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Here is the paradox of our times: big lies are transparent, while the truth remains in every respect secret. Here’s an example. When Congress asks James Clapper whether the NSA collects information on millions of Americans, and Clapper responds, “No, not wittingly,” we all know he’s not telling the truth. We want to believe him, but we know we can’t trust him, and NSA’s past record of deception, secrecy, and dishonesty tells us we have no basis for trusting him now. But, until Snowden, we had no way of knowing the truth, either. All we can do is disbelieve what government officials say; we can’t actually know the truth. If we knew the truth, government would lose control.

What counts as a big lie? Going to war on false pretenses is a big lie. We did that in Vietnam and Iraq. Executing a president in public, then protecting the criminals who perpetrated the act is a big lie. Planning and executing false flag attacks counts. Concealing the truth about all these crimes counts, too.

What’s disconcerting is the confidence powerful people have in undertaking these projects. They know the level of distrust that already exists among citizens. They know that no matter how closely they control key information, they cannot control all of it. They know people can communicate. Lastly, powerful people know that the truth will out eventually. Yet they commit crimes of enormous magnitude and lie about them. Do they delude themselves about what they do to their reputations, or do they consider the damage to their reputations a fair price to pay for maintaining their power?

Let’s take Lyndon Johnson as an example. Lyndon Johnson lied a lot. When you lie as much as Johnson did, do you lie more readily to yourself? What does it mean to be dishonest with yourself? We have the phrase, “He sold himself a bill of goods.” Are we actually capable of convincing ourselves of something that is not true, if the false belief suits our purposes? To all appearances, Johnson convinced himself his lies would not damage his reputation, or his effectiveness as a leader. Then in the early spring of 1968, just over three years after his inauguration, he was forced from his position of leadership. We know that Johnson’s decision not to run for reelection was not something he foresaw when he set out on the path of dishonesty.


Lying and dishonesty become so commonplace that citizens lose confidence in their ability to discern the truth. That’s especially true if you’re accustomed to granting benefit of doubt to your leaders, then discover they are the most dishonest people of all. Significantly, corrupt leaders try to benefit from this confusion. Through their actions and their speech, they create an environment where no one trusts anyone. Political truth replaces integrity, which means powerful people create reality. When power relations determine what is true, you are in trouble.

Here is a reflection from Senator Tom Coburn, published in The Wall Street Journal on New Year’s Eve, 2013:

The culture that Mr. Obama campaigned against, the old kind of politics, teaches politicians that repetition and “message dispcipline” — never straying from using the same slogans and talking points — can create reality, regardless of the facts. Message discipline works if the goal is to win an election or achieve a short-term political goal. But saying that something is true doesn’t make it so. When a misleading message ultimately clashes with reality, the result is dissonance and conflict. In a republic, deception is destructive. Without truth there can be no trust. Without trust there can be no consent. And without consent we invite paralysis, if not chaos.

We have already seen paralysis. Let’s see what’s next.