Living in bad faith – making arguments you don’t really believe, acting in contradiction to what your stated principles are is just plain bad for you. Yes, it’s ridiculous to be a public hypocrite, and every time some “Christian” politician gets caught with his pants around his ankles, the mix of schadenfreude and pity nearly chokes me.
But far worse is when I catch myself in such an absurd position. Not with my pants around my ankles – I live a life of happy, satisfied domestic fulfillment. But when I find that I’m called on to make an argument that I think is unfair, or not adequately supported (I won’t make an argument I know to be untrue – there are limits I just can’t cross) and there are hard consequences for speaking the truth, I have succumbed to temptation more often than I’m comfortable with.
When I fail like that, in court or out, it hurts. I’m ashamed. And I should be. It lessens me in my own eyes. So I work hard to avoid that.
This is why I say that politics, as it is currently practiced in this country is not just corrupt, it is corruptive, that is to say the criterion for success requires so much bad faith – so much disingenuous argument as accepted and ready practice that it damages the souls of those involved, and society as a whole. Continuous practice of, and exposure to such malignance erodes the will to resist it. Our politics actually makes us worse people.
Speaking in bad faith regardless of the truth of the matter for political advantage – called “spin,” is an admired and well-rewarded skill in this arena. It is actually thought of as a sort of craft. Deceiving the public – a public that is called upon to select leaders who wield immense power – is considered a useful art. For examples, you need look no further than the antics of Kellyanne Conway and her “alternative facts.” There can be no more clear sign of the intellectual and societal decadence of a culture than admiring a liar-for-hire.
This is not unique to the right wing, of course, although currently, they seem to have far less regard for truth and fair argument than anyone else. This is not a case of equivalency.
Trumpism, the political and social movement that holds that Donald Trump represents American “greatness,” is only making this worse. If there is anything I despise Trumpism for more than anything else, it is what their rhetorical malfeasance has done to public dialogue. I am not exaggerating for effect when I say that they have done damage to the very fabric of the Republic, and the souls of the people with their elevation of skilled disregard of the truth to an admired practice. They are not the first to do it, but they are the most shameless practitioners of it that I’ve seen.
There is a lot on the line in the political sphere that calls on us to resist Trumpism. But there is more, I think, at risk in the intellectual and spiritual life of the nation. This is not just incorrect, or even dishonest. It is evil.
Featured image via Gage Skidmore, Flikr