To live in Washington, in a time of the national election, is to think of Swift every day. I have lived through ten presidential elections and I paid special attention as I had to work for some of the winners. History will attest that not all of them were nice people. But this time around the President defending his throne is a fabricator for whom fabricating seems as natural as breathing. He relegates to a far lower echelon President Nixon about whom President Truman said that he “was a lying bastard…can lie out of both sides of his mouth at the same time.”
When a leader of a rich and powerful nation lies constantly and habitually, the greater problem is that the large army of his minions take the cue and do the same. His party and its thousands of followers, hoping to benefit from his position, parrot his lies and propagate his fiction. Soon lies dominate the airwaves. Any newspaper that attempts a different tune becomes a purveyor of ‘fake news.’ Few dare to say that the leader has no clothes and the country has a fake leader.
The leader knows that, while the people have him and his stories to love, they must also have something to hate. So begins the other narrative, a conspiracy theory without the slightest evidence, that another country wickedly generated the virus in its laboratory and deliberately exported it to kill other people. That its own people died in thousands is just an inconvenient episode easy to overlook.
But a faraway land with its monstrous commissars is perhaps too distant a threat. Hence is created the other narrative that destitute people who turn up at its frontier as refugees are really rapists and murderers trying to invade the homeland and turn it upside down. They must all be turned back, ruthlessly and by force, defying both domestic and international laws. If some have already arrived, however miserable and desperate, they must be placed into cages, and, in a supreme gesture of inhumanity, their children, even breastfed babies, must be separated and thrown into cells. If the infectious epidemic kills some of them because of forced proximate living, the leader’s headache and the menace of future invasion are even less.
The aspect that intrigues me the most is the ease with which the leader’s coterie, then his phalanx of followers, and ultimately the whole country starts placing its faith, not just in the leader, but the daily diet of lies he serves the nation. He correctly estimates that people, who have hesitantly tasted the starters, will love the grand entrées and eventually gobble delightedly the luscious dessert of fantasy he and his minions will cook. A few bureaucrats and specialists may bristle and chomp on the bit – they can be quickly ejected by Tweet – but the vast number will think of their salary and pension and possible dislocation, and simply keep quiet. The stick is harsh and the carrots are quite enticing.
When do the lies stop making their rounds? There is a wise Asian proverb that you cannot well conceal a fish with rice; the corollary is that you have to hide a fish by heaping more fish on top of it. A nation long fed the steady gruel of fabrication will need more and better stories to keep its mind at peace and keep buying at the stores to keep the businessmen pleased, electing legislators to pass laws that reflect the leader’s choices and paying the taxes on time to enable the leader to ride his planes, enrich his family and friends, set out his boots for admirers to lick – and concoct richer and richer stories.
Our tenuous, timorous hope can only be with those precious few who refuse to believe fiction, seek the now-elusive evidence, speak the truth despite the danger and harassment, and refuse to cow to either infinite rewards or indefinite intimidation. It is a small hope, but that is the best we have.