The hypocrite has always been a subject of fascination, not merely because he is bad. Mere badness is pedestrian. It also tends to be transparent, which has the benefit of providing a certain clarity. The hypocrite is different because of his ostentatious morality, which is meant to obscure and deceive. The pretense of morality, in other words, is just that: a pretense. But that pretense is weaponized for selfish ends. This compounds the crime. As the political theorist Ruth Grant writes, “[The] victims are the more to be pitied because of the painful betrayal of trust involved in their victimization.”
In the Islamic tradition, God's ire, intense and unadulterated, is often reserved for hypocrites, or munafiqun. The hypocrisy of hypocrites isn’t a product of sin or fallenness, of trying to be good but failing. This would merely make one a sinner. The question of intent is critical when moving from a discussion of individuals to a discussion of states. Can a nation that professes to be moral also be malevolent? What would it mean for such a nation to be at once hypocritical and malevolent?
Of course, the nation most often accused of hypocrisy is the United States—and for good reason. After the unusual presidency of Donald Trump, it was easy to forget that sustaining a permanent gap between words and deeds was, in a sense, a storied American tradition. How could it not be? We invited it by insisting we were better than any other nation, or any other empire, had been across history. Today, with President Biden at the helm, the problem of hypocrisy is more perilous for an administration that has made a performance of reestablishing moral leadership and a values-based foreign policy. That gulf between who we are and who we might have been was recently on display with Biden's muted response to Israel's punishing bombardment of Gaza.