Hopefully Americans will not be as gullible after the election as many are before casting their ballot. Dishonesty is the distinguishing trait of the political class, going all the way back to ancient Athens and the satirical plays of Aristophanes. In 1799, Thomas Jefferson observed, “Whenever a man casts a longing eye on offices, a rottenness begins in his conduct.”
A successful politician is often merely someone who bamboozled more voters than the other liar running for office. Political campaigns rely on deception because, as economist John Burnheim explained, “Overwhelming pressures to lie, to pretend, to conceal… are always present when the object to be sold is intangible and its properties unverifiable until long after the time when the decision to buy can be reversed.”
Lying has long been part of presidents’ job description: the names of Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon practically became synonyms for deceit. Former president George W. Bush is being rehabilitated by the media nowadays. But Bush made “232 false statements about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and another 28 false statements about Iraq’s links to Al Qaeda,” as the Center for Public Integrity reported. Bush’s determination to dishonestly drag America into another Middle East war led to the deaths of more than 4,000 American troops and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians.
President Barack Obama received sainthood even before his election and he retained his halo even though he falsely promised dozens of times that people could keep their doctor after Obamacare’s decrees took effect. Obama campaigned in 2008 on a peace platform and then bombed seven nations. Obama promised “no more illegal wiretapping” but he unleashed the National Security Administration to target any American “searching the web for suspicious stuff.”
The 2016 presidential race was a landmark: never before had American voters been obliged to choose between two such widely despised candidates. Routine deceit by both candidates helped make “post-truth” the 2016 word of the year according to the Oxford English Dictionary.
The 2020 race is also deluging voters with near-record levels of malarkey. Joe Biden denied referring to American soldiers as “stupid bastards” (despite a video of his spiel), denies that his son Hunter has done anything wrong (despite the pesky laptop emails), and exaggerated the Covid death toll a hundredfold. Trump has ludicrously portrayed his pandemic response as faultless, wildly exaggerates the economic achievements of his administration, and perennially denies the damage inflicted here by his trade wars. The one certainty is that the 2020 election will not be won by an honest man.
If a new president is elected next month, the media will insist that “this time is different” and that Americans can safely trust the White House again. In reality, Election Day merely marks a brief intermission between campaigning lies and governing lies.‘Choose Your Liar’ Democracy