My blog posts revolve around my interests and vocation as a historian: the intersection of history and contemporary church life, the intersection of history and contemporary politics, serendipitous discoveries in archives or on research trips, publications and research projects, upcoming conferences, and speaking engagements.
I also blog for two other organizations, the Canadian Baptist Historical Society and the Centre for Post-Christendom Studies.
The views expressed in these blogs represent the views of the authors, and not necessarily those of any organizations with which they are associated.
Sycophant: “someone who shamelessly does anything to please one’s leader or promote one’s political party”
Having watched what seems to be endless politicking for the past few years, I have made a checklist of actions that poison civil political discourse. What I find vexing and distressing is that Christians seem zealous to enter into the folly of such dysfunctional political engagement.
I have no desire to see Christians disengage from political action – I just wish that they would go about it in a less partisan, toxic, and harmful way. Thus, my little list to identify sycophantic behavior that harms Christian witness, dehumanizes people, destroys relationships, poisons civic engagement, and undermines national unity.
What follows below is my checklist. After the list is a self-test to see how you fair when it comes to being a sycophant.
1. You weaponize events.
When a particular event occurs, your primary concern is how it can be weaponized. Rather than ask what is true, or determine why something happened, or consider what are the consequences for people of all stripes, or identify what is best for the nation, or ask what is just, or do what is kind, you are simply and primarily concerned with how the event can be leveraged for partisan gain. For instance, any signs of weakness of Biden (slurred speech) or Trump (uncertainty walking down ramp) are weaponized to win votes.
2. You support violence.
Rather than condemn violence of any sort, you support it either openly or tacitly. Open support is obvious – but that is often too blunt for some shifty sycophants. Tacit support is much more effective and includes blaming it all on the “other side,” calling the perpetrators of violence “protesters,” not mentioning it in the news if it makes your side look bad, or claiming that the “other side’s” violence is worse (and therefore yours is justified).
3. You cherry-pick your outrage.
You ignore the mistakes/sins/stupidity/etc. of your own supporters, but are apoplectic when the other side does the same thing. For instance, you go ballistic when your opponent’s leader commits an act considered racist, but ignore or downplay it when your own leader does something similar. Or get outraged when the opposing leader claims a rigged election, but downplay the fact that your leader claimed the same thing in a previous election.
4. You identify only your party with love of country and loyalty to nation.
You think no other party loves the nation like yours does, and therefore people who do not vote for your party do not really love the country like you do.
5. You boil down the motives of your opponents to the basest – and most hateful – possible.
You simply cannot fathom people genuinely and sincerely seeing the world differently from you. Rather, you must label them in some derogatory fashion or assume nefarious motives. For instance, those who did not vote for your party voted that way because they are hateful, racist, communist, godless, fascist, arrogant, ignorant, elitist, unpatriotic, disloyal, undemocratic, etc.
6. You appeal to the basest – and most hateful – elements in the electorate.
The darkness that lurks within the human heart is what you appeal to in order to gain votes. If enflaming and exploiting social tensions, racial prejudices and ancient hatreds works – so be it.
7. You invoke Hitler and Nazism.
Such conduct is part of the ancient art of creating a boogyman out of your opponents. Either in internet memes, or real-life statements, this ploy is either a demonstration of your desperation, your lack of knowledge of history, or your belief that people are stupid sheep who will be duped by your invoking one of the most vile people and movements in the twentieth century. Invoking communism and Stalin also fit into this category.
8. Your response to criticisms is to invoke tu quoque (“you too”).
You deflect attention from the real issue by saying “they do it too.” In other words, you are willing to overlook the sins of your side because the other side does the same thing. Related to this is the notion of moral equivalency – making your own side’s actions seem less wrong, or more right – by invoking a selective (and suspect) comparison that reflects well on your side.
9. Your response to the failures of your enemies is schadenfreude (pleasure over other people’s suffering).
Compassion for your opponents is nonexistent in your political universe. Rather, you take great pleasure in seeing your opponents brought down – even at the cost of their livelihood, family, health, faith, etc. You are even secretly (or perhaps not so secretly) happy when you watch YouTube clips of your rivals punched, kicked, gassed, or beaten in street altercations.
10. You take a Manichean view of the political contest.
Everything is crystal clear. Your party good – the other evil. Your newscast is right and true – the others hopelessly riddled with propaganda and bias. Your position is without fault – the others riddled with falsehood. Your position on the issues is so obviously pure and accurate that your opponent’s position could only be rooted in a malevolent mixture of a lust for power, corruption, lies, and hatred. For you, politics is a zero-sum game of winner take all, in a world of no middle ground between two opposing sides of light and darkness.
11. Your criteria for success is winning.
Winning is everything – everything else is just noise. How you wage a campaign is secondary to winning: character takes a backseat to victory, integrity is to be cast aside in order to win, and justice is a notion for hopeless idealists (and losers).
12. You think free speech should only be allowed for those who share your political position.
You think that the world would simply be such a better place if everyone thought just like you. In fact, those who think differently are not only hopelessly wrong but they are also dangerous and, thus, need to be suppressed. After all, free speech that leads to the other side winning cannot be a good thing.
13. You think the above faults only describe your political opponents.
The arrogance and self-delusion of such a claim should be obvious – but in the passionate world of political gamesmanship reality is distorted and humility thrown out the window.
Count up how many items on the list apply to you. Then rank yourself based on your total number:
Here are three steps to recovery if you ranked high on the list:
Elections are usually about things that matter, and Christians should get involved in the process. However, as Aneurin Bevan stated, “politics is a blood sport.” The challenge for Christians in the midst of the thrust and parry of political drama is to engage in the “blood sport” without taking part in the shedding of blood. Anything less is to devolve into the mindless, shameless, and harmful world of sycophancy – behaviour applauded by one’s political master, but not by the Master that really matters.