By Michael Derek Roberts
We live in dangerous and politically perilous times. Today, a pervasive and endemic culture of immediacy has given rise to incivility, cruelty and populist politics that has morphed into jingoistic pseudo patriotism masquerading as “all American core values.” The craven abnegation of Congress’s historic role as overseer of the people’s interests is now replaced by the politics of crass opportunism aided and abetted by the cultural workstation of popular ignorance. The U.S. Congress has cowardly outsourced its responsibilities to unelected think thanks, special interest groups and paid lobbyists that direct every socio-political activity.
Nowadays, lying by political, civic and business leaders has been elevated to a fine art where even the very language of untruth has been “altered in an alternative universe.” So lying is now “misspeaking” – a laughable characterization sautéed in stupidity and idiocy. But what is most instructive is the fact that ignorance and political foppery is the order of the day as hitherto “moderate Republicans” and Democrats, and fair-minded political leaders in Congress have all genuflected and kissed the fetid derriere of America’s new paramount leader.
Of course, the threads of this ignorance, chronic lying, and double standards weave through both political parties, which have sold their very souls to the financial elite. The Democrats do their work under the cover of faux moral self-righteousness and constitutional correctness, while Republicans bask in their total embrace of corruption and a craven silence in the face of rabid Trumpism. Both political parties wallow in a kind of magic realism in which fiction and reality collapse into each other and the label of “fake news” provides a convenient camouflage for serial liars, political charlatans and conmen.
In this climate racism is now acceptable and commonplace. Bigotry is the new normal and when “we the people” are jolted into a momentary civic consciousness, these pathological liars throw up their hands and apologize in the most blatantly condescending matter as if to them all Americans are nothing more than a pack of bloody fools. Political and moral blindness allows these people to get away this reprehensible behavior over and over and over again, now demonstrating the deep moral decay of the American society. This numb, blind, and chronically partisan political climate is buttressed by a Republican Party membership that now cowers in fear and apprehension, bullied into submission by a minority of vocal but united ignoramuses led by a raging opportunistic right-wing populist.
One may well ask: Where is the outrage in the Republican Party over their leader’s endless rhetorical tropes of unadulterated hate and demonization that both injures and undermines the foundations of a civil society? Why does the American public not erupt into popular outrage when the Trump administration makes anti-Semitic claims, and engages in outright racist slurs by calling Congresswoman Maxine Waters a “low IQ person” and demeaning the intelligence of basketball great LeBron James and CNN anchor Don Lemon? What kind of signals does this type of language send to numerous American fascist and white supremacist groups that have pledged support and loyalty to this president and see in his words an inspired license to hate?
Indeed, references to compassion, the grammar of ethics, justice and democracy all wither way as the institutions that enable and promote them are, under this Administration, defunded, corporatized or privatized. Today, the crass language of unapologetic egoism, narrow self-interest, hyper-masculinity and a vapid individualism erase any reference to social bonds, public commitments, and the public good. Worse yet, under the unrelenting blitz of rhetoric of bigotry, hatred and dehumanization, the ability to translate private issues into lager systemic and public concerns is gone.
All of this has given rise to a new social phenomenon of ignorance, and where lies are now reinforced by a culture of immediacy, stupidity, and civic illiteracy, and as such promotes a culture in which the only obligation or requirement of citizenship is consumption, and the only emotion worth investing in is unbridled anger largely directed at Black and Brown people, undocumented immigrants, Muslims, and the oppositional media. Moreover, self-reflection has now become a liability. Reason and informed judgment are increasingly viewed as old-fashioned and outdated. The upshot is that power and ignorance now reinforce, compliment and support each other as part of the national dialogue.
Finally, the endless lying – from the top down – is more than a carefully, deliberate diversion or a perpetual machine of absurdist political theater. It is more about creating a system of contrived escapism where morality disappears and a criminal culture of partisan thuggery, corruption, white supremacy and violence flourishes — and democracy slowly dies. Today, American society has collapsed into a sorry forced ecosystem of falsehoods, militarism and racism.
True, we’ve always tolerated a certain amount of deceit in American politics. It’s a given that politicians lie, twist the truth, and apply it selectively to suit the situation. Donald Trump, and his strategy of nonstop disinformation, lies and misdirection, has changed that. He has made it a lot easier for politicians of all stripes to go beyond just tweaking the truth to outright making it up. But the word lie terrifies ordinary people and journalists alike. That’s because using it strips us of our perceived sense of objectivity. For a lie to be a lie, you need to believe that the liar is lying with intent. Not only is their statement untrue but also the speaker knows it’s untrue. Yet pretending all lies are subtle and well-intentioned false claims encourages a public equivocation that is increasingly dangerous in this era of fake news.
Political scientists have concluded that there are two kinds of lies that corrupt the public discourse. There is the lie that is intended to deceive and is easy to understand, but the lie that is intended to be recognized as a lie is much more dangerous, because it carries an unambiguous message about power and control. So why are Americans not outraged at the constant, unrelenting lying that has now all but obfuscated and corrupted the social and political discourse? Well, it comes down to this: They’re trading honesty for loyalty where to question, challenge or expose a lie, especially told by a nationally revered and popular leader, is to be disloyal and in a warped way not a team player.