Sean Spicer offended millions by comparing Hitler favorably to Syria’s President Bashar Al-Assad. After all, unlike Assad, Spicer explained, Hitler never gassed his own people. Aside from conveniently forgetting all those systematically murdered in Hitler’s gas chambers, many found it understandably distasteful of Spicer to build a case for war by normalizing and minimizing Hitler’s atrocities. But just a day earlier, liberals including David Simon, creator of one of television’s best shows—The Wire—and some of Twitter’s worst neoliberal tweets had essentially said the same thing.
Obviously, the words of a White House Press Secretary are more important than the tweets of people who will still be making “but her emails” jokes well after Chelsea Clinton loses the 2024 Presidential election. But this is just the latest example of the double standard employed by the mainstream media and proud Democrats who remain silent despite the sins of their allies. It’s the kind of hypocrisy and selective outrage that enabled a liar like Donald Trump to come to power in the first place. Make no mistake: while Trump is ruling in a post-truth world, he didn’t create it.
Not too long ago, the press and mainstream liberals were outraged by George W. Bush and the PATRIOT Act. The expansion of the NSA’s activities and the increase of executive power was understandably terrifying to all who were in interested in living in a democracy after 9/11. Yet fears gave way to silence when Barack Obama signed NDAA, including Sections 1021 and 1022, which should’ve been disturbing to any American, let alone a former Constitutional Law professor That’s probably why President Obama said he had “serious reservations with certain provisions [of the bill] that regulate the detention, interrogation and prosecution of suspected terrorists.” It still didn’t stop him from signing it into law.
NDAA allows the Federal government to jail American citizens indefinitely without the right to counsel if suspected of supporting al-Qaida, but doesn’t do a great job of defining what constitutes support. That’s why a group of journalists sought an injunction fearing they could be imprisoned under its vague provisions for merely interviewing Al Qaeda. Justice Katherine Forrest granted that injunction and held the legislation more constitutionally egregious than the PATRIOT Act. For clarity, Judge Forrest is no Fox News legal correspondent—she’s a Federal Court Judge who was appointed by Barack Obama. And even though President Obama purportedly had issues with this bill that suspends basic due process protections as part of the war on terror, his administration’s Justice Department appealed the ruling, getting a panel to set it aside by a three to two margin.
Where was the outrage in the media and the electorate? Where were all the 1984 think pieces? Where were the references to third world dictatorships where journalists live in fear of indefinite detention from the government? Where were editorials explaining how the Federal government was dangerously close to an autocracy? There were none, because the consensus of major media and proud Democrats was that Barack Obama was a pretty chill dude. It seemed fears of unbridled executive power were only warranted when Republicans were in office.
That’s actually too generous because the double standard of outrage applies not only to Republicans, but anyone too far outside the mainstream Democratic narrative, including people like America’s most popular Senator, Bernie Sanders. For well over a year, mainstream Dems have attempted to explain how this leftist politician, has not shown appropriate diversity in his staffing, affected an improper tone towards women or minorities, or didn’t speak convincingly enough about “identify politics.” And even if we were to accept each of these accusations as true, it is impossible to reconcile how the outraged were somehow simultaneously at peace with Hillary Clinton’s record: her infamous comment about bringing “super-predator” African Americans to heel, dismissing Black Lives Matter from her private fundraiser, or getting in the face of a young Somali woman at Starbucks having the audacity to question her record.
Equally unproblematic? Hillary Clinton’s vocal anti-gay marriage stance until 2013 and selection of a Vice President whose abortion record is as unimpressive as his ability to electrify the electorate. The point is not to vilify either of these politicians or play tit for tat, but to acknowledge a clear double standard when it comes to the reaction to the alleged transgressions committed by those within the mainstream Democratic party and those outside it.
This bias was perhaps best exhibited by voters who claimed to care about Islamophobia and the free exercise of religion and then gave the Democrats a free pass during the Park 51 fiasco. Park 51 was supposed to be a lower Manhattan Muslim community center, open to the public and containing a prayer space among its many amenities. You might remember it as the “Ground Zero Mosque” even though it wasn’t a mosque and was blocks away from Ground Zero. But back when Trump was just a TV host and obnoxious failed casino owner, Harry Reid, the Democratic Senate majority leader, felt safe proclaiming the Mosque should be built somewhere else. Was he taken to task? Did the public react in disgust that a Democrat was telling Muslims where to build and where to pray? Hardly. Indeed, after some accused President Obama of supporting the construction, he felt the need to clarify that while the Bill of Rights was still totally a thing, he “was not commenting and [would not] not comment on the wisdom of making the decision to put a mosque there.” Why not? Why would the leader of the free world ever not comment?
Perhaps proud Democrats who wrongly remember the incident as the day Obama stood up to Islamophobia were confusing him for former Republican New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg who said, “we would be untrue to the best part of ourselves—and who we are as New Yorkers and Americans—if we said no to a mosque in lower Manhattan.” Can you imagine being a Democrat and getting schooled by Mike Bloomberg on identity politics? But the press didn’t seem to care that President Obama and Harry Reid caved to anti-Muslim fervor in a way that terrified me as a Jew in America way before neo-Nazis like Bannon were empowered by President Trump.
And that’s how someone like Trump comes to power. When an unqualified narcissist can proclaim everything in Washington is a lie and he’s going to burn the place to the ground it resonates. It resonates because we’re already living in a world where the press and party loyalists only take offense at their enemies’ transgressions. Where outrage is chosen based on the speaker of words instead of the words themselves. But such selective indignation destroys the value of speech and reduces truth to a commodity whose worth fluctuates with personal bias. It creates a world without absolutes, where there is no right or wrong, where progressives can be mocked for their purity. We can blame Trump for fostering hate through a series of lies, but we can’t credit him with creating a post-truth world. It was the post-truth world that made his presidency possible.
Gladstone is the author of the
Internet Apocalypse Trilogy
of novels on Thomas Dunne Books. He has written for publications including Cracked, Slate, and Thrillist.