The first requirement for feeling outrage about a lie is to expect truth.
Such expectations no longer exist, and American politicians understand and take advantage of this “relatively novel” state of affairs, writes Jason Stanley in “Speech, Lies and Apathy,” an essay prompted by the falsehoods, misleading statements and mischaracterizations found in the speeches of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan at the Republican National Convention.
My understanding from this essay is that:
- Politicians can say anything they want, without regard for the truth and without any consequences.
- This is not so novel to me, but it’s worth including for completeness: Political speeches are not about what the words actually being said. They’re more about exerting influence by associative thinking. A Stanley wrote, Romney’s attacks on Obama’s welfare policies have nothing to do with the actual policies; they’re about Mitt Romney trying to emotionally connect, in a sanitized way, with voters who have some offensive perceptions toward welfare and race.
- There is no expectation from American voters that politicians will ever address real issues in a forthright manner during a public presentation.
- American voters expect politicians to lie to defend themselves against other statements that are perceived to be lies.
- Actually, for a “lie” to exist, there needs to be an expectation of truth and trust in the communication. That’s gone. Technically, you can’t even “lie” anymore because, as Stanley writes, the trust essential for someone to perceive a lie is already gone. So what we have are public forums for politicians to batter each other by any means possible, not moments of expression of problem-solving.
So forget about listening to politicians for solutions. Reasoned discussion? Ha ha ha ha. When politicians speak publicly, that is not the goal.
Depressing, since speeches are one of the main ways voters get to directly see and hear their leaders.
Yet it seems like business as usual for the press. Politicians lie and distort? Politicians blatantly lie and distort? Not really news, I guess. But now they can get away with it without a problem? The Times pointed out that seemingly novel facet of the argument.
But the article that still needs writing is the one that tells us why politicians can get away with it, and what the consequences of that will be.
If trust is gone, what is left? If politicians are not accountable for what they say, do or believe, then what exactly are they accountable for? And if that’s just how it is, what type of America are they leading? To where?