An honest politician.
That simple three word phrase automatically elicits a reaction from the reader. For some, there is immediate laughter. Honest politician, you say? Why, no such person exists! For others, there is a sense of nostalgia. I remember my youth. We used to have honest folk run for office back then! For others still, there is the sense that this is somehow against the norm. Not many honest politicians out there. 'Cept Obama and a few others, I guess.
No matter how you reacted to the phrase odds are somehow and some way, you felt a ping of hopelessness when you did. You were either of Camp A where this mythical person doesn't exist, Camp B where this person used to exist but no longer does, or Camp C where this person exists but is the exception rather than the rule. Even the most optimistic of us would agree that in this day and age there exists few honest politicians. In a career designed to instill public trust, what does it say that the vast majority of politicians are seen as untrustworthy? When did it become "heroic" to actually go out and tell the truth?
The answer: January 20, 2009.
On that day, America ushered in a man who has become a transformational president. A man whose ascension to the highest office in the land scared the pants off the Republican Party because he was the exact kind of man they had been oppressing for a half-century: A biracial child born to an African man and a White woman from Kansas. A child whose single mother survived on government food stamps. A child who became a young adult and got accepted to Columbia and then Harvard Law School but had to take out student loans to do so. A man who used his world-class degrees to give back to his community and work as a community organizer before becoming a tenured constitutional law professor. A man who represented his state in both the state assembly and the United States Senate. A good, Christian man with a beautiful wife, two beautiful daughters, and a dedication and commitment to make the world a better place.
In short: He was the Republican Party's worst nightmare.
So how do you attack a political opponent without making it obvious that the reason you despise him is for what he represents? That you don't want to see him succeed because his successes are your party's failures? That he has managed to succeed despite the barricades that your party had in place to ensure that someone like him would never become successful? That his success would potentially create a coalition of voters that would keep his party in the White House for a half-century? That his success would undermine the very power structure that you and your party had worked so hard to ensure would never be upended? How do you do all that and not alienate the people you still need to win future elections?
You lie repeatedly. You lie until you get caught. When you get caught, you continue to lie some more. If someone calls you on your lying, you turn it around and call them a liar. You realize your constituents will eat up whatever you say, so you lie to them. You realize you have an entire cable news network with your same goals of dismantling the man's presidency so you go on their network and lie with them. You go on the Sunday shows since they never ask you follow-up questions and you lie to them. In fact, it gets to the point where you are officially living an Adolf Hitler quote: "If you repeat a lie often enough, people will believe it, and you will even come to believe it yourself."
The lie works on so many levels, starting with the personal. The man is a good Christian? Lie and say he's a Muslim! The man overcame a lot of adversity and moved around during his childhood? Lie and say he was born in Kenya! The man was an outstanding community organizer? Lie and say he was influenced by that crazed socialist Saul Alinsky! The man has good values and ethics? Lie and say he learned everything he knows from that wack job Reverend Jeremiah Wright!
The lie also works exceedingly well on the policy side. Trying to provide insurance reform for millions of Americans? Lie and say there are death panels! Trying to end two costly wars abroad? Lie and say our troops' lives are being endangered! Trying to single-handedly reform our broken immigration system? Lie and say this is blatant constitutional overreach! Trying to pass simple background checks on gun registration? Lie and say the man is trying to take our guns! Trying to create a safer Middle East through a diplomatic agreement with Iran? Lie and say the agreement threatens Israel and destabilizes the whole region!
In fact, the lies have worked so well that we now have an entire offset of a political party that was founded on a lie. Yes, our friends at the Tea Party were formed on the basis that they were Taxed Enough Already. The brilliant TEA acronym showcased a tribute to our friends in the American Revolutionary War, who were taxed at oppressively high levels. So, how about today? At what level were we being taxed in 2010 that warranted a political revolution? Well, it turns out that the stimulus actually lowered taxes on 95% of working families but again, who cares? The lie just sounded so good and since nobody bothered to check it, the Tea Party just took it and ran with it!
See how effective lying can be? You can attack an individual, you can attack his policies, and you can even create an entire movement based on complete and utter falsehoods. So why stop there? If you know that you're never going to be held accountable for your words, why wouldn't you just lie the whole time? Think about it: You could lie to your supporters, lie to Fox News, and lie to the Sunday shows and you'd never have to even know what you were talking about. You could make up ridiculous facts on the spot, be called out for it, but never have to issue an apology because those in your corner have already taken it for fact. There's no way you could lose!
But what kind of person would be so bold as to try this strategy?
Oh, hello, Mr. Trump. What's that you say? You're just crazy enough to do it. Alright, let's see how it works. Well according to Politifact, the Pulitzer Prize winning website founded on keeping politicians honest, you lie 76% of the time. That means that of every 4 things you say, 3 of them are going to be blatantly untrue. After nominating Mitt Romney in 2012, surely the GOP wouldn't support another potential nominee who played so loosey goosey with the truth? After getting demolished in two straight national elections by that honest and trustworthy man in the White House, wouldn't the GOP voters want someone who was more honest, say someone who only lied 50% of the time?
And yet, here we are on September 2, 2015. Not only is Donald Trump leading in the polls, but he has expanded his lead since the first debate. Sure, he may be despised by 82% of Hispanics but it seems the more he lies, the more popular he becomes! And why wouldn't he? The lies he is telling are exactly what the GOP base wants to hear: Immigrants are overrunning the boarder, we are the most taxed country in the world, 93 million people are out of work, income levels are at historical lows for African Americans, released prisoners from Guantanamo are back on the battlefield, etc. All talking points that have been easily debunked. All talking points you'll hear Trump continue to tell his supporters, Fox News, and the Sunday shows.
Abraham Lincoln once said, "No man has a good enough memory to be a successful liar." Unfortunately, Abraham Lincoln never envisioned the world of 2015. We now have a world where politicians have unlimited means to put out false statements and a world where these false statements are hardly, if ever, directly challenged. Sure, they are websites like politifact that call out politicians for their lies, but what are their consequences? The more Donald Trump lies, the more popular he becomes because he is telling people exactly what they want to hear. If you had played a drinking game during the first Republican debate and took a sip of your drink every time a candidate lied, you would have had alcohol poisoning after 15 minutes. People were more upset at Megyn Kelly for asking Donald Trump about his sexist statements than the statements that Trump himself made. And how did Donald Trump respond to this question after the debate? By making additional sexist statements.
It is truly a bizarre world we have entered. We have a device that can access the history of the world in the palm of our hands, yet we seem perfectly content to allow our political leaders to blatantly and overtly lie to our faces with zero repercussions. We wake up each and every morning and reading about fabricated and/or misleading statements from our politicians that directly impact the world in which we live. Lies that almost prevented millions of people from getting improved health care. Lies that almost prevented our president for achieving what will be a monumental agreement with Iran. And lies that actually led us to search for nonexistent weapons of mass destruction, destabilized Iraq, killed 4,400 of our men and women, killed 174,000 Iraqis, and created Isis.
Hitler was right. If you believe the lie enough you become it. For Republican presidential candidates, they now have entered the realm where their fabricated talking points have become their truth. They cannot separate the truth from the lie. And worse, the Republican Party as a whole can no longer distinguish between the two. When 54% of Republicans believe Barack Obama is a Muslim in the year 2015, there is officially no distinction between the truth a lie in their minds. It has been repeated so often on Fox News, by their politicians, in their communities, that they officially believe it to be true.
So here we are. We now live in a world where the truth has become interwoven with the lie. Where people cannot distinguish between the two. Where one political party has besmirched the presidency of a good and decent man in hopes that his story will never again be repeated. Where candidate after candidate spew blatant falsehoods and these falsehoods are either embraced or ignored by those whose job it is to hold them accountable for their rhetoric. Where the average voter hears something at a rally and automatically assumes it to be true without giving a second thought to its actual veracity. Where a crazy man with wild hair who would be everyone's crazy uncle at Thanksgiving is now a viable candidate for the president of the United States.
The truth is, we should all be terrified that it has gotten this far.
An honest politician.