Start with what you already know: It’s hypocritical in the extreme for President Trump to denounce entertainers for using language demeaning to women. When he complains that Samantha Bee has spoken insultingly of his favorite daughter, he does so as a man who has said worse of literally dozens of women who irritated him, rebuffed his advances, or failed to meet his ideals of female beauty. Nobody in American politics—nobody in most of our lifetimes in politics—has demeaned women as grossly as Donald Trump. Contempt for women is one of the guiding rules of his life: “When you’re a star, they let you do it.”
As I said, you knew that.
You also, I hope, understand that there is a huge difference between the words of most people on Twitter and those of the president of the United States, who commands the vast coercive power of the executive branch of the federal government. When Trump demands the NFL silence protest, or that an ABC executive grovel to him, or that TimeWarner fire Samantha Bee, he is not expressing an opinion. He is threatening a hostile use of state power against individuals or corporations vulnerable to that power.
Again, I hope you knew that.
Now here’s a third thing you know or should know: There is a powerful network of important people in the United States who earn their livelihoods by angrily contradicting the obvious truths in the two paragraphs above. The French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre coined the term “bad faith” to describe such behavior. As described by one of Sartre’s popularizers,
[The person of] bad faith … maintain[s] against all evidence that something is right, when he knows he is wrong. Deaf to rational argument, he builds false reasons, retreating into a defensive absurd system. In this game of right and wrong, the man in bad faith is not fooling anyone, least of all himself.
But that description turns out to be way too optimistic. Our modern proponents of bad faith do fool millions of people. The dimmer of them probably also succeed in fooling themselves as well. The cleverer of them have developed sophisticated justifications for what they do that transmute crass self-interest into some semblance of a higher cause.