What’s the Impact on Us?
March 28,2021 | Source| CounterPunch |
“Everybody knows that the boat is leaking. Everybody knows that the captain lied. Everybody got this broken feeling, like their father or their dog just died.”—Leonard Cohen
“Presidents and other U.S. authorities have always been liars—just ask Native Americans. While lying to Native Americans has never been politically costly for U.S. presidents, getting caught lying by the entire American public was once politically damaging. In the 1960s, Lyndon Johnson paid a political price after Walter Cronkite informed Americans that Johnson’s claim of the U.S. winning the war in Vietnam was false; in the 1970s, Richard Nixon paid a price for getting caught lying about Watergate; and even in the 1980s, getting caught lying about his law school class standing and plagiarism forced Joe Biden to end his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Today, in contrast, there is little political cost to getting caught lying. When did this begin? Was it the glorification of proven liar Ronald Reagan after he left office? The high approval ratings of proven liar Bill Clinton at the end of his presidency? We can debate when and why getting caught lying became no big deal, but it is now clear—even to cognitively-challenged liars such as George W. Bush, Donald Trump, and Joe Biden—that getting caught lying is not politically costly. Furthermore, getting caught deceiving the American public has become politically inconsequential not only for U.S. presidents but for all U.S. authorities—with the most recent example being Anthony Fauci, chief medical advisor to Trump and Biden.
First, a brief review, beginning with Reagan, of recent lying rulers and the lack of political cost for getting caught lying. Then, what this means for Americans’ anxiety, insomnia, paranoia, depression, substance abuse, and the general sense of absolute hopelessness.
On Bill Moyers’s list of “10 Big Fat Lies and the Liars Who Told Them” included is “President Ronald Reagan on the Iran-Contra Scandal.” In November 1986, Reagan proclaimed: “In spite of the wildly speculative and false stories of arms for hostages and alleged ransom payments, we did not, repeat, did not, trade weapons or anything else for hostages.” Then, in March 1987, Reagan famously changing his tune: “A few months ago I told the American people I did not trade arms for hostages. My heart and my best intentions still tell me that’s true, but the facts and the evidence tell me it is not.” Amnesiac Americans who name highways and schools after Reagan either ignore or are ignorant of the fact that Reagan’s lies were about breaking the law and committing arguably treasonous and impeachable acts.
In January 1984, Iran had been declared by the U.S. government as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism,” but between August 1985 and October 1986, Reagan okayed the sale to Iran of over 2000 TOW anti-tank missiles, 18 Hawk surface-to-air missiles, and spare parts. The belief that Reagan was ignorant of these illegal arms sales is delusional—Exhibit A: the December 7, 1985 diary entry of Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger: “Met with President, Schultz [and others]. . . . I argued strongly that we have an embargo that makes arms sales to Iran illegal and President couldn’t violate it and that ‘washing’ transactions through Israel wouldn’t make it legal” (see report of independent counsel Lawrence Walsh).
While Reagan’s popularity dropped immediately after the Iran-Contra scandal, it quickly recovered and to this day, Republican and Democratic politicians alike pay homage to him. Politicians along with the mainstream media ignore the reality that Reagan lied about illegally selling arms to a “state sponsor of terrorism” that had held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days (until Regan was sworn in as president in January 1981); and also lied about the Contra component of Iran-Contra—illegally funding the right-wing terrorist Contras in Nicaragua. In recent years, both Republican and Democratic presidents have found ever new ways to kiss the dead Gipper’s tuchus—one of many examples in 2009, in the first year of his administration, Barack Obama signed the Ronald Reagan Centennial Commission Act, creating a panel to plan activities in celebration of the 100th anniversary of Reagan’s birth.
Then there is Bill Clinton. In one of the most famous lies in U.S. presidential history, on January 26, 1998, Bill Clinton proclaimed, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.” And almost as famously on August 17, 1998, he changed his story: “Indeed I did have a relationship with Miss Lewinsky that was not appropriate.” Unlike presidential lies about U.S.-sponsored terrorism, Clinton’s lies were about actions that were much more interesting to most Americans—entertaining them and uniting the entire nation in mockery of Slick Willy. Ultimately, however, what lesson did future presidents learn from Clinton about the political cost of getting caught lying? I have little doubt that George W. Bush, Donald Trump, and Joe Biden all know Clinton’s approval ratings when he left office: Gallup’s “Presidential Approval Ratings — Bill Clinton” reports that when Clinton left office in January 2001, he had a 66% approval rating, comprised of a 93% approval from Democrats; 66% approval from Independents; and 39% approval even from Republicans.
Next, George W. Bush, who used four lies to sell the American people on the March 2003 invasion of Iraq that so far has resulted in: 4431 total American deaths (according to the Department of Defense, March 15, 2021); hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilian deaths; and the creation of ISIS. His four lies: (1) claiming with certainty that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (WMDs); (2) asserting there was foolproof evidence that Saddam Hussein was allied with Osama bin Laden; (3) implying that Saddam Hussein was responsible for the September 11, 2001 attack; and (4) claiming that the Bush administration was open to a peaceful resolution when the decision had already been made to go to war. On May 29, 2003, Bush continued to lie about WMDs: “We found the weapons of mass destruction. We found biological laboratories.” Did Bush pay a political price for this disastrous war and his lies to sell it? Even though no WMDs were found, Bush was re-elected in November 2004 with Gallup’s “Presidential Approval Ratings — George W. Bush” reporting November 2004 approval ranging from 53% to 55%.
Then there are the Republican and Democratic nominees for president in 2020, Trump and Biden. Updating Trump lie totals from my May 1, 2020 CounterPunch piece (“If Trump is a Pathological Liar, What Type of Liar is Biden?”), by the time Trump left office in January 2021, the Washington Post reported: “The Fact Checker counted a total of 30,573 false or misleading claims made by President Trump during his White House tenure.” While the sheer volume of Trump’s lies is impressive, what’s impressive about Biden’s lies is their diversity. Biden lied about opposing the 2003 Iraq War; lied about his previous position on freezing Social Security; lied about getting arrested in South Africa attempting to visit Nelson Mandela; lied about graduating in the top half of his law school class and plagiarism; and lied about important details of the traffic accident that resulted in the death of his wife and baby daughter so as to gain greater sympathy for himself.
When Trump and Biden became the nominees for the 2020 presidential election, this guaranteed that a serial liar—convicted as such even by the mainstream media—would be elected president. Unlike some other psychologists, I do not provide “leadership training” seminars to young people and their parents, but I imagine this scenario at such a seminar: A father of an ambitious daughter who wants to become the first woman president asks what would be best way to help his daughter achieve her dream. The following response to this father can no longer be seen as totally a sarcastic one: “If you want to help your daughter become president, if she tells the truth about anything, ground her.”
Finally, Anthony Fauci, who has paid virtually no political price for acknowledging that he has deceived the American public with regard to (1) the value of mask protection, and (2) the percentage of Americans needed to be vaccinated for herd immunity. Depending on one’s tribal affiliation, Fauci’s deceptions are seen as lies or noble lies.
On March 8, 2020 on “60 Minutes,” Fauci proclaimed, “There’s no reason to be walking around with a mask. When you’re in the middle of an outbreak, wearing a mask might make people feel a little bit better and it might even block a droplet but it’s not providing the perfect protection that people think that it is. And often there are unintended consequences. People keep fiddling with the mask and they keep touching their face.” A month later, Fauci told Americans that they should wear masks because masks are effective in protecting themselves and others, and on June 12, 2020, The Street reporter Katherine Ross asked Fauci, “Why were we told later in the spring to wear them when we were initially told not to?” Fauci responded that he and others “were concerned that it was at a time when personal protective equipment, including the N95 masks and the surgical masks, were in very short supply, and we wanted to make sure that the people, namely the health care workers. . . [had] the equipment that they needed. . . Now we have masks. We know that you don’t need an N-95 if you are an ordinary person in the street. . . . We also know that simple cloth coverings that many people have can work as well.” Fauci recognized that this may appear to be a contradiction of what he had said earlier, but claimed that it is not a contradiction as circumstances have changed.”
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Ex-CIA director Pompeo: “We lied, we cheated, we stole – it was like, we had entire training courses”