Pathological lying has been a term that has become nomenclature since 2016 describing a segment of Americana associated with Republican Trumpism. Leading the way in 2023, as cult leader, is what a slice of America has been actively searching for since April of 1865 . . . “The Great White Hope.”
The pathology defined by the numbers of lies is out in the open. The Toronto Star tallied the number of false claims as 5,276 by June of 2019, an average of 6.1 per day.
By the end of Donald Trump’s term, The Washington Post Fact Checker tallied the number of false, untrue, misleading claims as 30,573, an average of approximately 21 per day during Trumps presidential term. * (see footnote)
As a child of the 1950s, I recall that there was serious pause in calling a candidate an outright liar. The press and citizens would shy away from such an accusation because, if and when proven, it would be the death toll for the candidate and surely shame the political party. Liars quickly lost respect, reputation, brand and credibility. Liars became toxic and rejected.
That is, until ‘Tricky-Dicky-Nixon‘ and his band of fibbers came onto the American scene. They were deemed not only liars but criminals. Relentless investigative reporting – the Fourth Estate – redefined Journalism as the freedom of the people being the freedom of the press. That belief – that truism has never been more true.
Perhaps this is why autocrats, despots, and authoritarians have always mercilessly attacked journalists and investigative reporters calling them public enemy number one. To eliminate the free press was a major strategy by Hitler and the Nazi Party in order to suppress the truth. The German expression of the “Big Lie” was first used by Hitler in Mein Kampf. The ploy of politically branding the “Big Lie” was enhanced and engineered by Joseph Goebbels of the Nazi Party. The model is not new but has been updated via Social Media.
In the 21st century, the “Big Lie” has been employed by the allies of Donald Trump falsely claiming that the results of the presidential election of 2020 was “stolen”, “rigged”, and a “fraud”. All such accusations and claims have been repeatedly and consistently debunked by exhaustive fact checks and substantiated by evidence and recounts provided by Republican Secretaries of State, in addition to 60 failed / dismissed lawsuits by state and federal judges (some appointed by Trump) alleging election fraud and other irregularities. All failed the “veritas” test.
As of October 24, 2023, four of the 19 co-defendants, in the Georgia election fraud trial have admitted to lying to the public regarding the “Big Lie” that Trump won the election – pleading “guilty” to lying and conspiring to overturn the election. Three of the co-conspirators, who are lawyers, are Sidney Powell, Kenneth Chesebro and Jenna Ellis – all now guilty convicted felons. This should matter to all citizens.
The guilty pleas are a blow, to not only Trump, but the right-wing media juggernaut that distributed election lies as gospel truth. Now convicted felons are admitting and confessing their guilt on all channels – on all media outlets.
The major crime is lying to the American people every time they stood in front of a podium defending the “Big Lie” – knowingly, willfully, and unlawfully making false statements.
The major unavoidable problem that pathological liars face is when they have to raise their right hands and swear to tell “the truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God.” This is when the legal wedgies get excruciatingly tight.
The liars abruptly realize that a court of law differs from telling lies on Meet the Press, Face the Nation, Inside Politics and State of the Union. Suddenly contrived vague talking points and lies begin to be swallowed when indicted and charged in a Court of Law, with a real presiding judge, real prosecuting attorneys and potentially a real jury listening and discerning every word, every fact, undeniable and undisputed evidence, documents, text(s), video(s), email(s) and corroborating witnesses.
Oh how liars hate courts and the rule of law! This is when playing at Fantasy Reality TV gets real – legally binding. This is when the proverbial “doo-doo” hits the fan” and when the house of cards begins to crumble.
Unfortunately, those who vehemently believed the lies are left to fend for themselves. Now what? Confused, deceived, used, abused, dealing with a personal-political identity crisis with tough choices whether to deny, defend, deflect, alter or just relent to reality. Perhaps even come to terms with the need for reflection, introspection and catharsis.
Ironically and unfortunately, all of the evidence, even if presented by the Pope, Father, Son, Holy Ghost and Jesus himself would NOT matter to a segment of Republican Trumpers. This was true with German Nazis, blindly faithful to “der Führer”, and is true with those who are die-hard-core believers of Trumpism.
Let’s keep in mind that blind faith beliefs in “Big Lies” is not governing. It is simply holding on to power from one election to another. This is what autocratic, authoritarian regimes do once in power – recycle the power.
Vladimir Putin has been the President of Russia since 2000 and a new amendment will allow him to stay in office for the next 12 years.
Russia is an example of a totalitarian regime ruled by an autocrat. A country that has created laws and practices dealing with government censorship of television, radio channels, periodicals and internet media. In other words, imagine if the Alt-Right Media controlled the only channel and narrative – a national silo with only one echo chamber.
All mainstreamed news to the Russian people is laundered in order to create a false and contrived narrative favoring the ruling political autocrat(s) and political party. The people of Russia may not know why the International Criminal Court (ICC) has issued a warrant for Vladimir Putin for committing crimes against humanity and violating international humanitarian law. They may never know why young men leave for the Ukraine never to return. That is, until time and history begins to provide правда.
In Autocratic and Authoritarian countries, journalists face assaults and/or imprisonment for criticizing a politician, political party or an ideology. In such countries The Fourth Estate is silenced – if need be – punished.
What is made mute in autocracies is the philosophy “to agree not to agree” – to avoid investigating on political corruption – to question the veracity of content and context – to pursue independent fact-checking – to report on complex issues that are controversial with transparency – to whistleblow on individuals, institutions, corporations, politicians and political parties regarding unethical and unscrupulous crimes. As we have often heard in our Social Studies classes, “In America, no one is above the law – or below it” regardless of the number of lies to deny this fact and reality.
Woefully, pathological lying has become a real threat to the rule and truth of the law. The psychology of denialism has become an ideology and dogma.
Mark Twain said that, “a lie can travel around the world and back while the truth is still lacing up its boots.” This is no longer a euphemism, but a cruel reality to not only journalists, but citizens of a Democracy.
The Fourth Estate has reported that since 2016, citizens have been exposed, to not only a tsunami of lies, but lying as an accepted political strategy. This has become the major challenge to journalists; at least honorable investigative reporters following the truth – not to be confused with Fox Entertainment (non accredited news), Alt-Right radio (non-accredited rumors and gossip) and its audience (non-accredited unlettered listeners) that remain hooked on lies and seemingly can’t break the habit. “Little and Big Lies” have become the new addictive right-wing opioids.
So let’s break down the terminology. So what are we talking about? The study, “Pathological Lying: Theoretical and Empirical Support for a Diagnostic Entity” by Drew A. Curtis and Christian L. Hart (2020) defined pathological lying as “a persistent, pervasive, and often compulsive pattern of excessive lying behavior that leads to clinically significant impairment of functioning in social, occupational, or other areas; causes marked distress; poses a risk to the self or others; and occurs for longer than six months.”
Habitual and compulsive pathological lying is a psychological disorder. This is not about causally misspeaking, using the wrong word, repeating a falsehood due to a lack of facts and evidence, exaggerating and embellishing. This is about the person who knows the truth and still makes the decision to lie and repeats the lie(s).
The lies are presented and repeated with emotional dramatic bravado. The lies are altered, changed and/or become vague. Lies are shared with or without reasons. The liar seemingly unconcerned about being caught in a lie. The lie passed on to someone else as their own. The content and context does not match the words but is articulated nonetheless as the truth feigning confidence. The liar seems anxious becoming defensive when confronted by facts, quickly changing the narrative, walking away upon being confronted.
So how do we know if someone or a group of people are lying to us given
that we can’t give a polygraph test to all political candidates and party members?
There are psychological signs and tendencies that can reveal liars and the pathology.
- The person has a reputation for altering and avoiding the truth.
- Acquaintances, colleagues, friends, family members and others accuse the person of lying.
- The person has been accused of being delusional and avoiding reality.
- The person continues to lie regardless of substantiated and overwhelming facts and evidence.
- When caught in a lie, the person continues to double down on the lie.
- The lies and untrue stories do not make sense, are vague and lack facts, content and context.
- Taking responsibility and consequences for lying is never an option.
- The lying victimizes and blames others for problems but does not provide solutions.
- The lying creates chaos, doubt, dysfunction, divisions, instability and confusion.
So can the ideological pathology of lying exist in a political party? Can it exist within the majority of members of Congress believing and promoting lies? Is this the new Republican Trumpism Party?
Who is lying to you pathologically? Or, are you predisposed to lies that you want to hear as truths? Is the lie more comfortable and accepting rather than leaning into the difficult, inconvenient and uncomfortable truth?
What does a Democracy demand of its elected officials? Is it fantasy, delusion, dishonesty – or trusted reliability, credibility, reality and the unblemished truth? How about integrity, dignity, veracity and the courage to just tell the truth?
What would you want your children to believe? What would you teach your children? Is your vote a reflection of such beliefs, teachings and personal truth?
* Glenn Kessler, Salvador Rizzo, Meg Kelly, January 24, 2021, The Washington Post – Including research by Columbia University, Erasmus University of Rotterdam, University College of London, University of California at Santa Barbara.
Glenn Kessler and Fact Checker Team, Database of Donald Trump’s false or misleading statements, Washington Post. “A rigorously reported and continually updated list of false statements by the president, numbering more than 19,000 by June 2020. The project is a sterling example of what journalists should do — holding the powerful accountable by using reporting and facts.”