There is increasing concern around the world about the rising number of political leaders who lie. Barefaced lies so blatantly told you don’t need lie detectors to know. It is common knowledge that politicians lie, but when presidents lie, where does that leave us? Confused and disappointed!
It is more worrisome that some of them are presidents of powerful countries – super powers. Political leaders tell many shades of lies, but they all have the effect of severing the trust between the elected and the electorate. Presidents are supposed to lead by example, but for some of them, morals and virtues they swear to are thrown out of the window as soon as they move into Government House.
It is one thing to make campaign promises only to assume office to discover that the premises on which they were based are wrong. It is yet another thing to get into office and continue lie to the led and the rest of the world. Presidents with integrity must be cherished.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Donald Trump are some of those who have their lies well documented. Both of them denied Russia interfered in the last US elections, but that may be better reserved for a dumb world.
Citing the case of Putin, the Politico Magazine wrote: “ The Russian president has uttered a stream of fact-defying statements that could easily rival Trump’s. In March 2014, after Crimea was seized by what journalists called “little green men”—soldiers of mysterious provenance—Putin insisted they were local militia, but the next month he admitted Russian troops had invaded the peninsula.
In June of that year, Putin stated there was no Russian military presence in eastern Ukraine, but in December he admitted Russian military personnel had been and were there.
In September 2015, Putin declared he was sending troops to Syria to fight the Islamic State, but focused instead on saving Bashir Assad; when he announced his recent drawdown, he said Russia’s objectives had largely been met, even though the Islamic State received only a small proportion of air strikes and remained a threat.”
Similarly statements by Trump, Putin’s friend, were awarded PolitiFact’s 2015 Lie of the Year. PolitiFact is a fact-checking website that rates the accuracy of claims. Fifteen per cent of the statements were described as half true; 19 per cent as mostly false; 33 per cent as false; and 18 per cent as “pants on fire”
Trump twisted facts and cooked up lies during the campaigns and last week, in his first press conference since July, he was reported to have repeated some false and misleading claims on jobs, healthcare and his tax returns:
•“Trump falsely claimed that there are “96 million really wanting a job and they can’t get [one].” There are roughly 96 million people not in the labor force, but that includes retirees, students and others who don’t want jobs. Only 5.5 million of them want work.
•Trump said, “you learn very little” from a tax return. But experts told us there’s plenty of information to be gleaned from tax returns — such as potential conflicts of interest, charitable giving habits and effective tax rates.
•Trump continues to oversimplify the rise of the Islamic State by blaming President Obama for “leaving Iraq at the wrong time”. President George W. Bush set the withdrawal date. More important, there were numerous factors in the rise of the terrorist group.”
Why do they lie?
For Trump and some others leaders, narcissism is the reason. Most politicians are narcissists in nature. So, they are arrogant, self-important and see themselves as special. They require excessive admiration and are exploitative. They tend to believe that they are always right and even if they are not, they are too powerful to suffer the consequences.
Researchers have also observed that politicians know their followers will believe them, even in the face of irrefutable evidence to the contrary. “Politicians and their adherents live in an echo chamber in which everyone watches the same news channel, listens to the same talk radio, reads the same newspapers and web sites, and hangs out with the same like-minded people. So, there is an impermeable membrane that prevents conflicting information from entering. The content of the lies is also usually red meat for the politicians’ ravenous base, who are only too happy to chew on it for days on end.”
According to the researchers, many people don’t want to hear the truth, a fact that is exploited by political sycophants. Truth, as the saying goes, hurts and no one wants to hear things that threaten their existence, their beliefs or that will make them uncomfortable. It is decidedly better for politicians to tell people what makes them feel comfortable. Few politicians want to be the purveyors of bad news, when they can get away with fairy tales with happy endings.
The following human weaknesses that tend to encourage lying by politicians have also been identified by experts such as Dr. Ronald Riggio:
The trusting bias
We tend to trust people too much. Our default psychological mechanism is to believe rather than disbelieve (unless we are in law enforcement, or other professions concerned with professional liars). That is why we are such easy targets for con artists and politicians.
When we hear a claim by a politician, we often don’t (and don’t want to – particularly if the politician is one we support) engage in the mental and physical effort to fact check. Together with the trusting bias, we figure that “he said it, so it must be true.”
In politics (and to some extent in social life), the more outlandish or audacious the lie, the more likely people are to believe it if the source is considered at least minimally credible. Even though politicians are on the bottom rungs of “trustworthy” professionals, when it comes to political facts and figures, we give them the benefit of the doubt, and figure, “that seems so crazy that he must be telling the truth,” and cognitive laziness ensures that we don’t check it out.
The opportunities for politicians to lie are as many as there are politicians, but integrity makes a great politician.
Another kind of president
It is difficult to place President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines. He may not be rightly described as a lying president but observers think he is noted for politically incorrect talk and thus a potential risk to global peace.
Last week, he shamed his spokesmen by confirming that he had personally pulled the trigger and killed three people as mayor of Davao City.
“I killed about three of them because there were three of them,” Duterte told reporters at a news conference in Manila, the capital. “I don’t really know how many bullets from my gun went inside their bodies.”
“It happened. I cannot lie about it,” he said in English.
Philippine officials loyal to the president had tried to soften his earlier remarks, saying Duterte has a tendency to exaggerate. Duterte has also said some very outrageous things he is not taking back.
•“I was separated from my wife. I’m not impotent. What am I supposed to do? Let this hang forever? When I take Viagra, it stands up.”
Addressing business leaders at a campaign event in April, Mr. Duterte bragged about his reputation as a womanizer.
•“Son of a whore. I will curse you in the forum.”
Duterte said that which is sometimes translated as “son of a bitch,” in a warning to President Obama about bringing up extrajudicial killings at an international forum held in Laos in September.
With many world leaders lying with impunity, we seem to be coming to some kind of risk – moral decadence, and even wars among others.