Lying, for better or worse, is part of the fabric of the world.
We lie when the truth is inconvenient, when we sell or buy, when we talk about politics, when we tell our kids about Santa Claus.
We’ve built up a whole galaxy of euphemisms for lying; we shade the truth, tell white lies, bend the truth, misstate, spin, fudge, color the truth, stretch the truth, prevaricate, evade, dodge, dissemble.
All as a dodge to the lie.
It’s curious how much we give lip service to truth, when so much of the culture is built on lying. Perhaps truth is one of those rare crystal bowls we only bring out for the fruit salad when we have company, but most of the time we use the everyday dishes.
The dictionary defines a lie as an “intentionally false statement.”
That seems fairly clear.
But it’s a ubiquitous tool of business. “Best car of the year.” “Best shave EVER!” “Proven results guaranteed!!” Businesses advertise to get you in the door, to get you to buy, but how they advertise tends to “massage” the truth. We understand that, hence the phrase ‘Caveat Emptor,’ let the buyer beware. I remember when I used to drive out to Colorado on a fairly regular base. There was a store right by the interstate coming into Denver that has a huge “Going out of Business Sale” across the front. It had it there for years. And it was always open. But the parking lot was full. Businesses don’t fire people as often as they used to, but they “downsize,” or “rightsize,” or “reduce the work force.”
Christopher Cerf, author of “Spinglish: The Definitive Dictionary of Deliberately Deceitful Language” wrote that “strategic misrepresentation” is “a Harvard Business School term for the tactic of hiding facts, bluffing, or lying during a business negotiation.”
It’s just business.
It’s similar in politics.
Richard Nixon’s press secretary Ron Ziegler came up with “inoperative statement.” Winston Churchill came up with “terminological inexactitude.” Another British politician who in 2015 said he “over firmly denied” having a second job. “When Mark Sanford, then governor of South Carolina, lied in 2009 about hiking the Appalachian Trail — an inadvertently poetic euphemism for adultery — he made another contribution to the lexicon. Sanford said he wasn’t lying, but just “creating a fiction,” which sounds far more appropriate for a novelist than a governor.” Boston Globe, Jan. 26, Mark Peters
But it seems to me that there is a difference between the lying in business and the lying in politics, and I think it is an important difference.
And I have to make a disclaimer here, because I really do wish that politicians didn’t lie, and I really don’t care that businesses do. And perhaps that’s the big difference. Because if a car company or a razor manufacturer lies about it’s product, it really doesn’t matter. I can buy a different car, a different razor, sue the company, complain to a government oversight bureaucracy…and that’s the difference. Because I know that businesses will lie, cheat, steal, whatever it takes to get ahead. I don’t think that’s true of small business, at least that hasn’t been my experience. But Big Business; that’s another story. It’s all about the bottom line, and if you don’t understand that, get out.
But I expect something different from my government. I expect them to be the entity I can go to when Big Business has pushed me past my limits for deceit. I expect it to be an entity I can go to when Big Business dumps its waste into our rivers or slips dangerous additives into our food. I expect them to set limits on rapacious interest rates and Ponzi schemes.
So when politicians lie, it bothers me more, because it affects me more.
I think that there are times, like during 9/11, or natural disasters, when politicians have to step up to the plate with incomplete information, and they make statements that are not true, and are sometimes then held accountable for things they did not know. They could have delayed the announcement, they could have waited for more clarity, but they went with what they knew. A judgment call, and not all judgment calls are correct.
Sometimes they are dealing with issues large and complex that need elaborate explanation, but the sound byte leaves room for ambiguity or outright falsehood. That too can happen.
Sometimes I think politicians just don’t think We, the People can handle the truth. I think that is a mistake often made by those in power. We do better with the truth.
I expect more of public servants, not less.
So I’m concerned with the mixing of public service and Big Business. Because Big Business has one agenda, and it has nothing to do with We, the People other than how to get money out of our pockets into theirs. That’s really it.
And when the president is a Big Business insider, a Big Business himself, well, my hope for some transparency and honesty in government needs a boost.
Unfortunately, that boost has not been forthcoming.
Instead, we get Tweets ranging from ridiculous to outright lies, lies right out of middle school.
I mean who cares who has a bigger inauguration crowd; and who would Tweet that they had the biggest crowd ever, when it was demonstrably false? And then to have Kellyanne Conway on Meet the Press try to explain Sean Spicer’s take on the crowd numbers as “alternative facts??” Who would Tweet that they won the electoral college vote by “a massive landslide victory” when the numbers show that of 45 presidents beginning with Washington, he was thirteenth from the bottom as a percentage of electoral college vote. And to get into a Twitter war with Saturday Night Live or bother with calling Meryl Streep “…one of the most over-rated actresses in Hollywood??” The President of the United States in a Twitter war with actors?
Someone running for president has to have a large ego; I’ll grant that.
And politicians lie. I’ll grant that.
But this man has a problem. I think he does not understand that, just because he says it, it’s not necessarily true. It’s not true because he utters it, Tweets it, wants it to be true, wants to bully someone who bruised his ego.
He’s the president; We, the People will hold him to a higher standard than a Big Business blowhard.
That’s a bigger problem.
There’s a difference between lying as a Big Businessman, as he has done all his business life, and lying as a public servant. He’s trying to bring the business culture of lying into the political culture of lying; it doesn’t work that way. He’s not in reality TV anymore. This is real.
It matters what he Tweets.
He can’t govern with braggadocio and bullying and bankruptcy.
At some point he will have to actually buy into a basic mantra of the conservative philosophy; accepting responsibility for his words and actions.
In other words, he might have to grow up.
It won’t be easy.