Of growing up in 1960s Soviet Russia, author Elena Gorokhova said, “The rules are simple: They lie to us, we know they’re lying, they know we know they’re lying, but they keep lying to us, and we keep pretending to believe them.”
It used to be taboo in American politics to call a competing candidate a liar. It was also considered a bad idea. Making a charge so shrill, the thought went, would turn off voters to the accuser as much as to the accused. Untoward candidates “stretched the truth” or “distorted records.” Some even, God forbid, “fabricated answers out of whole cloth.”
Ah, the good old days.
Everyone’s hurling the “L” word now. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is lying about businessman Donald Trump. Trump’s lying about former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. Bush is lying about Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who’s lying about Cruz, who’s also lying about Rubio.
Not to be outdone, the campaigns of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders are lying about each other.
At the same time, America is supposedly going through a catharsis of truth telling. Trump, his supporters say, is finally telling it like it is. So is Sanders, if you listen to his people. They’re calling out the liars for years of, well, lies.
At the same time, Trump and Sanders voters are swallowing some of the most fantastical promises ever made by U.S. presidential candidates. I say almost because they follow President Barack Obama who campaigned in 2008 as a veritable “post-partisan” messiah.
Trump is going to #MakeAmericaGreatAgain, make Mexico pay for a giant wall, and do something with health care that’s, well, gonna be just terrific. Sander’s going to give everyone a free college education, get money out of politics, and expand a Social Security system that any actuary worth his salt would swear is going bankrupt.
It makes you wonder about the nature of politics when the most cynical voters are also the most gullible. It makes you wonder about the nature of people when they clearly want to be lied to, just so long as those lies come wrapped in magical promises.
No wonder demagogues endure in human history. It’s we who invent them. Out of whole cloth.
William F. B. O’Reilly is a Republican consultant.