“I watched the Super Bowl again this year. Why? ’Cause I’m an idiot.”
That was Lewis Black in 2001, and the sentiment has held up well in the intervening 17 years for both America and yours truly.
As a native New Englander, I haven’t fully invested myself in a professional sporting event since the 2007 World Series—the Red Sox’s second championship in four years—and haven’t given much of a damn about the Vince Lombardi Trophy since the Patriots effectively leased the thing at the beginning of the previous decade. To coin a phrase: I got tired of all the winning.
All the same, I have faithfully tuned in to every minute of every Super Bowl since discovering football in the late 1990s and will probably continue tuning in for the rest of my natural life. To be sure, like every halfway-ethical American, I have been appalled by the NFL’s ongoing complicity in the epidemic of brain damage and suicide among current, former and (presumably) future players. Intellectually, I know full well that by watching even one NFL game per year (my current average), I make myself complicit in this monstrous conspiracy and thereby become Part of the Problem.
Yet I watch the Big Game anyway, happily and without apology. Why? Easy: Because I’m a hypocrite.
Yes, I suppose I could attempt to reconcile my shameful viewing habits by whipping up some half-baked rationalization—say, about how the NFL is finally taking the concussion issue seriously, or how supporting the Super Bowl is a way to support the economy and/or the troops.
But who am I kidding? I relish the Super Bowl because I enjoy football and all manner of grand spectacle, and if the game’s continued existence shaves a few decades off the lives of its main participants, well, who ever thought running full speed into another human being was a risk-free endeavor in the first place?
“The test of a first-rate intelligence,” F. Scott Fitzgerald famously wrote, “is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” While there is nothing especially intelligent about watching professional football players pummel each other for three-and-a-half hours, the glaring contradiction of endorsing an activity you know to be despicable is perfectly emblematic of Donald Trump’s America—a culture in which no double standard is too flagrant and moral shamelessness knows no bounds.
In the age of Trump, hypocrisy is the new black.
That’s not to say that Donald Trump is necessarily to blame for this sorry state of affairs. As with most other American flaws, the 45th president is less a cause than a symptom. Trump may well be the single greatest hypocrite on planet Earth, but he is ultimately a mere reflection of the people who voted for him—and, equally, of those who didn’t.
Case in point: While it’s true—as a cheeky Twitter parlor game has shown—that President Trump has said and done virtually everything he previously deplored in President Obama, who amongst us has not engaged in similarly disingenuous moral recalibrating during this abrupt shift in political leadership?
How many of us ding the president for his excessive golf habit but never gave it a second thought during the previous administration? How many of us applaud congressional Democrats for refusing to compromise with Trump, despite spending eight years criticizing Republicans for refusing to compromise with Obama? How many of us have condemned Trump’s history of philandering and sexual assault after excusing Bill Clinton’s for 20 years running? How many of us were driven mad by the FBI’s investigation into Bill and Hillary’s business dealings but are delighted by its investigation into Donald’s?
Such is the corrosive effect of allowing raw political partisanship to inform one’s entire worldview—a fact Americans seem never to learn for more than a few minutes at a time.
The truth is that we are all guilty of practicing what we do not preach when it becomes convenient, and this goes far beyond party politics: It’s also the smug environmentalists who luxuriate in 60 degree temperatures in December, or the self-proclaimed feminists who continue to patronize the work of sexually malignant artists and entrepreneurs. It’s the health freaks who scarf burgers and brownies when no one’s looking, or the bleeding heart Robin Hoods who never seem to have spare change when they pass by a homeless person on the street.
Speaking as all of the above, I would never begrudge my fellow citizens the little duplicities that get them through their day. When it comes to hypocrisy in 2018, the point isn’t to eradicate all of one’s moral inconsistencies. Rather, it is to admit that those inconsistencies exist and not presume to be purer than one’s fellow man and woman.
Let him who is without hypocrisy cast the first stone. Everyone else can watch the Super Bowl.