This morning I read, with some amusement, that the chairman of Russia’s Lukoil, Ravil Maganov, had died after falling out of a hospital window in Moscow. It’s more likely that he died of a severe case of Putinitis, which sometimes looks like poison, and sometimes a car bomb, but is always fatal. But the clown car of Russian politics isn’t the only one on the road; our own government is stuffed so full of world-class liars its credibility is in similar doubt.
Recently, when asked by a reporter why Novak Djokovic, one of the greatest tennis players who has ever lived, wasn’t allowed in the country without vaccinations while thousands of migrants stream across the border without vaccinations every day, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre tried to explain that it was somehow different, and also that people aren’t just walking across the southern border.
Except it really isn’t different, and they are. By the tens of thousands. People can argue—and they certainly do—until they are blue in the face about whether or not this is good policy, but what we cannot reasonably say, out loud, and from a White House podium, is that it isn’t happening.
Credit where it is due, Donald J. Trump earned his bust in the liar’s Hall of Fame decades ago. Trump is the Babe Ruth of liars, always swinging for the fences, and occasionally jacking a whopper out of the stadium while the hometown crowd goes wild. Joe Biden, on the other hand, doesn’t really hit for power. He’s more of a Pete Rose, just steadily cranking out lies (the Corn Pop tale is my favorite) while placing side-bets with his Chinese and Ukrainian bookies. He’ll probably set a record for most lies in the modern era, but the gambling will keep him out of a Hall of Fame jacket. This is a missed opportunity because he might have landed next to Bill Clinton–who didn’t have sex with an intern–and Ronald Reagan–who didn’t trade guns for hostages.
One problem with all of this high altitude lying is that us common folk now have a difficult time discerning the truth in those rare moments when someone in government is trying tell it. It is somewhere in that miasma—where the truth being offered is a lie, and the lie being offered turns out to be the truth—that conspiracies are born and battlements are built.
Our fourth estate, which is meant to build a fire line around all of this, doesn’t help. Largely co-opted—while pretending to be non partisan and above the fray–they have become so good at regurgitating lies, or just plain inventing their own, that only a sucker would believe their first take on a story. Quick to print, slow to retract, and often just plain wrong on some of the most important stories over the last few years, you would have better luck getting reliable answers at a Spirit Airlines ticket counter.
Another problem is that somehow, in this theater of unabashed and unashamed lying, we are supposed to believe that our representatives in Washington actually have answers for the very many things that are ailing our nation. If it isn’t clear by now: they don’t. Congress looks less and less like a serious deliberative body and more and more like a backyard swimming pool full of five year olds, just squealing and peeing and splashing around in their water wings.
We probably don’t deserve better, if only because we don’t really ask much from our candidates. The truth seems to be that if we like them we really don’t care what they do. If we like them, they can stack their classified servers in a Colorado bathroom, or shove a few boxes full of secrets in a closet at Mar a Lago, and c’est la vie. But if we don’t like them we start screaming about fascism and double standards and demanding indictments and Goon Squads and making little memes with the villain du jour pictured in a prison jumpsuit. We don’t like to blame ourselves for the characterless idiots we keep electing—this is, after all, an era where taking responsibility for anything is anathema—but we probably should.
During the late George Floyd unpleasantness we were often asked to suspend disbelief. It was difficult to square images of reporters and politicians standing in front of an entire city block on fire while announcing that the protests were peaceful. So much peace was breaking out at these protests that people were being killed, Auto Zones were being looted for spinner rims, and police precincts were being set on fire—with officers in them.
Episodes like these can’t even be credited for half-truths. They are just lies, wonky little shuttlecocks batted back and forth over a sagging net while we all pretend badminton is fun.
Alas, I would like to suggest that we can do much better, but the truth is I’m not sure we can. All of this official lying has created its own weather system, and it keeps throwing embers in every direction. It is zero percent contained. So maybe the best we can ever do is clear some defensible space, throw a few steaks on the grill, and invite the neighbors over for dinner while the forest burns up all around us.