Lies and Political Disaffection

«Sage jeder, was ihm Wahrheit dünkt, und die Wahrheit selbst sei Gott empfohlen»

(«Let each man say what they believe to be true and let truth itself to God»)

Gotthold Ephraim Lessing

Now that we know, Donald Trump is the new President of the United States of America, we reflect on his campaign. This campaign brought with it tons of memes, debates, Twitter battles that gave rise to conversations, but also left evidence of the endurance common citizens have of the political class. Trump won, yes, but with only 55.4% of voters registered. What happened to the remaining 44.6% of the electors? Why didn’t they vote? Before blaming the Americans, let’s analyze what is going on in the world. Anti-system decisions are not an exclusive symptom of Mickey Mouse’s land; it is a factor that defines the world’s political reality.

Some people could say that Trump, Brexit, Pablo Iglesias and the famous cry from social movements “Let them all leave!” have emerged thanks to political disaffection. Spanish people, on their side, claim that the political class is the second main problem in the country but, on the other hand, only 17% of Latinos trust political parties. This happens because, more and more, people perceive politicians as crooks and liars; and I wonder, are they? Are politicians lying to us?

I don’t think so; lying has a very interesting and polemic role in politics because in this field is not so accurate to say that the absence of truth is lying, it can be more complicated than that. However, disaffection does not arise as the result of cover-ups; it arises because some politicians have surpassed the limits. Needless to say, lying is inherent to the human condition, so much that he who has not told a lie, may cast the first stone. Politics is full of human beings, so in it, there is also a little bit of lying, or let’s say, different kinds of truths.

People – that is, voters – understand that there are certain topics they do not know too well and that are subject to political persuasion on each campaign. This is not what really overwhelm them.  What irritates them is that high-scale corruption cases are exposed, or politicians involved in important scandals; and today, social media doesn’t allow censorship. These are actions that distort politics and have taken a toll on both credibility and popular affection. During the American campaign, many claims were made about Trump that later were rendered as lies. In fact, Hillary’s website had a tab called “Facts”, in which each person could see and help unmask Trump’s lies. However, the 33 thousand emails from Hillary made more damage than Trump small lies. Are people being irrational? No. In this arena, in particular, lying is punished because when you do something shady that goes against your project or your followers, they will be disappointed. Maybe Trump lied about his opinions, but for some electors, Hillary lied about her performance and that is worse.

The political class is going through a phase where lies are used as arguments, that is a fact; but this doesn’t necessarily mean that the idea that “all politicians lie” is the rule, even though politicians lie in the same way you and me do. Disaffection comes because many of them have forgotten the most important principle of democracy that consists of talking to everyone, on the possibility that everyone’s story is heard, with the certainty that they are there to serve. There will be people upset and disappointed, because what really bothers them is to feel their trust has been betrayed.

Discussions are subjective, specially when they are full of opinions and perceptions. These arguments take place between peers so there isn’t an opinion more valid than another; there is not a single truth. Except for tangible facts (physical and chemical), everything else can be perceived as a lie depending on who is looking at it. Besides, the political practice carries with it the quest for power. This requires hiding interests, simulating and persuading. Politics requires to slip under the rug certain issues and this doesn’t mean lying. Nobody imagines calling their move ahead when playing chess, and by not doing so you won’t be considered a conspirator.

Lying is part of politics; this is so true that even Plato pondered it when he wrote “The Republic”. To modify your message, to persuade and to hide your moves in a campaign is part of the strategy. But to hide realities, to veil data and to lie about who you are and what you do, that can be corruption and sooner or later, voters will punish you for that.