A Culture of Lies, Hyperbole and Hypocrisy
The new American culture is built on lies, hyperbole and hypocrisy. Politicians and the media cultivate the seeds to create a fact-free society where reality is in the eyes of the beholder. Lying¬†is¬†our new national pastime.¬†We discredit the checks and balances, and¬†thereby eliminate the consequences. It didn’t start with the Trump campaign, but it created¬†an environment¬†where the Trump campaign could survive. It is¬†an environment where there is no shame in hypocrisy,¬†conspiracy theories¬†are on par with¬†facts,¬†and accepting proven science is optional.
I can’t put my finger on when we arrived here. There¬†were serious¬†consequences for any politician caught in a lie, not so long ago.¬†How we got here is more obvious. America was founded on a lie¬†we still teach in our schools today. Columbus discovered America the same way I discovered a new McDonald’s last week. It¬†was there for several years, visited by thousands of customers, but¬†I¬†got lost and drove down¬†a road I’d never been¬†on before. I didn’t discover it, I just finally realized it was there, long after many other people. Not only¬†the indigenous native-Americans made American undiscoverable. There is ample proof that the Vikings,¬†Irish, Welsh, Chinese, and others, all were here long before Columbus. Scientists strive to disprove previous theories, and willingly correct them. Historians, however,¬†have always been unwilling to admit their errors, even when new evidence emerges.
Fact and truth¬†are broken down over¬†time by the other great American pastime of hyperbole. We declare our baseball teams¬†World Champions without them ever playing a foreign team other than Toronto.¬†¬†Both politicians and the media regularly refer to the President of the United States¬†as¬†Leader of the Free World. Not a single¬†citizen of any other country in the free world votes in our elections, doesn’t have an elected leader of their own, or is waiting for our general election to find out who their leader will be. We claim¬†we are¬†the greatest democracy in the world when we are not even a democracy. Leaders from both parties¬†finally admitted we¬†are actually a Representative Constitutional Republic this primary season. They abandoned their democracy¬†claims in a heartbeat to explain the very undemocratic rules both parties have in their primary processes.
We criticize other countries who do not have a democratic government, and spend trillions of dollars trying to force it on others. This is the system we want to export to the world?¬†We have¬†one of the lowest voter participation rates in the developed world, and we are working hard to lower it.¬†Our system¬†does not guarantee the winner of the popular vote will win the¬†election, and¬†we have an electoral college designed to overturn election results.¬†We allow unelected and unaccountable financial managers in¬†Michigan to dictate to¬†elected officials. Money in our electoral process corrupts¬†our elected officials. Congress is in gridlock, working fewer hours and passing less bills than ever before.
The erosion of truth and consequences has been gradual. Nixon lied, but paid the price. Clinton lied, and probably didn’t pay the price he deserved. Bush lied, and they rewrote history to cover it up. It is ironic that the biggest liar of them all exposed the truth. It has been a¬†slow slide, but a steady one. But the politicians did not take the journey on their own. Politicians can do nothing unless the media and the American people¬†let them to go there without consequences.
The media jumped on the ride with a splash with the founding of¬†Fox News in 1996. Fair and Balanced showed the¬†media had entered the alternate¬†reality where words don’t mean anything. If you put lipstick on a pig, call it a beautiful model, and believe it is a beautiful model, you can. Meantime, MSNBC adopted the teaser tactics of¬†Entertainment Tonight, and¬†CNN¬†started manufacturing news instead of reporting it. The media’s¬†emphasis is now on¬†creating sensationalism and controversy and more ratings-driven entertainment programming. The reality of¬†climate change, supported by 97%¬†of scientists, we treat as equal to the denials of the¬†3% on the payroll of the fossil fuel industry. These shifts have eroded the credibility of the checks and balances designed to keep politicians honest.
So the media is to blame, and the politicians are to blame, and the American people are the victims as always. Or are they? Snake oil salesmen are only successful if they know there is a market for what they are selling. Fox News may have sold a lie, but their ratings went through the roof.¬† To succeed, every lie requires someone to believe it. Poll shows we¬†believe our politicians are corrupt and dishonest, yet few things in life are more predictable than the chances of an incumbent member of congress being reelected. In¬†the last 50 years, incumbents win 90% of the time on average. Our partisanship dictates which media outlets we watch, read or listen to, which politicians¬†we believe. We willingly accept this alternate reality where there are no¬†facts,¬†and the truth¬†is only found¬†in reaffirmation of our prejudices.
It is easy to attack the two presidential candidates for their lack of honesty. The problem is finding someone who can do it without being a hypocrite. Some Americans hold their noses and make a linear choice, acknowledging the lack of honesty in both candidates. The rest have chosen to ignore the lies of one candidate, make excuses for them,¬†and even insist that black is white.¬†¬†They ask us¬†not to believe what we see or hear, or what we know¬†is true. They¬†ask us to believe that if it walks like a duck and acts like a duck, it¬†is an elephant. The feds sued Trump for discrimination against minorities, he is a birther, wants to ban all Muslims, called Mexicans murderers and rapists, retweeted racists and hires white supremacists, but he is not a bigot. These all exist as believable in this alternate reality we created.
It is human nature to lie for self-preservation, even for self-enhancement.¬†It is human nature to believe that what he hear and see¬†are real.¬†Our brains are wired to feel guilt¬†if¬†we do something inappropriate.¬†The snake oil¬†is an elixir that removes the guilt.¬†Unshackled from fear, shame,¬†and embarrassment is the ultimate freedom. No unwanted truths mean no right or wrong and¬†no consequences. It offers¬†validation¬†to our every thought and renders everything outside our reality invalid. When we do not have to believe what we see and hear, there¬†is no truth. There are no facts¬†we cannot deny, no¬†evidence¬†we cannot ignore,¬†and no proof¬†we cannot explain away.