- Lying as a political tool is as old as politics itself.
- Niccolo Machiavelli, writing in the 16th century, recommended that a leader who tries to be honest but lying when telling the truth “would place him at a disadvantage.”
- People don’t like being lied to, Machiavelli observed, “but one who deceives will always find those who allow themselves to be deceived.”
Lying as a political tool is as old as politics itself. Niccolo Machiavelli, writing in the 16th century, recommended that a leader who tries to be honest but lying when telling the truth “would place him at a disadvantage.” People don’t like being lied to, Machiavelli observed, “but one who deceives will always find those who allow themselves to be deceived.”
The utility of lying on a grand scale was first demonstrated almost a century ago by leaders such as Stalin and Hitler who coined the term “big lie” in 1925 and rose to power on the lie that Jews were responsible for Germany’s defeat in World War I. For the German and Russian dictators, lying was not merely a habit or a convenient way of sanding down unwanted facts but an essential tool of government.
In a cable to Washington in 1944, George Kennan, counsellor at the United States Embassy in Stalin’s Moscow, warned of the occult powers held by lies, noting that Soviet rule “has proved some strange and disturbing things about human nature.”
Foremost among these, he wrote, is that in the case of many people “it is possible to make them feel and believe practically anything.” No matter how untrue something might be, he wrote, “for the people who believe it, it becomes true. It attains validity and all the powers of truth.”
Writing in the New York Times, Andrew Higgins observes that; “A readiness, even enthusiasm, to be deceived in recent years has become a driving force in politics around the world, notably in countries such as Hungary, Poland, Turkey and the Philippines, all governed by populist leaders, adept at shaving the truth or inventing it outright.”
Mr Kennan’s insight, generated by his experience of the Soviet Union, now has a haunting resonance for America where tens of millions believe a “truth” invented by President Trump: that Joseph R. Biden Jr. lost the November election and only became president-elect through fraud.
Political lies have led to wars, famines, genocides, and countless other atrocities around the world, but politicians never cease to tell lies.
Jagir Reehal, writing for the Medium, says that “I find it disturbing that more people aren’t incensed when politicians evade questions and exaggerate the truth. Even more irritating is the fact that many people give politicians a pass to lie.”
A lie is an intent, whether by commission or omission, to deceive or misdirect. Hiding the truth about something with the purpose of deceiving or manipulating a person is a lie. Paltering is an active form of deception, using truthful facts to mislead the receiver to make the wrong conclusion. It is also known as “being economical with the truth.”
Donald Trump’s “alternative facts” are absolute balderdash!
Even Britain, which regards itself as a bastion of democracy, has fallen prey to transparent but widely believed falsehoods, voting in 2016 to leave the European Union after claims by the pro-Brexit camp that leaving the bloc would mean an extra £350 million, every week for the country’s State health service. Those who advanced this lie, including the Conservative Party politician who has since become Britain’s prime minister, Boris Johnson, later admitted that it was a “mistake”; though only after they had won the vote.
“Politicians have a personality that allows them to be evasive, to live with lies and keep a straight face. Not all people can do that. That is why many people are not willing to serve in a political role.”- Ichak Kalderon Adizes, Huffington Post.
Many politicians are narcissists and their arrogance and sense of self-importance lead them to believe that they can do what they want. If they have to lie to get what they want, so be it. The political culture considers it perfectly acceptable to massage facts to fit the desired narrative.
There are little or no consequences for politicians who lie, and we have often witnessed politicians who claim they were misquoted even when the evidence suggests otherwise and they get away with it. At most, they may be demoted or asked to stand down, but criminal convictions are rare. Even when they are caught lying, their supporters will continue to stand by them, so there is little incentive for them to be completely truthful.
Because many people don’t want to hear the bitter truth, politicians tell voters what they want to hear. It is a win-win for both sides. The people hear what they want to hear, and the politicians keep voters on their side.
Lying can be used as a self-defence strategy.
Politicians may lie about their opponents before their opponents have a chance to lie about them. Attack is often the best form of defence.
As Joseph Goebbels stated, “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.”
Politicians exploit the fact that most of the public rely on information supplied by mainstream media. Mainstream media is biased and partisan. It feeds its audience a carefully curated narrative that is often supportive of a certain political cause.
Social media is another powerful tool which has the capacity to reach millions of people instantly. Like mainstream media, it is partisan and often used to pedal misinformation.
Until there are serious consequences for lying, it is unlikely that anything will change.
Unfortunately, since politicians are the ones that make the laws, there is little hope that they will pass anything to hold themselves to account.
The best we can do is to keep ourselves well informed, inform others and learn to manage our frustration as we advocate for change.
In the meantime, remember, if we lie to the government, it is a crime and if the government lies to us, it is just politics!