U.S. President Donald Trump can be accused of having many faults, but hypocrisy is not one of them. To be sure, Trump is wildly inconsistent. His critics have found great sport digging up old tweets in which he condemns political rivals for doing something that he himself blithely does today. But hypocrisy requires a minimal degree of self-awareness. It also requires clear understanding of both one’s own interests and of public norms that may frustrate self-dealing. Repeated gaffes and insults suggest that Trump has no such knowledge. Far from being a Machiavellian schemer, he seems unable to recognize the difference between what one professes in public and what one does in private, much less the utility of exploiting that difference.
In moderation, Trump’s lack of control might be refreshing. When in a February interview, Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly pressed Trump about his relationship to Russian President Vladimir Putin—“a killer”—Trump responded that there are many killers and asked rhetorically whether “our country was so innocent.” He pointed out aspects of U.S. behavior that both liberals and conservatives prefer to gloss over. Under ordinary circumstances, a presidential acknowledgment that the United States has regularly killed people under sketchy circumstances might spur serious debate. But nothing about Trump is moderate. Trump wants not only to acknowledge America’s dark side but to embrace it, building U.S. policy on naked self-interest and short-term advantage.
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