In the United States, as in many other countries, it is a customary practice for elected officials and other authority figures to lie. Two very relevant peddlers of lies in the country are politicians at all levels and the police. Politicians lie and tell half-truths with such frequency that many of us simply expect them to do so, and the comprehensive record of spurious claims and reports by American police officers is enough to make one question whether they respect us commonfolk at all. The police reports associated with, say, the murder of Breonna Taylor and what could have been a fatal assault on Martin Gugino, a 75-year-old protestor, were both infamously falsified this year. In the former case, the deceased was listed as having sustained no injuries from the incident, and in the latter, Gugino was reported to have tripped and fallen, though footage of the incident shows that he was clearly shoved to the ground.
I will not act as if I have never lied to cover my tracks, to obscure something I was not proud of. But I am not bound by oath to serve my country with honesty and integrity in the way that the parties in question are. Like their mistruths, these oaths to them are, evidently, little more than just words.
In an environment where it is all too normal to be lied to by people in positions of power, it should not surprise us when we witness violent, pronounced divisions between Americans. People must understand each other if they wish to settle their various differences. Constant streams of misinformation are obviously counterintuitive to mutual understanding—I would even venture to say that, under certain circumstances, it may render mutual understanding impossible. This being said, I hope that we can all agree that our divisions have been deliberately manufactured and exacerbated by the monied, powerful people who stand to benefit from them.
I have written previously of the present presidential administration’s insistence on widening the chasm between left and right political leanings, so as to lead American citizens’ collective attention away from the unification and civilized discourse necessary to identify the full extent of the administration’s iniquity, particularly its dealings in and promotion of white supremacy. So too is the motivation behind police-backed Blue Lives Matter protests and the presidential disagreement with the intersection of sports and activism, e.g. the federal criticism of Colin Kaepernick, Bubba Wallace, and the whole of the National Basketball Association. All of these cases have shown that a surefire strategy to thwart democracy and effective critical thinking is to deny the truth as it rears its head, leaving the gullible and the inquisitive to fight with each other instead of recognizing that they share a common enemy.
The frequency of the president’s tweets proves to me that he knows as well as anyone that the advent of the Internet and social media has made lying—both the one-off white lie and the large-scale misinformation campaign—easier than it has ever been before. It is true that for the more inquisitive of us, the Internet has also made research and fact-checking easier and significantly more efficient, but we must remember that many people are not on the Internet for such purposes and that it is these people being swayed the most by lies. The Information Age is in the unique position of having bred an extraordinarily conscious population and an extraordinarily misinformed one. Of course, America did not need the Internet for this brutal juxtaposition since its constituents are lied to in person just as often, but I digress. As anyone would expect, the dichotomy between these groups has made their clashes and disagreements seem irreconcilable.
Americans are a very confused people, but this is because there have been so many actions taken to confuse them. To me, one of the most salient examples of our profound misunderstanding is right-leaning critics of “Antifa” and Black Lives Matter, who in so many cases are not truly opposed to the movements themselves (meaning that they are not always opposed to antifascism or the protection of Black lives), but are opposed to what they have been misled to believe about them. So they are opposed to Antifa the nonexistent terrorist organization, not the belief in fascism’s total eradication, and they are opposed to the Black Lives Matter that promotes the murder of police officers and anarchism, not the belief that Black lives matter. In turn, their completely unfounded indignation is taken by BLM adherents and antifascist activists as a sober, controlled hostility, and the cycle of fury and violence wheels on.
The purposeful divulging and promotion of misinformation have proven to be too effective in our time for it to simply go away. The villains we live among have too much to gain from the lies they peddle. In acknowledging that the truth itself is under unremitting attack, we must acknowledge too the importance of seeking the truth for ourselves, as opposed to believing whatever finds its way to our Twitter timelines or unabashedly partisan news feeds.