Sure, politicians have long been called out for hypocrisy. But during a pandemic that’s forced millions into seclusion and left many without paychecks, such actions can feel like a personal insult — reinforcing the idea “that some people just don’t have to follow the rules while the rest of us do,” says Rita Kirk, a professor of communications at Southern Methodist University.

And that, in turn, hints at even deeper questions.

In a monarchy, a king or queen is special, born to the role, cast as above the rest. In a dictatorship, the ruler often takes more spoils than the ruled. But in a democratic society, where leaders are drawn from among the very people who must abide by their decisions, what happens when those in charge act in ways that suggest they’re above those who are not?

It’s easy to see politicians flouting their own rules as a moral failing. They’re entrusted to work toward society’s best interests and serve as an example in a crisis. But pandemic-era hypocrisy has only deepened the polarization in a time already marked by division, emboldening those who doubt the seriousness of the virus and dividing people’s responses based on political affiliations.