, is that the guy was a goddamn ATM machine. He raised $800 million and they realize, ‘Holy shit, if I get this sort of base energy and I get this, this progressive energy I can raise a lot of money. And I can raise a lot of money without necessarily having to go to these humiliating fundraisers with a bunch of rich assholes.’
Nima: But I think that, Roqayah, you make a really good point which is that actually addressing one’s own evolution or actually calling out one’s own hypocrisy is a much more powerful thing than ignoring it and pretending that it doesn’t exist, which is then just enabling the media to, again, just sort of do this like, oh, but you know, ‘You said then and now it’s this’ and it’s that, you know, thinking that the media or that even the broader public has no memory and operating that way that you can just say whatever the fuck you want and it’s not gonna matter. I think that’s why the kind of hypocrisy, gotcha stuff is so compelling because so rarely the politicians are actually calling out an evolution as an evolution.
Roqayah Chamseddine: And I think, I think they know that they’re functioning in a world of desperation. A lot of people are at the brink of their whole world collapsing because of these issues, whether it be because of immigration policies or because of the fact that the number one reason in the United States right now for personal bankruptcy is because of healthcare and they’re hoping a lot of them who haven’t even jumped on board are hoping that you know what, people are so desperate that maybe if I just talk about it a little bit more that they’ll vote for me, but I do think I definitely agree, Adam, that they see the money because there’s no other reason for a lot of these changes. They’re refusing to do what is, in my opinion, the least which is to say, ‘I screwed up. Here’s where I was wrong and this is why I’ve changed my mind.’ They owe people that. They really, really do.
Nima: At the same time, I also think that we see these kinds of hypocrisy attacks on politicians that are now emerging from more of a left ideology. You know, insofar as, as the political spectrum in the United States is still pretty limited, but you know, from further left than usual that then the idea that, you know, let’s say Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, you know, ‘Well, she says she’s from the South Bronx, but she grew up in a house and had a tree’ and it’s like, so all of a sudden we’re supposed to ignore — or like her constituents or like the nation at large — is supposed to ignore any sort of challenge to the status quo because these people aren’t even serious in their own ideology, which really has nothing to do with the people themselves and everything to do with saying anything that’s outside of what we already have cannot be trusted to be genuine.
Roqayah Chamseddine: I was following the thing with Julia [Salazar] and [Alexandria Ocasio-]Cortez for awhile and I noticed that a lot of the people that were calling out hypocrisy for both of those women involved what was the aesthetic and what was lifestyle related more than anything else because for liberals who were doing this, and I’m speaking about them specifically, there’s rarely a time when they function in a world that we have to talk about policy. So there was never really a policy point that they were after. It was more like ‘they didn’t live in a lifestyle that I associate with their ideology and so I’m going to call it out’ and that’s why I’ve had such a difficult time talking, communicating with liberals who refuse to engage with policies. They’re always talking about something that is completely unrelated to any of these issues.
Adam: Well, you’re criticizing capitalism from an iPhone. So, gotcha. Slam dunk.
Roqayah Chamseddine: Goddammit.
Adam: Completely. Fucking. Wrecked. Destroyed.
Roqayah Chamseddine: You exist in a capitalist world? How fucking dare you.
Nima: You pay rent and so and so you’re pwned and eviscerated.
Roqayah Chamseddine: Oh god.
Adam: You’re a mammal. You swim in water.
Roqayah Chamseddine: I can’t swim, though, so I got you there.
Adam: Fair enough. (Laughs) Well, then you’re consistent.
Adam: (Laughing) Counter-owned. Alright, well, I think that, um, I think that about wraps it up. I am fascinated by this topic if only because I, um, I think it’s one of those things that’s evidence of what we’re not talking about. It’s sort of, it’s just kind of white noise.
Roqayah Chamseddine: Y’all both have really done a good job at talking about this. I think both you and Nima have been the only ones that have talked about hypocrisy-baiting and so I really I appreciate the threads y’all have on this issue.
Adam: Well, I like when our guests come on and flatter us.
Nima: Yeah, let’s, let’s, let’s keep that going. That’s nice.
Roqayah Chamseddine: (Laughs)
Adam: (Laughs) Exactly.
Nima: I think that’s the best kind of political discourse.
Adam: Let’s talk about what you’re working on and what our listeners can check out.
Roqayah Chamseddine: Well here’s something I haven’t really talked about yet. I’m working on a newsletter called Better Read. Yeah. It’s a leftist organizing newsletter. It’s going to talk about what’s happening in the world, not just in the United States in terms of left organizing, the upcoming one is —
Adam: Wait, there are countries outside of the United States?
Roqayah Chamseddine: I know, right? Oh my god. The international. Wow.
Adam: That’s not what I hear. When I hear democratic socialism, it’s mostly about healthcare.
Nima: (Laughs) Yeah exactly. It’s only about housing rights and that’s it.
Roqayah Chamseddine: Yeah. And there you go. Well, there’s a lot more out there and I’m working on that. It’s going to have things to read and things you can do. Um, I also wrote for Splinter recently and In These Times, and I’m, you know, doing a lot of freelance work and I’m still hosting, Delete Your Account, so check that out. But that’s about it for right now.
Adam: Yeah, check out Delete Your Account. Uh, it’s um, it’s a good account. Go to their Patreon and give to them if you can, if you’re a fan of our show, you will like their show a lot. It’s um, it’s a little less navel-gazey in the media and more like on the ground stuff. So check it out and you could follow Roqayah at @RoqChams on Twitter. Uh, so do that if you can.
Nima: And how can our listeners sign up for your newsletter?
Roqayah Chamseddine: Okay they can sign up by visiting my Patreon, which is easy. You could just go to my Twitter page and my Patreon link is right there.
Adam: Do it.
Nima: Do it.
Adam: Check out the Twitter and check out the Patreon. Friend of the show Roqayah.
Nima: Yeah. Thank you so much. Roqayah Chamseddine of Delete Your Account and so many other places and so much good thinking and writing, so thank you as always for joining us on Citations Needed. It’s been great.
Roqayah Chamseddine: Thanks so much, y’all.
Adam: To me what’s interesting about this and what makes it really depressing is that the hypocrisy montages that comedy shows and new shows do has been automated for some time. So in 2014, TheWrap reported that comedy shows like The Daily Show and Stephen Colbert they use AI or they use this technology to find politicians contradicting themselves with software called SnapStream that records hours and hours of television and then you can search keywords and phrases.
Nima: Right. So, like, it used to be, back in the day, this was kind of a mastery, like an art, of not only editing but also the research to find these clips, to find where the people years ago, you know, through whatever it was, like, appearances on Meet the Press to campaign stump speeches to being on Politically Incorrect, like all that shit. And they would be crafted together. They would be found by, like, interns pouring through hours and hours of footage and now to realize that it’s literally something that takes like three and a half seconds for a computer to just pull up really kind of takes the air out of it.
Adam: Yeah. TheWrap reported it in 2014, they said, um, “If Stewart and his writers need material on open-carry activists bringing firearms into restaurants, they can use SnapStream to find cable news reports with words and phrases like ‘gun’ and ‘Chipotle’.” Daily Show producer Pat King put it in simple ROI terms. He said, quote, “It has absolutely changed the way we produce. There’s not a day that goes by that we don’t use it… It’s cut our production time down by about 60 or 70 percent.” So you know, if you look for anything, you know, someone’s been in the public eye for 20, 30 years, of course they’re going to have said at some point something and then you add Twitter to the equation, right? Where we all kind of vomit our opinions on social media. Then like yeah, people are going to contradict themselves. And it’s like, okay, so what? And I think one of the reasons it’s lost its purchase, aside from the fact that now it’s automated, which is just kind of depressing, is that I think people intuitively understand that people are hypocrites, that we all think we’re hypocrites in some way and that the issue is not, are you hypocrite? The issue is what do you believe and to the extent to which you’ve contradicted yourself, can, you know, is there a reason for that?
Nima: Exactly. Why did you contradict yourself and what are the implications of that? I’m not completely against reporting on people’s bullshit. I think that’s actually really important. I think that, you know, someone in the public sphere, in the public eye, with a lot of power being duplicitous, being phony, having this kind of like mendacious, lying attitude is something that is actually, like, I mean it’s, it’s absolutely the lifeblood of politics, but calling it out is not necessarily, in itself, bullshit. It’s how it is then used. It’s, it’s then the implications of what you do with someone’s hypocrisy that I think is what we’re trying to actually tease out here. We’re not simply saying that any reporting on someone who you know said this then and this now is inherently bogus. It’s just what is underlying all of that and how that then used.
Adam: Yeah, it’s not an end in and of itself.
Adam: I think with that note, we’ll wrap it up.
Nima: So, uh, thank you everyone as always for listening to Citations Needed. You can follow the show on Twitter @CitationsPod, Facebook Citations Needed, become a supporter of the show through Patreon.com/CitationsNeededPodcast with Nima Shirazi and Adam Johnson. All your support has been amazing. Uh, those who have not yet joined, please do, it is really great when you do and it really helps the show keep going and able to produce more episodes like this and others. So, thank you as always to all of our supporters and all of our listeners, but especially to our Critic-level patrons. I am Nima Shirazi.
Adam: I’m Adam Johnson.
Nima: Citations Needed is produced by Florence Barrau-Adams. Production Consultant is Josh Kross. Our Research Assistant is Sophia Steinert-Evoy. Production Assistant is Trendel Lightburn. Transcriptions are by Morgan McAslan. The music is by Grandaddy. Thank you so much for listening, everyone. We’ll catch you next week.
This episode of Citations Needed was released on Wednesday, October 10, 2018.
Transcription by Morgan McAslan.