When Government Lies

When Government Lies April 25, 2019

For a liberal democracy to work properly, citizens need to able to trust their government, even if they disagree with some of the policies and laws enacted. Even if they know that there is corruption, influence peddling, incompetence and all the other problems that any government by the people will suffer.

As Winston Churchill said, “democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.” A truly benign dictatorship might be better, theoretically, but as Lord Acton observed, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.”

The only truly incorruptible power is described in religious myths. Believing in them is like believing in the imaginary guy in a red suit who runs a sub-minimum wage sweatshop up at the North Pole making children’s toys that he sneaks into the country at night in an uncertified aircraft to avoid paying import duties. Government is necessarily run by humans, so we have to accept something less than incorruptible perfection.

But couldn’t we at least expect government to be honest with us? Well, no, probably not completely honest. People will always jigger the facts to support their agenda. Democracy is a sales process, and the politician who can sell his product best will be the most successful. Salesmen are not reknowned for their honesty, and people are not always smart enough to detect when they are being bamboozled. A well-known Abe Lincoln quote comes to mind:

“You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.”

Most of the people who voted for the current occupant of the White House were fooled a lot of the time by his campaign promises. I don’t need to detail them here. You know the list. But since the 2016 election, it’s a lot more than broken promises. The lies keep coming in a torrent. The most blatant ones are in his Tweets. It isn’t just him. His whole administration is populated with liars.

Let’s start with the firing of FBI Director James Comey. Here’s what Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Trump’s press flack, had to say about it:

“I’ve heard from countless members of the FBI that are grateful and thankful for the president’s decision.”

Totally “pants on fire” false. She later told prosecutors working for Mueller that it was a “slip of the tongue,” an expression that usually means a mispronunciation of a word, or a grammatical goof. Sanders gave it a whole new meaning.

Sometimes the President lied, and sometimes he directed his staff to lie for him. Some of them got in big trouble for that. Michael Flynn, Michael Cohen and several others ended up pleading guilty to charges that they lied to federal investigators.

All of the above are laid out in great detail in the Mueller report. Even with all the redactions, they couldn’t cover up the malfeasance. Trump not only lied; he directed others to lie. Sometimes they did, and in a few instances, they risked his wrath by refusing to lie. After firing Comey, Trump asked Rod Rosenstein, deputy AG, to hold a news conference announcing it. Rosenstein declined, saying that if he were asked by the reporters, he would have to tell the truth and say it wasn’t his idea to fire Comey. Nevertheless, when Trump announced the firing, he said he was acting on a recommendation from the Justice Department, a blatant lie.

Mueller’s report details many other instances where staff members lied to support the President. The whole organization viewed lying to the press as no problem. When one of his lies was revealed, Trump dismissed it with this:

“It’s a statement to the New York Times…that’s not a statement to a high tribunal of judges.”

The Mueller report doesn’t pull any punches on the dishonesty, saying: “Trump leads a White House where falsehoods and misrepresentations are common practice.”

Ad Meskens [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]

Deliberately lying to the press is only one of the ways they tried to mislead the public. They also suppressed information when they thought it might hurt them, like Email records that detail Trump Jr.’s meetings with Russian officials about the hacked Clinton Emails, and the efforts to suppress information about Trump’s business dealings with Russians on plans for the Trump Tower project in Moscow.

These are some of the Big Lies that Trump’s White House has spread, but that is just the top layer of the vast and putrid pit of dishonesty that lies beneath. The Fact Checker’s database calculates that as of March 31, 2019, Trump has made 9,451 false or misleading statements over his 801 days in office, and his production rate is increasing. He was only averaging 5.9 a day for his first year in office, but now he is up to 22. Practice makes perfect, and he is obviously a skilled and practiced liar.

What effect does this tsunami of dishonesty have on the public? Is it important that people trust their government?

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) is an intergovernmental economic organization with 36 member countries, founded in 1961 to stimulate economic progress and world trade. Here is what they have to say about the importance of trust in government:

“Lack of trust compromises the willingness of citizens and business to respond to public policies and contribute to a sustainable economic recovery. Trust is important for the success of a wide range of public policies that depend on behavioural responses from the public. Trust is necessary to increase the confidence of investors and consumers. Trust is essential for key economic activities, most notably finance. Trust in institutions is important for the success of many government policies, programmes and regulations that depend on cooperation and compliance of citizens.”

They list six areas that governments need to address to win back the trust of their citizens. You can read about them here:

http://www.oecd.org/gov/trust-in-government.htm

The most important one is reliability. Governments have an obligation to minimize uncertainty in the economic, social and political environment. It is obvious that our current government is in chaos, constantly disrupted by an unpredictable and ignorant President who seems to seek instability and confrontation whenever possible.

But most of all, it is the common public knowledge that most of the stuff coming out of the mouths of top officials of our government is garbage. How can anyone respect our government when it is run by a band of liars?


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