Some don’t call a lie what it is any more.
It may be called an alternative fact or truth, or an opinion, viewpoint, or some other virtuous excuse for words that wander off the track of reality.
Fictions create jobs — advertising, public relations, consulting, counseling, celebrity status and the great-granddaddy, lawyering.
I don’t put politics on the list of jobs because it has been around too long to be considered a trade. Politics, like spiritual purity, is both an ideal and a failure of humankind. We profess to know the difference between good and evil, but we have a poor record of making altruistic choices. Humans are self-serving by nature.
The family tree of politics can be traced into prehistory, back to the myths of campfires by the cave and the evolution of religions.
Politics and politicians may be helped or hurt by lies, but at some point it has to be recognized that those engaged in political efforts are extensions of the ancient clan leaders who spun stories intended to establish a common bond within the tribe and encourage a way to survive into the future. So some responsibility rests on the participants around the council fires to weigh what is said and to think a little about the consequences of the propositions of those who would lead.
Which is why the vote was invented. At some point, some of those gathered at the feet of the leaders began to have significant questions, and different ideas about which fork to take in the road.
Once everyone saw the possibilities of going another way, it was inevitable that self-serving lies would be told. Lies born of greed, ambition, ego, and lust — for power or the other kinds of lust. Better the lies of debate than the blood of the battlefield.
Those who would follow would believe lies based on some of those same human traits, with a mix of gullibility, ignorance, fear or slothfulness. Not all the attributes of people living in a free society are noble.
Tellers of lies are no worse than those who insist on hearing what they want to hear so they can ignore that which might challenge dark secrets within ourselves.
Truth is hard to hide behind. You have to step out in front of truth, and that makes you vulnerable.
No one wants to admit that they admire a lie, at least not from a preacher or an elected leader. Candidates and their supporters are known to stretch truth, just as actors lie for the sake of entertainment.
But lying about something serious, or really personal, was generally frowned upon. It was OK to hear a lie as long as it was about someone else, and you could tell a lie if it was among those who wanted to believe it, but no one wanted to be known as a liar.
But we have always insisted that those who win leadership roles be honest and worthy of the public trust. A lie is betrayal. It destroys credibility, and if you cannot believe someone’s word there is no platform for leadership.
Not until partisan politics and big money met mass media.
Now you have people who will acknowledge their guy is a liar, but it’s OK because his lies are for the greater good, and besides, they’re not as big as the lies from the other side. Not only that, they started it.
So the people become weary of the debates, charges and countercharges, allegations and the latest breaking news. Another scandal, each scandal less shocking than the last because we are becoming used to it.
And we tune out.
Are we immune to shame? Have we crossed that Rubicon of character where it no longer matters what anyone says or does if our team wins?
Dean Minnich retired from journalism and served eight years as a county commissioner. He lives in Westminster. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org.