On Lying in Politics (in an Extramoral Sense)

I think I have a certain responsibility, as a teacher if for no other reason (although there are always other reasons), to say something, and to make it public.  So here it is. 

It is becoming increasingly clear, if immediately after November 4 there was some possible room for doubt, that the battle of the Republican Party to impugn the recent presidential elections has now moved, well away from partisan zeal, into a region of straightforward lies and willful deceit that is nothing but massive in intent.  At first one could think that people’s natural tendency to believe in good faith what others on their side of things say was excusable, understandable even.  But everyone knows by now that not just the President but the Republican Party leadership, and all who side with them on this issue, are lying shamelessly when they continue to state that only systematic fraud explains the majority in both the popular and the Electoral College votes favoring President-Elect Joseph Biden, and that the fraud will be corrected and there will be a second term for President Trump. That all of this is a lie is as close to a simple fact as one can possibly come in the political world.  Not only are they lying, but they know they are lying, and they are doing it anyway.  Let us not call this “ideology,” let us not call it self-deceit.  Those people are lying, their intent is to deceive others, they want to do damage, and, in the process, they are losing their integrity, their decency, and they are consequently losing their very capacity to ask for and expect respect from the rest of us.  I think this is a serious problem and they have created it.

I suppose, like most everybody else, I have come to terms with the fact that other people can and will have political opinions and projections that do not accord with mine, and I accept the democratic game, sometimes begrudgingly so.  But I know that, short of declaring war, where I could die as easily as anybody else, I do not have an alternative, other than just leaving the site where disagreement is too strong for me to stomach, which I have done in the past.  When the stage where willful and destructive lying takes place is the national stage, then it is difficult to leave it.  It is difficult to abandon your country, even if you are tempted to do so when political life in it becomes so fraught, so contaminated with falsity that your own integrity and respect for obvious, everyday truth becomes endangered.  When you can no longer trust your neighbor you start to lose the ability to trust yourself.

I do not want to preach.  The reason I am writing this is not anxious moralism on my part.  It is true that I do not believe in lying for almost any reason, I think it always backfires, but I have no specific moral reproach for the liars.  They may have reasons for their lying that I know nothing about.  The same goes for corruption or indeed for other vices.  To that extent I do not pass judgment on them, I prefer to abstain, although I will do my best to shut people who have them out of my life as I prefer not to have complications derived from such behaviors.  But we are talking about politics here, and I have no way of shutting an undetermined half of the country out of my life.  I have to deal with them, and I have to pay the price for doing so.  I resent that very much.  Have any political opinions you like.  I may like them or dislike them, and I might learn from them.  But be truthful about them and be truthful about the situations they generate for you and for others. That at least.

When I talk about infrapolitics I mean first of all precisely that.  There are potential liars everywhere in the political spectrum, and they are all dishonorable and they all create trouble for the rest of us.  Infrapolitics has nothing to do with your politics to that extent.  But when your politics lead you to lie, or when your lying leads you to politics, then you have betrayed yourself as an existent, you break a certain interdiction that turns you into a broken person, no matter how petulant it makes you look at first.  And you risk breaking others.  There is a very difficult return from that pit.  In fact, I do not think there is one.  This is also a situation similar to the one I like to confront my students with: if you betray someone, are you a traitor?  Can you ever stop being a traitor after your betrayal?  My students always respond: “No, once a traitor, always a traitor.”  Being a traitor, being a liar, being dishonorable—those are not political issues, they are not even primarily moral issues, or if they are let them be: as far as the other is concerned, they are first of all infrapolitical issues, as they define your existence even before politics.  The problem is: they affect mine as well.  And that is unacceptable.  When politics moves into a situation of infrapolitical unacceptability, that is when civil war raises its ugly head.  It is only latent now, initiated by the liars.  We need to step back, even if that means leaving the liars behind. 

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