Seeing the Round Corners


October 17, 2016

The on-going salacious descriptions attributed to the "investigation" of the New York Times of Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump bring to mind a column from this writer's archives on moral hypocrisy. 

Moral Hypocrisy – March 16, 2009.  How do we as Americans define moral hypocrisy and who is a moral hypocrite? Give it some thought and read on. The term caught my attention back at the time the most recent rash of political scandals surfaced in 2006:  Larry Craig of Idaho, Bob Allen of Florida, Mark Foley of Florida, Glenn Murphy, Jr. of Indiana, David Vitter of Louisiana (all are Republicans), and Ted Haggard (political affiliation unknown), pastor of the church in Colorado Springs which he founded.

For the most part, lost in the coverage on Haggard is that at the time (2006), he was also president of the National Association of Evangelicals. (Note:  It is strictly coincidental that all of the above people except possibly Haggard are Republicans.)

One thread seems to run true as Americans voice their sentiments on politicians and public officials, whether it is via on-air media, the print media or via the Internet:  politicians and public officials say one thing in one situation, and at another time reverse their stand on an issue. True, it could also be they just don't remember from one time to another. 

The moral hypocrite is described or defined as one who "violates a moral norm in which he sincerely believes." Moral hypocrisy involves lying that must be done consciously and intentionally. The moral hypocrite "pretends to accept and live by one set of values when, in fact, he accepts and lives by quite different ones."

An analogy would be Thomas Jefferson, who we all know wrote some of the most important words in America's history as one of our founding fathers – "all men are created equal." Why was Jefferson a moral hypocrite? This is why.

The moral hypocrite is a person who lives his/her life in a manner that is contradictory to their publicly stated moral beliefs and principles. As did most if not all people of means in those days, Thomas Jefferson owned slaves – the famous words he wrote contradicted the life he lived and his publicly stated moral beliefs. Jefferson pretended to live by a set of values he really did not hold to. He said one thing and did another.

In a study at Northeastern University, researchers conducted human behavior studies that "substantiated the moral hypocrisy phenomenon." Their studies convinced psychologists Piercarlo Valdesolo and David DeSteno that people tend to judge other people more harshly than they do themselves for the very same behavior.  Moral hypocrites convince themselves their actions are "virtuous and help others" and are "all for the greater good." 

This mentality creates what Valdesolo and DeSteno refer to as the "self-halo" effect under which the moral hypocrite justifies his or her actions as being perfectly acceptable but would condemn others doing the same actions. 

The typical politician believes it is his job to get elected – nothing is too great a cost, whether its buying votes with a beer and pizza, or making promises for services that cannot be delivered. Two types of politicians come to mind:  the type who is totally lacking in ethics and integrity, seeking the office for the financial gain it offers; the other type seeks office to further a personal agenda and vested interests, devoid of the public good. Suffice it to say, neither of this type in office is likely to be a dedicated public servant.

Perhaps those who live by the Golden Rule (yes, it's still around), will find researchers Valdesolo and DeSteno's conclusion profound:  Moral hypocrisy may be useful to politicians in their zeal for office, but according to Valdesolo, "Hypocrisy is driven by mental processes over which we have volitional control."

The study also revealed the double standard applied by politicians to their actions and conduct to get elected may be justifiable in their minds, but their heart tells them it is wrong. 

We as human beings, us ordinary citizens, are programmed to be sensitive, to be fair to others and unselfish, and yes, to abide by the Golden Rule. We take pride in such values.

So maybe the studies conducted by Valdesolo and DeSteno do validate and show there is some substance in that old cliché after all, you know, the one that says "you can fool some of the people some of the time, but not all the people all the time."

The reader's comments or questions are always welcome. E-mail me at