We’re seeing an epidemic of lying in America. In fact, it’s gotten so bad that I wish we would hear more preaching on the Eighth Commandment. You know, the one that tells us not to bear false witness against our neighbor.
The most alarming symptom of this epidemic is the spread of the “Big Lie” that Donald Trump won the 2020 presidential election—a lie he and his political allies continue to propagate. But more fundamentally his whole presidency legitimated and instrumentalized habitual lying as a political tool. The more often lies are circulated, the more distrust grows. In the absence of truth, the door is thrown open to conspiracy theories and fantasy.
The problem is not just Trump lawyers Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell pushing baseless claims on television, or MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell making deranged videos that purport to prove voter fraud. It’s also the sinking feeling that we have drifted into a disorienting “post-truth environment” where the difference between fact and fiction no longer matters.
I admit that politics has always been rampant with temptations to spin the facts. But nowadays it has become easy to reach beyond garden-variety exaggeration or prevarication and go for outright lies. It’s the Trump ethos. The more brazen the untruth, the better. When politicians model themselves on Trump, they become impervious to facts. For example, the Washington Post recently reported on a whole string of blatant falsehoods that Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.) employed during his campaign for Congress. He claimed that he was going to attend the Naval Academy when, in fact, his application had been rejected. He said that he was accepted by Harvard and Princeton; this too was untrue. Did his friend really leave him for dead at the scene of his terrible accident? The friend and the medics who aided him deny it. Beyond flagrant misrepresentations of his own personal history, he also lied about others in order to advance his career. He won votes by using a manipulated video clip of his primary opponent that totally misrepresented her views, then traveled to the southern border of Texas and proclaimed that thousands of American children were being kidnapped by drug cartels and sold as sex slaves, “one of the greatest atrocities I can imagine.” Except that it never happened.
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