The middle is a pretty lonely place to be, but it does offer spectacular views. And these days, what’s on display is hypocrisy, as far as the eye can see, in 4k ultra-high definition.
Let’s start by noting that it’s not exactly a new trend for people to disregard intellectual honesty for the sake of political expediency. When my party shuts down the government, it’s because your party did something wrong. When your party does it, it’s a constitutional crisis. When your party pushes through important legislation without any bipartisan support, it’s bullying. When my party does it . . . oh, never mind. We don’t pass important legislation anymore.
But a few recent examples suggest that what we’re seeing now is not just a difference in degree, but a difference in kind.
Let’s start with immigration. Justice Department lawyer Sarah Fabian has drawn the ire of anyone radical enough to think that migrant children stuck in detention centers along the border deserve luxuries such as toothbrushes and soap. Her arguments before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals went viral, and deservedly so, as she weaselly claimed that the 1997 Flores Agreement (that requires the government to provide “safe and sanitary” conditions to detained minors) did not enumerate specifics such as “sleep” in its fine print.
This tool of the Trump administration was clearly just trumpeting the heartless and cruel positions of the Bad Orange Man, right? Well, yes. But as the indispensable Ken White pointed out at the Atlantic, the same Sarah Fabian also argued for solitary confinement for unaccompanied minors back in 2015.
Back when Barack Obama was president.
The painful truth is, we had an immigration problem during the Obama years, too. Obama forcibly deported a record number of individuals and there was a significant issue with the handling of unaccompanied minors.
President Trump has been petty and vindictive in his handling of immigration policy. He twisted around the previous administration’s policy on asylum-seeking to defend the separation of families, saying it should be a deterrent when he was really just trying to throw some red meat to his base.
The response to Trump’s actions from the left has been to call him out as heartless and cruel. Which is fair enough. Yet at the same time these people pretend that Obama didn’t do many of the same things. And on the Trumpist right the response has been to simultaneously deny that Trump is heartless and cruel and then claim in the same breath that Obama did all of this heartless and cruel stuff first.
Never mind that the real answer is that immigration is a complex problem that warrants a serious bipartisan commitment to working toward solutions like codifying DACA, coming up with common sense policies on visas and legal immigration, and, oh, maybe, ending the war on drugs that has trashed countries like Honduras and El Salvador. Just spitballing here.
One problem that’s a lot less complex than immigration is sexual assault. It’s bad, right? Can we agree on that? Last week, New York magazine published an excerpt of a new book by advice columnist E. Jean Carroll in which she accused Donald Trump of raping her in a Bergdorf Goodman’s fitting room almost a quarter-century ago. Carroll is just the latest woman, of whom there are at least 15, to accuse Trump of sexual misconduct.
Trump, of course, was famously caught on tape telling Billy Bush that he likes to “grab ‘em by the pussy” so none of this should be a surprise. And yet, Trump immediately denied the claim by saying—I kid you not—that Carroll “is not my type.”
Which was good enough for Senator Lindsey Graham. “He’s denied it. That’s all I need to hear,” Graham said.
Well, what a relief. Bill Clinton probably wishes that Graham had been so trusting back in 1999, when he gave an impassioned speech about impeaching Clinton over his lies during the Monica Lewinsky scandal.
Graham is not alone in his hypocrisy (though he is perhaps singular in his shamelessness about it). While he has plenty of company in the party car of the Trump train, there are at least as many people on the left who could not admit that rape allegations against Bill Clinton were at least credible until the #MeToo movement showed that plenty of powerful men had abused women (and when they did, they blamed the delay on the awfulness of, um, Republicans).
While it is possible to look at the merits of individual claims and concede that maybe not every accusation is legitimate, there is no moral high ground from which one can defend one of these men from multiple claims of sexual misconduct while insisting that the other guy is a monster.
And yet, here we are.
Maybe we should all just calm down and take up a nice hobby, like knitting. Would that make everything better? Probably not. Witness what’s going on at Ravelry, a social network for knitters and crocheters where members share and discuss their work, trade patterns, etc. This week the site announced that it would not host any content that promoted white supremacy and lumped in with that anything that promoted Donald Trump on the grounds that “Support of the Trump administration is undeniably support for white supremacy.”
Now, one can make an excellent argument that support for Donald Trump is very deniably “support for white supremacy.” Plenty of Trump supporters are not racist. And you could do this and simultaneously lament the current state of the public square and be sad about discourse in modern America.
What you should probably not be doing is making the argument that Ravelry should be forced to host MAGA hat patterns. And please don’t argue that the FEC should investigate the company or claim that the company is trying to “silence free speech.”
Because Ravelry is not banning all political content and it’s not banning users who are Trump supporters. In fact, one could say that the welcomes all members, it just doesn’t want to host a particular form of content that the proprietors’ deeply held political views deem to be offensive. And Ravelry is within its rights to do this because no private enterprise should be required to engage in speech that goes against their beliefs.
Perhaps you’ve heard this argument before?
Because it’s the precise argument that conservatives mounted in defense of Colorado baker Jack Phillips, who was sued over his refusal to bake a cake for a gay wedding. He didn’t discriminate against anyone—he happily served gay customers. He just doesn’t want to engage in one specific form of expression which violated his beliefs. (To be fair, it would be nice to see some who are supporting Ravelry realize that maybe they should be supporting Phillips and other artists, but don’t hold your breath.)
This week it’s knitting. Maybe next week it will be something else. Trump will do something stupid and his supporters will rush to defend him. Some politician will get caught being corrupt or cheating, or cheating corruptly, and he will be both defended and opposed in predictable fashion.
It’s not a new problem, but it does feel strangely ingrained and insurmountable. It’s a problem that requires sober reflection and serious thought, and yet when you look around, all you can see is childish playground fighting. At the center of it is a president who’s been described as the toddler-in-chief. Is he the cause of all this, or just merely the most obvious symptom?
Hard to say.