Politicians, even the good ones, lie from time to time, and sometimes with good reason: Remember how Jimmy Carter tried to tell us the truth, and we repaid him with mockery and defeat?
Governments lie, too. But then again, so do companies, and coaches, and churches, and so on. This is often bad, but not always. Deception is a necessary aspect of every major human endeavor, and whether a specific deception is ethically good or bad is a philosophy question, not a moral line in the sand.
But the problem with any institution founded on lies is that when we face the prospect of an actual crisis, citizens can’t wisely trust the credibility of the institution’s spokespeople.
The Trump administration was not only founded on lies, it persists solely through and in service to them. Among those lies: That Iran’s repressive Shi’a theocracy is in violation of the international nuclear treaty brokered by the Obama administration, and that the murderously corrupt Wahhabi regime in Saudi Arabia is a good-faith actor in regional affairs.
So this morning we’re confronted with breaking news of a “torpedo attack” on two tankers in the Gulf of Oman, just beyond the Persian Gulf. One of the tankers is Norwegian, but the other is Japanese. The attacks came at the same moment that Japanese Prime Minister Abe was wrapping up “a high-stakes visit to Tehran to help cool hostilities in the region and potentially mediate U.S.-Iran talks,” The Washington Post reported.
“A U.S. defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe an evolving US response, said that military officials assessed that the attacks were carried out by Iran or forces under its influence. He said officials believe the attacks were conducted by divers using limpet bombs.”
So what are we to believe? Whom are we to trust? Iran and Saudi Arabia are rivals for regional power and wealth, each run by religious fanatics from Islamic sects that share a mutual hatred. Neither is to be believed, ever, without careful verification.
But is the United States government, under Trump, any more trustworthy? Trump is the most dishonest President in history, with more than 10,000 public falsehoods and outright lies documented by fact-checkers since he took office. His National Security Director wants a confrontation with Iran, and Trump just used the cover of “national emergency” to bypass Congress and sell $8.1 billion of weapons to the House of Saud.
And, of course, there is legitimate reason to fear that secret Saudi financing is the only thing keeping the Trump and Kushner private business empires afloat. This is exactly why we have conflict of interest laws, and yet Republicans have looked the other way for more than two years while U.S. interests are bartered away by this corrupt crowd.
Deception in the national interest isn’t always bad, but we should challenge it skeptically regardless, because nothing is more important than a democracy’s faith in its own institutions.
Thanks to Trump and his Republican apologists, Americans are now as adrift and aflame as those two burning tankers.