The Most Dangerous Lie
June 21, 2003
By Pamela Troy
The most dangerous lies are told in what the liars imagine to be the service of a Greater Truth. These "Greater Truths" must be striven for covertly because they go so far beyond what is publicly acceptable that they can't be defended openly. The liars for a "Greater Truth" may envision a future when they no longer have to hide their agenda, but in the present, they see no shame in deceit and will utter blatant falsehoods with a conviction that the careless listener can mistake for sincerity.
Only the most careless listeners, however, because what's truly nasty about such liars is the extent to which they invite their victims to collude in the lies. If the "Greater Truth" is one that appeals to the worst instincts of a people, intolerance, avarice, vindictiveness, arrogance, it's depressing to observe how many will either believe, or pretend to believe the most transparent fibs.
Recently we invaded a weak country that had not attacked us, offering as a rationale its possession of Weapons of Mass Destruction. Many of us expressed our skepticism for this rationale in large demonstrations against the war. Now it has become apparent that the claim that Iraq possessed WMD was a lie. And recently, some liberals and progressives have been rubbing their hands in anticipation of the Bush Administration crashing and burning.
I hope they are right. I think lying to America and the rest of the world about our reasons for going to war is a good reason for impeachment. But one thing that is being overlooked, I fear, is the nature of the lie we were told, and the extent to which many Americans were and apparently are still willing to participate in it.
The rationales for the war I heard over and over again from my fellow Americans were not so much about Hussein's possession of WMDs, but about the fact that Iraq is an Islamic country that we dislike, and therefore Hussein was a reasonable stand-in for Osama bin Laden. Running through the arguments was often the assumption that the United States possesses a unique moral right to invade any country it wants to invade, topple any government it dislikes. The "Greater Truth" behind the lie of Saddam's possession of WMD is the barely concealed doctrine of American exceptionalism, an idea that appeals so strongly to the unthinking arrogance of many American citizens that it seems well on its way to graduating from "Greater Truth" to an openly held conviction.
And there's the increasing possibility of another "Greater Truth," another lie-spawning covert agenda that may be even more dangerous to us than the notion that the United States is above international law. Evidence of its existence has grown and been studiously ignored since the 2000 presidential election.
Every time a Democrat confidently informs me, after the latest Bush Administration whopper, that "the American people won't put up with it," every time I hear Democrats pointing at our crumbling economy as something that will drive determined citizens to oust Bush in the next election, every time someone writes about how he heard his barber, or a lady in the checkout counter, or a guy in the next booth at a diner denouncing Bush and boy, that means Bush is in trouble now, the hope I begin to feel is dampened by the following simple statement of fact.
Our president was not elected.
Not by any stretch of the imagination. Not even as a Vice-President who ran with a presidential candidate and then inherited the office in the wake of the standing president dying or resigning.
Roughly three years ago, a major political party showed it was willing to push its candidate into the White House by disenfranchising Americans. The Supreme Court showed that it was willing to give its assent to this gross subversion of the political process. With only a few exceptions, the rest of us showed that we were willing to let them get away with it. It's possible that a political movement that succeeds in installing a president using these methods will retain the rock-solid conviction that voters are an important part of the process, but it's unlikely.
The lie we are being told in many forms is that the "will of the people" is as meaningful and unassailable as it was before the 2000 election. The "Greater Truth" this lie seeks to conceal, the "Greater Truth" behind the 2000 election voter purge in Florida, Bush's dismissive response to the massive anti-war demonstrations, the increasing use of "Free Speech Zones," and the expansion of the Executive Branch at the expense of the Legislative branch, is the conviction that certain Americans can't be trusted and do not deserve to have a voice in the political arena.
Certain Americans are not conservative enough. Certain Americans are not well off enough. Certain Americans are not Christian enough. Certain Americans are not white enough.
One can't, of course, come out and say such things. In the current political climate, those citizens who believe that Americans of a certain color or a certain economic strata or a certain political or religious persuasion are less American and less entitled to participate as Americans are not yet confident enough about their numbers to embrace the idea openly. But make no mistake about it, the idea is out there and its expression is becoming more and more overt.
While we've been slapping fruitlessly away at the obvious and petty lies that everyone knows are obvious and petty lies: "Gore is a compulsive liar," "no legal voters were turned away in the last presidential election," "Bush won the popular vote," "Most of those foreign residents we rounded up and detained were terrorists," "anti-Bush demonstrators pose a physical danger to our president," "there's no need for a paper trail with electronic voting," the largely unexamined agenda that has inspired them has become more powerful and more widely accepted.
There comes a moment when the only option is to look the liar directly in the eyes and confront him, not with his lies, but with his reasons for telling them. There comes a moment when we must realize that time is running out, that if we wait much longer, the shame that currently prevents the widespread and open advocacy of an unconscionable agenda will be gone.
Worse, if we wait much longer, the tools provided the American people by our constitution, the power of the legislative branch, the ability to vote and have one's vote counted, the right to voice your opposition and make yourself heard, may no longer be available. They will have been rendered meaningless, or thrown away entirely.
The most dangerous lie being told to the American people by the Bush administration is that they believe in the Bill of Rights as a meaningful legal blueprint for the rights of every American. And because many Americans imagine that it's only "unaverage" Americans whose rights don't actually "count" when it comes to things like voting, or demonstrating, or even having access to a lawyer or a hearing, they are willing to overlook the broad wink with which the lie is told.
Lately, as I've observed the number of Americans, liberal, moderate and conservative, Republican and Democrat, who have been willing to give the Bush administration a pass on its lies about Saddam Hussein because they dislike Saddam Hussein, who've been willing to give the Bush administration a pass on its brutal treatment of the prisoners at Guantanamo because they dislike the Taliban, who have been willing to give the Bush administration a pass on its treatment of dissenters because, well, those demonstrators are so shrill, so embarrassing and they block traffic, I've been reminded of an illustration by the great artist Francisco Goya. It shows a young woman fleeing from monsters. But as she flees, she peeks over her shoulder at her pursuers and she smiles. The caption reads, "She who allows herself to be caught will never escape."
Will the American people eventually reject Bush because of the WMD issue? Perhaps. Eventually.
The more important question is, will it matter when we finally do?