By Tom Westfall
As a sophomore in high school, I was fairly sheltered and quite naïve. As the son of a minister, our family prayed, attended church and focused a lot of our energies on trying to be good people and making our corner of the world a better place.
It was during my sophomore year that I was exposed to many of the great American literature classics—Not the ones my father favored (The Harvard Classics, which he “encouraged” us to read) but rather modern classics, like 1984, Brave New World, and Animal Farm. Perhaps the book that most quickly opened my eyes to a different sort of world, however, was Elmer Gantry.
Written in 1926 by Sinclair Lewis, Elmer Gantry is the story of a flim-flam man who becomes involved with a female traveling evangelist. He is skilled at “talking the talk” and the two become quite well-recognized as purveyors of God’s word. In truth however, Gantry was a walking contradiction. He was deeply immoral, and while he railed against the evils of alcohol (this was during prohibition) when imbibing he said, “Well, it is only illegal to sell alcohol, not drink it!” He was, in practice, anything but a Christian.
While I was aware that there was often a disconnect between what people said and how they behaved, this blatant sort of hypocrisy gave me pause and I began to look at the world through a different lens.
Let’s face it; hypocrisy abounds in our world today. Ponder for a moment on the 1000s of Roman Catholic priests who preach piety from the pulpit, including sexual abstinence before marriage, but who somehow don’t see it as immoral to sexually molest children.
Or how about the pro-life crowd that is silent when it comes to the treatment of children in cages at the border. This group seems to believe that pro-life is “quantitative” only, rather than “qualitative,” with an apparent attitude that “once you’re born it’s someone else’s problem.” Personally. I am pro-life, but I could never join a pro-life movement because of this blatant hypocrisy.
For nearly 30 years of my life, I worked in Human Services. One of my jobs was administering a public assistance program. The vast majority of recipients were honest people, down on their luck, perhaps lacking in education and opportunity. Imagine, a mother and three children, abandoned by the man in their world and left to fend for themselves. They drew about $400 in cash assistance (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) plus Food stamps and Medicaid. Barely enough to pay rent, and keep the utilities on, but on more than one occasion I would hear criticism about “welfare,” and while I understood that people were concerned about their tax dollars, it always struck me as hypocritical when a farmer who was receiving a large farm subsidy complained about “welfare.” That mother of three should have been so lucky!
Recently, Cory Gardner, along with almost all of the Senate Republicans indicated that they would vote a replacement for the Supreme Court subsequent to the death of Justice Ginsburg. Gardner’s public statement stood out in marked contrast to his position four years ago. In 2016, Gardner opposed considering President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland. “Our next election is too soon, and the stakes are too high,” he said then. Hypocrisy?
I would like to introduce you to a new word; typocrisy. Typocrisy is systemic hypocrisy that isn’t rooted in any sort of philosophical flip-flop on a particular issue, nor is it even inconsistent with the individual’s goal. Politics trumps consistency, and power is the prize to be sought. The Republicans denied Merrick Garland a vote not because it was close to the election (though that was a good excuse) but because they feared that he would cause the court to become more liberal.
“Use my words (of 2016) against me,” Lindsey Graham famously stated. And now of course he is a leading proponent of a quick vote for the next Supreme. Hypocrisy? Not at all. His behavior is completely reconcilable with his goal—power to do what he believes needs to be done. But because to those of us in the general public, this looks hypocritical, it is imperative that we acknowledge this and give it some sort of definition, and so I have. Typocrisy (typically hypocritical!) Yep, that about fits for most politicians.
And please, before you castigate me for Republican bashing, understand that the Democrats are equally guilty of typocrisy. Think about this…, the Republican Senate is in essence agreeing with the position of the 2016 Democrats and are pursuing that agenda. The only difference is they have the power to do so.
The truth of the matter is that living an honorable, integrated life is tough business. A person has to be willing to intentionally declare his/her values and then (regardless of circumstances) practice these values without caving in. And that isn’t likely to garner much power, though I suspect it does help a person sleep better at night! Elmer Gantry probably needed sleep aids!
Westfall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.