By ANGELO PERSICHILLI
THE HILL TIMES (March 20, 2017) (Versione italiana)
TORONTO—The Globe and Mail wrote an editorial last week with the headline, “Donald Trump lies constantly. Why is it working for him?
Lies work with Trump because lies in politics always work. In politics, the demarcation line between truth and lies faded a long time ago, and for the majority of voters, there is no difference between truth and lies.
Several years ago, I had a politician as a guest in my radio talk show. A caller asked why his government wasn’t changing a particular piece of legislation to improve the status of a certain group of workers. He said that he himself had a private member’s bill ready to be presented in the House. During the commercial I asked him why he didn’t tell me about this bill, which was something I considered an important social initiative. He smiled at me and said: “Can I give you some confidential advice? Don’t believe all the things you hear in the media.” It was the last time I interviewed him.
Politicians lie not only to the public, but also to each other.
A minister was accused in the House of something unethical and his opposition critic called him “dishonest and a pig.” After Question Period, the critic approached the minister, saying, “You know I didn’t mean that, but you know it’s politics.”
In her book President’s Club, Nancy Duffy, talking about former U.S. presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard Nixon, wrote that “they had much in common; their humble roots, their devout mothers and loutish fathers, their resentment of the silver-spooned, their promiscuous relationship with the truth.”
Talking about American presidents, someone wrote that Nixon was the president that couldn’t tell the truth, Carter couldn’t tell a lie, while Ronald Reagan didn’t know the difference. Yes, Carter didn’t lie, but that’s probably why he was not re-elected.
Former Democratic presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson, talking about his opponents, said: “I will make a bargain with the Republicans. If they will stop telling lies about Democrats, we will stop telling the truth about them.” He lost, by the way.
The Globe recently reminded us: “George W. Bush sent American troops into Iraq in 2003 on the false claim that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was actively making and stockpiling weapons of mass destruction. Hundreds of thousands of people have since died, and the only WMDs discovered were degraded, unusable ones from the 1980s.”
Lies in Parliament, lies in the media, lies during the electoral campaigns, lies flying all over, all the time. Why now are some surprised that Trump is lying and people don’t care?
What is the difference now? Trump broke the unofficial rule that politicians never attack the media. I think it was Mark Twain who once said, “Never pick a fight with people who buy ink by the barrel.”
At the time of digital media, ink is not needed and everybody is free to pick a fight with the media. Trump did. He has lured them into a fight from which they have nothing to gain. In fact, they are losing. Trump has challenged the assumption that only media have the power to say who is lying and who is not lying, never mind telling the truth.
They have absorbed the axiom first presented by Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence and third president of United States. In his second inaugural speech, Jefferson said that there should be no censorship against media. He stressed that “since truth and reason have maintained their ground against false opinions in league with false facts, the press, confined to truth, needs no other legal restraint; the public judgment will correct false reasoning and opinions on a full hearing of all parties.”
He stressed that “if there be still improprieties which this rule would not restrain, its supplement must be sought in the censorship of public opinion.”
Obviously, Jefferson couldn’t predict the depth of tolerance “public opinion” could develop towards lies.
For too long, media and politicians, in spite of their apparent public dislike, have operated in cahoots, dishing out half-truths, encouraging distrust, and inoculating into the public opinion a vaccine that has immunized people from lies.
James Reston, in his book Deadline, writes: “We were, I constantly insisted, telling the reader what happened but not why, and worst of all assuming far too often that officials told the truth.”
People don’t assume any longer. They believe that everybody lies and everything coming from a politician is a lie.
So, why does lying work for Trump? Because that’s politics.
Besides, as Winston Churchill once said, “There are a terrible lot of lies going about the world, and the worst of it is that half of them are true.”