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Eroding Standards Erode Civilization

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.

President Donald Trump is having a bad week within a string of bad weeks: leaks, accusations of revealing classified information to the Russians, panicking staff members. David Graham at The Atlantic wonders aloud whether Trump's presidency is "on the verge of collapse."

It's distressing. More concerning still are the larger trends and what they portend for the country.

Consider: Hillary Clinton is a lifelong politician, and half of America's penultimate political power couple. Scandal follows her wherever she goes. As secretary of state, Clinton lied to the public about Benghazi. The Clinton Foundation accepted millions from oppressive regimes. She was infamously "extremely careless" (in former FBI Director James Comey's words) with classified information distributed on a personal email server -- and she was untruthful about that, as well.

But no matter what Clinton does, the press protects her. (An earlier Atlantic article by Graham just before November's election offered a chronology of Clinton scandals, and dismissed most of them.) Former Attorney General Loretta Lynch (whose private meeting with Bill Clinton amidst the FBI's investigation of his wife was a gross breach of professional ethics) was apparently just as eager to protect Clinton. And Comey himself declined to prosecute her, even though "extreme carelessness" is virtually synonymous with "gross negligence," a prosecutable standard under the applicable statute.

Now that voters have put a nominal Republican who is a bumbling neophyte in the White House, however, the media is acting like a pack of savage dogs. While Hillary Clinton's conduct with classified information was just that of a "busy and uninterested executive who shows little comfort with even the basics of technology," according to Politico's Garrett Graff, Trump is considered a dangerous incompetent fraud who puts the country at risk, so says Fareed Zakaria.

The left's hypocritical behavior towards Trump is exactly what millions of Americans have observed angrily for years -- and one of the things that propelled him to the presidency. Progressives' double standards have become so de rigueur that they barely draw an eye roll. But either standards of conduct matter, or they don't. At some point, double standards serve to erode all standards.

Take sexual mores among politicians. Political leaders have been sleeping around since someone first decided to angle for Chief Caveman. But until relatively recently, revealing it sounded the death knell for your career. John Kennedy was a rake, but it was kept under wraps. Baby brother Ted's behavior was arguably worse -- at least as regards Mary Jo Kopechne -- and he went on to be lauded as "the Lion of the Senate." By the time Bill Clinton came along, there were credible allegations of rape, and a sexual relationship with a young intern, and none of it mattered, even to feminists and others purportedly concerned about the patriarchy and power inequality. Bill Clinton has assumed the mantle of senior statesman, while every effort was made to discredit his female accusers.

The left has gotten away with their stunning hypocrisy, in part, because everyone assumed that the right would continue to uphold standards. But that, too, is crumbling. Thus could Republican Mark Sanford betray his first wife in a most publicly humiliating way -- and come back to win his congressional race a few years later in deeply conservative South Carolina, now married to his paramour.

Thus, too, was there shock that evangelicals and other conservative voters could and did support thrice-married adulterer Donald Trump. But after two Kennedys and a Clinton, were voters seriously supposed to have been repelled by Trump's potty mouth? Perhaps conservative voters concluded that there was nothing to be gained by holding their candidates to a standard that liberals abandoned decades ago. Live by the louche, die by the louche.

More ominously, the left's hypocrisy is not limited to politicians and sex.

Government transparency and fairness took a beating under the Obama administration, as did standards of law enforcement. Political protests have also turned ugly. (Did opponents of President Obama take to the streets, destroy property or beat Obama voters bloody?) Constitutional rights -- free speech and due process, most notably -- are threatened on college campuses.

Why should any of this be laid at the feet of the left? Because they, not conservatives, control the culture. They control the media. They control academia. They control the entertainment industry. Almost 63 million Americans voted for Donald Trump, and many of those voters have grown weary of the left's use of the institutions it dominates to indoctrinate them, to mock and humiliate them, and to bludgeon them into silence. The left may despise Trump, but they sent voters running to the ballot box to vote for him.

Progressives have been playing a reckless and dangerous game, undermining the very traditions and institutions they depend upon for their freedom. Few are asking, "What happens if our political opponents decide to behave as we do?"

They'd better. Their coordinated campaign to destroy Donald Trump may be successful -- and Trump may be handing them much of their ammunition. But it's clear that America's cultural and societal underpinnings can only be undermined so long by the elite before the hoi polloi will decide that they, too, have more to gain and nothing to lose by abandoning them.

When that happens, God help us.

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