Hold Politicians Accountable When They Lie

Not so very long ago politicians who lied were held in low esteem and deemed, in some cases, unfit for office. Anyone who doubts that might recall Bill Clinton’s impeachment for blatantly lying about “not having sex” with White House intern Monica Lewinsky after his semen wound up on her dress.

But these days, especially after the last four years, politicians seem to think they can get away with lying about all variety of issues and the dumb voters will simply nod along with the deception. That’s no way to run a state or nation. Most voters are a lot smarter than they give them credit for, and if our democracy is to survive it’s time to hold politicians accountable when they lie.

The United States recently survived the greatest onslaught of lies from any president in our history. According to those who tracked them, Trump lied at least 30,573 times during his term in office. Basically he was the poster child for the old saying: “How can you tell if a politician is lying? Their lips are moving.”

The American voters, tired of his deceptions and divisions, tossed him out of office in an election that wasn’t even close. The result was his Big Lie that he actually won the election. That led to the violent attack on Congress on Jan. 6 in a failed attempt to stop the certification of Biden’s electoral win.

The damage from Trump’s lies went far beyond the attack, however. Chalk up more than 38 million Americans infected                 with Covid-19, resulting in more than 600,000 deaths, to his insane claim that the “Chinese virus” wasn’t serious, we didn’t need to wear masks, and even if you did get it, it was “no worse than a cold.” Tragically, those numbers continue to climb.

Likewise his continuous lying seems to have emboldened other politicians to think they can get away with it, too. Take, for instance, the latest deception by Montana’s Republican Sen. Steve Daines and Gov. Greg Gianforte that “lawsuits by fringe environmentalists” are “frivolous.” Can they cite the instances in which Montana judges threw out environmental lawsuits because they were “frivolous?” If they can’t, they should drop the lie.

There are “frivolous lawsuits,” however. Last week a judge in Michigan condemned and sanctioned the Trump lawyers who facetiously challenged the vote there. They now must pay the costs of the state to defend against their lawsuit and may be disbarred. That’s what happens when truly “frivolous lawsuits” are filed.

While far too many Republican politicians have emulated their not-so-great leader in abandoning veracity, there are also examples from the other side of the aisle. When a constituent recently wrote Montana’s Democratic Sen. Jon Tester concerned about spending hundreds of billions on new nuclear weapons, Tester replied: “For decades, our nation’s nuclear arsenal has served as an important strategic deterrent that has prevented the escalation of various conflicts.”

Did nukes stop 9-11 or 20 years of war in Afghanistan? Or Iraq? Or Syria? If nukes “prevented the escalation of various conflicts” how about producing the evidence for that spurious and worn-out claim that’s used to rationalize the very costly and mostly useless existence of the military-industrial complex of which President Eisenhower warned.

No one can make good decisions based on lies. Nor can one negotiate in good faith with those who lie. Differences of opinion and energetic debate on public policy are part and parcel of our democracy. But politicians who lie degrade that democracy — and must be held accountable for deceiving those they are sworn to serve.

George Ochenski is a columnist for the Missoulian, where this essay originally appeared.