U.S. Authorities Pay No Price for Acknowledged Lying

What’s the Impact on Us?

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“Everybody knows that the boat is leaking. Everybody knows that the captain lied. Everybody got this broken feeling, like their father or their dog just died.”—Leonard Cohen

Presidents and other U.S. authorities have always been liars—just ask Native Americans. While lying to Native Americans has never been politically costly for U.S. presidents, getting caught lying by the entire American public was once politically damaging. In the 1960s, Lyndon Johnson paid a political price after Walter Cronkite informed Americans that Johnson’s claim of the U.S. winning the war in Vietnam was false; in the 1970s, Richard Nixon paid a price for getting caught lying about Watergate; and even in the 1980s, getting caught lying about his law school class standing and plagiarism forced Joe Biden to end his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Today, in contrast, there is little political cost to getting caught lying. When did this begin? Was it the glorification of proven liar Ronald Reagan after he left office? The high approval ratings of proven liar Bill Clinton at the end of his presidency? We can debate when and why getting caught lying became no big deal, but it is now clear—even to cognitively-challenged liars such as George W. Bush, Donald Trump, and Joe Biden—that getting caught lying is not politically costly. Furthermore, getting caught deceiving the American public has become politically inconsequential not only for U.S. presidents but for all U.S. authorities—with the most recent example being Anthony Fauci, chief medical advisor to Trump and Biden.

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Bruce E. Levine, a practicing clinical psychologist often at odds with the mainstream of his profession, writes and speaks about how society, culture, politics and psychology intersect. His most recent book is Resisting Illegitimate Authority: A Thinking Person’s Guide to Being an Anti-Authoritarian―Strategies, Tools, and Models (AK Press, September, 2018). His Web site is brucelevine.net

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