Unconditional loyalty to a politician is no virtue. Liam Glen writes on why people are drawn to defending the indefensible.
Financier Jeffrey Epstein’s arrest on sex trafficking charges last week shook up the political world. Knowledge of Epstein’s crimes is not new. He pled guilty to soliciting prostitution with a minor back in 2008. But his latest indictment opens the possibility of new revelations.
Epstein, a well-connected investment banker, had friends in high places while his crimes were going on. Former passengers on his private jet – the so-called “Lolita Express” – include Donald Trump, Bill Clinton, and Queen Elizabeth II’s third son Prince Andrew.
Should incriminating evidence come out on any figure, it is sure to start a political maelstrom. No one is looking forward to the possibility of cabal pundits defending their favored politicians’ connections to Epstein.
Republicans have stood by Trump so far even though 24 women have accused him of sexual assault. Any new information about his ties to Epstein could test the limits of their loyalty.
For their part, Democrats seem more willing to, in cartoonist Jonathan Rosenberg’s terms, “throw Bill Clinton into the sun.” The party showed off its zero-tolerance policy for sexual misconduct when it forced Al Franken to resign from the Senate in 2018. But such a policy should be a floor rather than a ceiling.
A familiar pattern emerges every time a politician gets imbrued in the scandal. Those who already disliked them interpret the facts in the least charitable way possible, while those who already liked them jump to their defense.
This pattern is an unfortunate inevitability when it comes to minor offenses like gaffes or email misconduct, but when politicians are implemented in more serious scandals, we cannot let our biases blind us.
The two-party system forces people to make tough choices. Reluctant Trump supporters in 2016 looked past his flaws for the sake of adding a conservative justice to the Supreme Court. Democrats ignored Clinton’s countless controversies for fear of a Trump presidency.
Backing a questionable politician in hopes that they will enact good policies is understandable. Though, it definitely has its limits. The ultimate example is Alabama state auditor Jim Ziegler’s 2017 defense of sexual assault allegations against Roy Moore
Beyond this, however, the age of hyper-partisanship brings with it a twisted sense of party loyalty. Too many people are willing to say “my party, right or wrong.”
When most of the Bush family refused to endorse Donald Trump in 2016, Newt Gingrich shot back “this Republican Party has been awfully good to the Bushes.” The implication in this mobster-like sentence is that because the Republican Party once supported the Bushes, they are obligated to put their conscience aside and mindlessly support anyone else the party puts forward.
To anyone outside of the partisan bubble, however, this is nonsense. A political party is nothing more than a pragmatic alliance of people who have a similar agenda for improving the country. When the party’s agenda differs from the individual’s, there is no obligation to slavishly follow along.
Politicians Aren’t Your Pals
People are not just loyal to a party. They also develop an attachment to specific politicians. Trump’s base stubbornly refuses to acknowledge his flaws. Democratic candidates from Bernie Sanders to Andrew Yang find themselves on the defensive when their social media fans get too aggressive.
A politician’s job is to craft a likable persona and an inspiring message, one that naturally attracts passionate supporters. But these followers must realize that the person that a politician plays on TV is very rarely the real them. They have an assortment of personal flaws and hidden skeletons that they prefer not to show voters.
However, when people treat politics as a fandom, they approach their support for a certain candidate as if it were a personal relationship. They feel that it is their duty to defend their favored politicians against attack. They downplay flaws and refuse to believe any allegations of wrongdoing.
Getting caught in this rabbit hole is obviously undesirable. One way to get around it is to be cynical. Kamala is a cop. Bernie is an aging ideologue. Warren may have a plan, but it is based on flawed research. The royal family is a bunch of feudalistic freeloaders who have had it too good for too long. If you have low expectations of every public figure, they can never disappoint you.
For most people, this is going too far. But at the very least, we must look at public figures critically. Do not get so invested in a candidate that you would hesitate to drop your support should you decide that they are actually not the best person for the job. Always be ready for the possibility that there is more to them than meets the eye. And do not put any misguided sense of loyalty ahead of what is right.