Ted Cruz broke his promise to support whoever won the Republican nomination.
Hillary Clinton lied regularly about the circumstances surrounding her private email server (and many other things).
Somebody on the Donald Trump campaign lifted some ideas and phrases from a speech which was performed by Michelle Obama four years ago.
Bernie Sanders spent the last year telling us what an evil candidate Clinton is and now he tells his voters to support her.
In all four cases, I say, “So what?”
I hear some Republicans today screaming bloody murder that Cruz didn’t endorse Trump when Cruz spoke at the convention in Cleveland Wednesday night. On the other hand, people who hate Trump and are eager to see him embarrassed are calling Cruz principled for telling Republicans they ought to vote their conscience. Almost everyone seems to see the matter through the lens of what he wants to happen in November.
In every one of the cases I mentioned above — plus hundreds of others I’ve observed through my life — one primary thing has been clear. People are almost always selective in their outrage about lying and broken promises. No matter what happens, they can find an interpretation that matches what they want to believe.
When a hated politician on the other side breaks a promise, it’s a sign of a serious character flaw. When a politician on their side — someone they believe in — breaks a promise, it’s a sign of having the courage to change when circumstances require it.
But because they rarely understand the hypocrisy in which they’re engaged, political supporters scream at each other, certain that the evil people on the other side have finally been exposed for everyone to see.
The puzzle to me is why people take politicians’ promises seriously in the first place.
They all lie.
If you get into an immoral system which has incentives to lie — and which is based on forcing people to obey against their will — you will become a reflection of that system. The politicians who get into the system can’t help it.
You and I cannot count on the promises of a person who believes it’s moral to use threats of force to get your compliance. If that person has already decided that he is willing to use force to control you — including sending armed men to your home to shoot you if you refuse to comply with his demands — how can he possibly think it’s a big deal to ignore a previous promise or even to outright lie?
Any system that isn’t completely voluntary is based on coercion. It’s based on the idea that a small group of people — allegedly chosen by a majority — have the power to dictate to everyone and then to use deadly force to back up their decisions. (Nobody ever seems to question why a dictatorship of a majority is any more moral than a dictatorship of a minority.)
An immoral system naturally attracts immoral people and it corrupts those who participate who might have otherwise remained moral people. The obscenity isn’t that politicians lie. The obscenity is the system that makes the lie inevitable.
When I entered politics, I was very idealistic. I never intended to be dishonest. I never intended to do anything wrong. But the longer I worked in politics, the more the ethical line kept moving. The “gray area” kept expanding. Is it a lie for me to write every word that a politician is quoted as saying? We expect that and think nothing of it. How big a leap is it from that to start shading the truth — intentionally misleading about one thing and even lying about another?
We end up with people arguing and screaming, but all within the confines of a system that gives politicians and their handlers reason to lie and gives their supporters reason to hypocritically scream about how evil the other side is.
But almost nobody questions the fundamentally immoral root of the system.
Earlier this week, there was idiocy in a teapot over a few lines from a speech read by Melania Trump at the Republican convention. A paragraph or so had parts that were startlingly similar to identical platitudes read by Michelle Obama in another campaign.
Democrats screamed plagiarism but somehow forgot the much more serious past plagiarism of the current Democratic vice president. Republicans who had been upset about Joe Biden in the past suddenly found reasons why Melania Trump’s use of the borrowed phrases was acceptable.
But the truth is that it just doesn’t matter.
I’m as big a Trump critic as there is, but the “controversial” lines are simply boring, generic sentiment that thousands of candidates and their wives express. It’s theoretically possible that one of the speechwriters had read the Michelle Obama speech. It’s even possible that someone overseeing the writing told someone to “give me a paragraph or two similar to this.”
Who knows? Who cares?
These are all canned lines spoken by people who stick to safe platitudes. None of what they say matters. It’s all political theater. All that matters is what they later impose on you — and coerce you into obeying.
If you understand that something about politics today is wrong and you want to criticize something, criticize the substance of what Donald Trump is or — more importantly — criticize the substance of a system which could possibly hand him the power to destroy the world.
Political lies to gain power are trivial. The coercive, immoral system itself is obscene.