Trevor Brookins

*Sincerity is dangerous.

It is a character trait that has a good reputation because it means someone truly believes what they’re saying or doing.

We equate being sincere with being genuine, honest, earnest, straightforward, frank, and open.

But sincerity’s twin sibling is stubbornness, which is synonymous with being obstinate, inflexible, willful, and intractable. To be sincere and hold firm to a belief can lead to extreme consequences.

In the world of politics, elected officials often tout their sincerity and openness. This is a deception. Most politicians are much more pragmatic than they are sincere. But they do use the language of sincerity because they understand that their supporters are often truly sincere and politicians exploit this fact to their benefit. Franklin Roosevelt attempted to expand the Supreme Court because he knew a large portion of the American people sincerely believed his liberal legislation was the answer to the country’s economic woes. Adolf Hitler used the sincere belief on the part of Germans that the country was betrayed by Jewish politicians to vilify and them and eventually commit genocide.

The current political climate in the United States again lends itself to the exploitation of sincerity. Conservative politicians might publicly state that they believe President Obama to be a Christian. But simply broaching the subject is enough to stoke the sincere belief among their constituency that he is a Muslim. Even more inflammatory is when the politicians encourage the sincere belief that President Obama is redistributing wealth. Many rank and file Republicans truly believe that their money is being stolen from them and given to undeserving poor people. This sincere belief leaves no room for the perspective that tax dollars fund programs for poor people and are necessary to contribute to growth and control crime.

In this case, sincerity is dangerous because the sincere belief that government is helping the wrong people (i.e.: not me) has led to assassinations and revolutions throughout history. A little over 100 years ago President McKinley was killed because of the sincere belief that his policies were too helpful to big business.

Sincerity is not a bad thing. But neither is it the absolute good that we now consider it. Those who hold sincere beliefs must be able to consider co-exist with others who hold sincere opposing beliefs. This is not always the case right now, and that is why sincerity can be problematic.

Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War.  You can reach him at [email protected]