They Lie, and We Let them

Donald Trump and Boris Johnson
Two of the world leaders most consistently prone to spreading flagrant falsehoods

“I didn’t do it”

“That person is crooked”

“Everyone wants me to just get on with it”

Match the falsehood to the 1st World Country leader.

Besides, as the vilest Writer has his Readers, so the greatest Liar has his Believers; and it often happens, that if a Lie be believ’d only for an Hour, it has done its Work, and there is no farther occasion for it. Falsehood flies, and the Truth comes limping after it; so that when Men come to be undeceiv’d, it is too late; the Jest is over, and the Tale has had its Effect…

(Jonathan Swift, “The Examiner”, 1710)

It’s the back end of the 2010s and we live in a world where political leaders are actively exploiting the rapid dissemination of political messages to spread falsehoods. There is a general lack of critical activism, and what little reaction there is tends to be met with a doubling-down on the lies. Journalists who seek definitive facts find themselves excluded from briefings, while the rest are downgraded to “influencer” status, slavishly and uncritically parroting “the message.”

And the voting public in general finds itself either enthralled by the orators, or disabled by ennui.  

Worse though, is that it creates a feeling of disenfranchisement. Where the moral high ground exists in having pants only slightly less on fire than one’s rivals, it becomes impossible to place electoral faith in one group over another. Where the voter holds moderate positions on socioeconomic issues, it is increasingly difficult to make choices for either personal or societal gain.

Reducing the set of decisions to a single this-group/that-group choice is a ludicrous oversimplification. Even assuming (laughably, I know) that a political party is being truthful in its manifesto, it is highly likely that their alignment with any voter on positions across the social spectrum will be highly variable. Social care, education, public safety, economics, are all major policy areas where parties are expected to take a position. And the voter is expected to make a choice for one party, which most closely matches their preference on the greatest number of issues. It’s hardly surprising that it’s basically impossible to make a reasoned choice, and that is before you factor in the fundamental unreliability of anything that a politician seeking election (thus keeping themselves in a job, remember) says to you.

This has led to ongoing decreases in voter turnouts. And as the moderate voters – who find themselves unable to take a position in the Polling Station – drop out of the vote, so the fate of the country is decided by an increasingly extremist population determined to enforce their position on the whole.

In a world where politicians can continue getting themselves elected whilst demonstrably telling lies, we are never going to make any actual progress towards creating an accountable government. In the UK in 2019, the Prime Minister and his Leader of the House of Commons lied to the Queen for their own ends. There does not appear to have been any measurable consequence to them of doing this.

And if they can get away with that, then what else are they doing?

There is no happy ending to this little treatise of joy, I’m sorry to say. There’s no easy solution. As Winston Churchill said in 1947, “No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” The only thing that can really be done is for members of the public to continue trying to educate themselves in the face of the unstinting barrage of misinformation being published.