The neologism known as “virtue signaling” is treacherous in its use and slippery in its definition. It is a pejorative meaning the conspicuous expression of moral values for which there is little true feeling and little or no personal cost, and it is a pejorative that can backfire. It is a first cousin to the “humble brag.” The humble brag really is a thing. “My new Maserati only gets forty miles to the gallon, alas,” might be an example of a humble brag.
People who accuse others of virtue signaling can themselves be plausibly accused of virtue signaling by so doing. I’m disinclined to use it in any case. It’s hard to tell when a person is sincere about how they feel about a topic. I would prefer to limit it to something I call “outrage signaling,” which is pretending to be outraged about something in order to create a distraction, and is a more narrow subset of virtue signaling – because it comes with a built in hypocrisy.
Take the Republican “outrage” over Hillary’s emails. I’m inclined to believe that was outrage signaling as I define it above. The hypocrisy comes from their apparent unconcern about Donald Trump’s careless disregard for national security when he blabs openly and send tweets about military secrets and uses unsecured phones to communicate with subordinates. To hear Republicans tell it, Hillary’s use of a private email server was the most egregious and negligent national security violation since the Rosenbergs, and we’re all lucky it didn’t end in World War III, and she should have been imprisoned for it, or even executed. Considering their complete lack of outrage over Donald Trump’s carefree disregard for national security by the routine and far more flagrant use of unsecured devices, I’m inclined to believe that their “outrage” over Hillary’s emails was pure partisan hypocrisy of the most putrid kind. In other words, Republican business as usual. I don’t know about you but I’m getting pretty weary of stuff like that myself.
And now for the latest. In his multifarious excursions to Ukraine, it turns out that Rudy Giuliani did quite a lot of talking on the phone. It further turns out that his phone was entirely unsecured, so much so that Congress (and by extension the national press) has records of those calls, when they were made and to whom. The list of unsavoury characters Rudy spoke to while gallivanting in Ukraine included Lev Parnas and – surprise surprise! – Devin Nunes. There was also someone known only as “dash one” (-1). That was probably none other than Donald Trump himself.
It’s not a question of whether or not these phone calls were recorded by a hostile foreign power, it’s a question of how many recordings there are. The Russians record absolutely every unsecured call coming out of Ukraine and everywhere else, as do the Chinese. So, Lordy yes, there are plenty of recordings. How exactly they are being used against a severely compromised US intelligence remains to be seen. But the extent to which the pure sloppiness and stupidity of Trump and his cronies extends is mind-numbing when you stop to think how brutal they were about Hillary sending unclassified email messages from home. Personally I am outraged by the whole thing and, in so doing, I am signaling nothing more and nothing less than pure, unadulterated outrage itself.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.