A New Level of Hypocrisy?

The masks come off: Will Republicans who turned a blind eye to Donald Trump’s transgressions now pounce on Joe Biden’s nonexistent ones? Can Biden really practice the unity he’s been preaching?

When Joe Biden gave a (socially distanced) interview on the night of his inauguration in front of the Lincoln Memorial without a mask on, conservative headlines howled at the so-called hypocrisy of the new president, who had earlier mandated the wearing of masks on federal property.

It would be interesting to see how many of these same outlets spoke up when Donald Trump dismissed masks all of last year, to the point where he himself caught COVID-19 and created a super-spreader event on the White House Rose Garden that infected other prominent Republicans.

It’s a legitimate question to wonder how many people needlessly died at the start of the pandemic because Trump turned mask-wearing into a political litmus test instead of simply calling them a patriotic duty, which likely would’ve resonated with his Make America Great Again base.

Even after returning from the hospital to the White House, what was the first thing Trump did in front of the cameras? He whipped off his mask.

But did that trigger outrage from the right-wing media and Twitterati?

No.

And that is the real hypocrisy — not Biden, who has been religious about wearing masks, taking his off for a brief, outdoor interview where no one was near him.

Of course, both Democrats and Republicans are skilled in hypocrisy. It’s a political prerequisite.

But under Trump, the GOP has taken hypocrisy to new heights — and it could reach new lows under Biden.

Joe Biden is seen at a voter event in Chester, Pennsylvania, on Oct. 26, 2020. Biden was recently criticized by conservative commentators for not wearing a mask during an inauguration interview, even though Biden has made mask-wearing a cornerstone of his administration, while former President Donald Trump dismissed them throughout the pandemic last year. (Photo: Adam Schultz / Biden for President)

Silence Speaks Volumes

After having spent the last four years turning a blind eye to relentless, destructive attacks and lies by their boss, Republicans will now place Biden under a microscope, parsing his every word and ready to pounce at any misstep (like a mask slip-up).

Each party ignores their leaders’ flaws while fixating on those of their opponents. But what Trump-era Republicans have been doing goes beyond the usual double standards. It’s akin to screaming at a kid for stealing an extra cookie from the cookie jar, while staying silent when a robber holds up a convenience store at gunpoint and makes off with hundreds of dollars.

Just consider the conservative uproar when Biden’s now-deputy chief of staff, Jen O’Malley Dillon, called GOP lawmakers “a bunch of f*ckers” in a newspaper interview (an offensive slur for which she apologized, but also one that was taken out of context because she was talking about Biden’s belief in unity and bipartisanship).

Contrast that with four years of GOP silence over an American president who made cursing a new norm — who even called Biden’s victory “bullsh*t” in front of the entire world on Jan. 6, riling up his supporters, many of whom would go on to storm the Capitol two hours later.

That’s the real BS. And as politically incorrect as it sounds, the country has endured four years of it — in the form of half-truths and outright lies from Trump.

The Washington Post documented over 30,000 false or misleading claims the former president has made since taking office. They ranged from Mexico paying for the wall (reiterated over 200 times, right up until the end of his presidency), to repeated pledges that the coronavirus would disappear, to boasting about having created the greatest economy in U.S. history.

Some claims were downright baffling. Why insist it wasn’t raining on your inauguration day when it was? It’s not as if people can’t look up a weather forecast — or up at the sky. Trump’s bizarre fixation on inauguration size and sunshine was a waste of precious capital when he had just won and had the country’s full attention.

This doesn’t even include a full count of Trump’s tweets. Those truth-defying tweets — often written in ALL CAPS for added subtlety — may have become the butt of SNL skits, but they also eroded the solemnity of the American presidency, turning it into a global laughing stock.

More ominously, the former president’s words wound up endangering American democracy itself, as we saw with the Capitol insurrection, which was the entirely predictable culmination of months of baseless, even outrageous, allegations of voter fraud that Trump spread to cling to office.

But the initial outrage that Republicans expressed after the Capitol attack has now quieted to anodyne calls to unify and move on.

Some Republicans have completely backtracked on their own words. House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy went from saying Trump “bears some responsibility” for the riot to saying he did not provoke the rioters (then he visited Trump in Florida to ensure the former president would still fundraise for the party).

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) went one step further and blamed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) — whom rioters likely would’ve done serious harm to if they’d managed to find her — for the insurrection because it was “her job to provide Capitol security.” (It’s not, actually.)

Those Republicans who did condemn Trump now find themselves the target of his loyalists, who are already gearing up to oust them in 2022.

As I argued shortly after the Capitol siege: Trump isn’t going anywhere because his supporters aren’t going anywhere. If anything, his base will only grow stronger.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene(R-Ga.), a QAnon conspiracy believer, recently said that the “vast majority” of Republicans “are no longer loyal to the GOP,” but that their “loyalty now lies with Donald J. Trump.”

While that may be a stretch, Republicans have all but abandoned impeachment, ensuring that Trump will remain the dominant force in their party for the next four years.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who argued there was no constitutional basis to impeach Trump — an objection that all but five GOP senators backed — said a trial would “drag our great country down into the gutter of rancor and vitriol, the likes of which has never been seen in our nation’s history.”

Yet Paul hasn’t said anything about the rancor coming from Taylor Greene, who liked a social media post that said “a bullet to the head would be quicker” than removing Pelosi as House speaker and who suggested “the stage is being set” for Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama to be hung — one of many extreme comments that have been met with a muted response by most (though not all) Republicans.

What If the Shoes Were Reversed?

Of course, it may be in Democrats’ best interests to move on from a time-consuming impeachment trial to focus on Biden’s legislative agenda (and a growing number are ready to do just that).

But imagine if it were Clinton, Obama or Biden who spent weeks trying to invalidate millions of legally cast votes using ridiculous allegations?

What if it were a Democratic president who considered stacking the Justice Department in a bid to overturn an election? If it were a Democrat who abused the power of the presidency to coerce dozens of election officials to potentially break the law in order to stay in office — the way dictators do in other countries?

Would Republicans be so quick to move on?

Doubtful.

Republican voters across the country would be calling for civil war if, for example, Obama had refused to acknowledge Clinton’s Electoral College loss and tried to illegally install her as president because she won the popular vote.

Yet some Republicans are still clamoring for civil war even though their candidate indisputably lost both the Electoral College and the popular vote.

There’s no winning when people refuse to accept defeat — or reality.

The GOP’s Existential Threat

Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska, one of the few Republicans willing to take Trump on, argues that this refusal to accept the results of the election and the subsequent attack on the Capitol were not the work of “a few bad apples.”

“It is the blossoming of a rotten seed that took root in the Republican Party some time ago and has been nourished by treachery, poor political judgment, and cowardice,” he wrote in a Jan. 16 piece for The Atlantic.

“When Trump leaves office, my party faces a choice: We can dedicate ourselves to defending the Constitution and perpetuating our best American institutions and traditions, or we can be a party of conspiracy theories, cable-news fantasies, and the ruin that comes with them.”

It was a rare admission that while both parties are facing tremendous upheaval, the Republican Party is facing an existential threat.

To be sure, Democrats are headed for an internal reckoning over whether to finally kill the filibuster, and progressives have successfully pushed their party to the left. But they’re not calling for their Republican opponents to be executed.

And while Democrats strongly disagree on how to tackle the nation’s problems, they don’t fundamentally disagree on what those problems are.

They believe in climate change, equal rights and industry regulations. They believe it is the government’s responsibility to provide a social safety net to its citizens.

They may differ on tactics, but not on vision.

In contrast, Trump has essentially created two parties that are polar opposites of each other — giving rise to a populist, isolationist base that is at loggerheads with establishment Republicans who have long championed globalization and small government.

The former president has even openly mused about splitting off from the GOP and creating his own MAGA or Patriot Party — an unlikely but not impossible prospect that could lead to the demise of the GOP as we know it. (A recent POLITICO-Morning Consult poll found that 30% of Republicans said they would be more interested in being a member of the Patriot Party.)

Biden may have campaigned on the slogan “battle for soul of the nation,” but it’s Republicans who must now do some soul-searching.

Back to Black Lives Matter

Yet instead of inward reflection, many are turning to deflection — accusing Democrats of hypocrisy for condemning the siege of the U.S. Capitol while staying silent on the riots that broke out in cities like Portland and Seattle during last year’s Black Lives Matter social justice movement.

As I’ve written before, it’s true that the mainstream media took too long to acknowledge these riots.

But as many others have also pointed out, it’s a false equivalency.

First off, it’s been well-documented that far-right extremism poses a far more serious domestic terror threat than loosely defined anti-fascist groups like Antifa.

Some experts now even fear that disillusioned QAnon conspiracy theorists are being recruited by more violent groups or could become radicalized lone wolf attackers.

Moreover, Black Lives Matter was calling for police reforms, not a coup d’état.

And while people who attack police and cause mayhem should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, there’s no comparing what happened in a handful of cities to rioters who erected a noose outside the U.S. Capitol and then stormed it, chanting threats to hang their own vice president who was still inside — all because he refused to violate his oath to the Constitution.

If Capitol Police officer Eugene Goodman had not diverted rioters who were seconds away from an unguarded Senate door, there was a good chance the mob would’ve come face to face with Mike Pence and his security detail, the results of which could’ve been catastrophic.

Pence has never publicly broken with his boss. Likewise, Republicans have not said a word about the very real possibility that Trump was too busy watching the rioters on TV to care about helping those inside. Worse still, if it’s ever revealed that the president ignored their pleas for help, it would constitute an act of such gross negligence that it might even stun those still obsessed with Benghazi.

Double Standards on Both Sides

Then-Senate Leader Mitch McConnell spoke out forcefully against Trump’s incitement of the mob but has since gone quiet. Many Republicans privately fumed over the president’s actions, but publicly, they’ve now redirected their ire toward Biden, accusing him of hypocrisy in preaching unity during his inauguration speech while releasing a polarizing stimulus plan just days later. (Never mind that Trump, too, called for unity in his inauguration speech.)

It’s true, though, that Biden’s $1.9 billion plan straddles the line between hypocrisy and political necessity.

The proposal to raise the national minimum wage to $15 an hour is a blatant attempt to pander to the progressive wing of his party. It’s an overreach that does not belong in a package meant to address an immediate crisis — not to mention the fact that raising the minimum wage right now could be counterproductive, crippling already-struggling small businesses.

But many commentators seemed to miss the fact that this was Biden’s opening bid. Nobody walks into a car dealership with their best and final offer. Biden spent decades in the Senate haggling and compromising to find consensus on legislation. All signs pointed to the fact that he wanted to do the same thing with his stimulus package.

But congressional Democrats are already forging ahead because the odds of bipartisanship passage are low and time is not on their side. Biden would need to convince too many competing factions (within both parties) to agree on too many costly provisions of a sweeping bill — all before the country reaches another tipping point in March, when federal unemployment benefits are again set to expire.

Biden undoubtedly knows the minimum wage proposal is going nowhere, but even if he drops it, he probably can’t afford to alienate Democrats and drop other big-ticket items like the $1,400 stimulus checks. He could try to pare the checks down or make them more targeted, but again, this would take time to negotiate and he’d still run up against opposition from all sides (Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin opposes the checks, for example, while some Republicans like Sen. Josh Hawley support them).

Democrats are preparing to move forward with Biden’s stimulus plan, possibly as early as next week, through budget reconciliation, which only requires a simple majority in the Senate. But the move starts Biden’s presidency off on a polarizing note. Instead of unity, Democrats will have relied on a unilateral procedural maneuver to jam their agenda through. Democrats counter that with coronavirus cases surging, the economy faltering and vaccination efforts coming up short, they have no choice but to press ahead, with or without GOP support.

But that doesn’t exactly bode well for the even bigger tranche of spending Biden will seek in the spring to invest in infrastructure through measures Republicans will fiercely oppose, namely raising taxes on top earners. As many Republicans have pointed out, reconciliation now will poison the well later.

Yet here again, it would be hypocritical of Republicans to decry the use of reconciliation given that they passed two massive tax cuts through it.

And while Democrats also relied on reconciliation to pass Obamacare, they did so only after extensive outreach to Republicans had failed. Democrats still feel burned not only by the Affordable Care Act debacle, but also by Republicans’ refusal to support a stimulus bill in the wake of the 2008 global economic crash. This time around, many aren’t willing to wait and see if Republicans negotiate in good faith as an even worse crisis rages on.

Biden Under the Media Glare

Like the finger-pointing over reconciliation, conservative complaints that Biden will get a free pass from more liberal media outlets like The New York Times and The Washington Post also ring somewhat hollow.

It’s true that Biden’s inauguration was met with relief, even adulation, among many journalists who felt targeted as enemies of the state by the Trump administration.

But that glow quickly faded and Biden is already taking heat for, among other things, not being ambitious enough with his vaccination campaign and, conversely, being overly ambitious in trying to take on immigration reform. (Already, The New York Times editorial board criticized Biden for his aggressive use of executive orders.)

This is what happens. It’s the job of journalists to play devil’s advocate. Many people forget that Obama was in the (mainstream) media hot-seat every day of his presidency.

While reporters sometimes take their roles as antagonists too far, it’s their responsibility to scrutinize and question everything leaders say and do.

But it’s a bit disingenuous for a party that never once questioned its own leader despite four years of highly questionable acts to do so now that its opponent is in office.

Politicians of all stripes have conveniently short memories when it comes to their own failings, and hypocrisy runs rampant in any democracy. But when it becomes institutionalized to the point where it threatens the very foundation of that democracy, it’s no longer politics as usual.

What does this mean? It means in part that Republicans need to take an honest look at their role as Trump’s silent enablers, now that they’re itching to become Biden’s loudest critics.