“Don’t cry, I’m sorry to have deceived you so much, but that’s how life is.”
― Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita
This is the season of lies. Like a sweltering Southern summer, it simmers a long time. So long, in fact, that one forgets that what one is hearing or seeing is mostly not what it appears to be.
It is the season of political candidates who claim that the others are unfit for office, but when vanquished, throw their support to the unfit, with strained smiles and staccato voices raised. There are the lies the candidates tell to fire up their base or deflect criticism or to bump the polls in their direction. There are the lies their supporters tell on social media, with links to websites that purport to be unbiased new sources, whose screaming headlines swirl with innuendo and accusation. There are ALL-CAPS emails that warn of murders unsolved, or sexual horrors or financial theft that should land the perpetrator in prison for multiple lifetimes, if he or she was not being protected by powerful and demonic forces. There are the water-cooler conversations, the furtive chats through the company servers, the polite dinner talk, which trims off the truth like charred fat on a ribeye.
American political leaders have a long history of lying as statecraft. Andrew Jackson protecting Native Americans through ethnic cleansing. James Polk launching a war with Mexico by claiming that the U.S. had been attacked. JFK and the Bay of Pigs. LBJ and the Gulf of Tonkin. Nixon and the carpet-bombing of Cambodia and Laos. George H.W Bush claiming to have been in the bathroom when his boss was selling arms to the enemy. His son and Tony Blair and Iraq.
Lying into the television camera is now a critical competency for the Presidency. So much so that, only the candidates political foes can hear the lies. Supporters may feel a brief, uncomfortable moment of conscience, but understand that’s how life is.
We need our leaders to lie to us. We need them to lie with such volubility, because we think truth to be a foolish thing. We need to believe that all Muslims are terrorists, all Mexicans rapists, all emails secured and unclassified. We need to believe that the poor are lazy, that factories making steel will be built on the long-abandoned corpses of Rust Belt cities. We need to believe that conservatives are all small minded bigots or that liberals are all Fascists, waiting to lock us up in secret FEMA camps. We need to believe that we are winning the war on terror or on drugs or on crime. We need to believe these things which are so manifestly untrue, because to face the truth would require us to act justly and sweep away the lies and those who spout them.
Deception is better. That’s how life is.