“When Presidents Lie”

(This Topic Taken from Eric Alterman’s article published in The Nation on October 7, 2004)

TimeWatch Editorial
May 12, 2017

According to his biography found on The Nation website, Eric Alterman is Distinguished Professor of English and Journalism, Brooklyn College, City University of New York.  He is also a columnist for The Nation, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress in Washington, DC, and the Nation Institute and the World Policy Institute in New York, as well as former columnist for The Daily Beast, The Forward, Moment, Rolling Stone, Mother Jones, the Sunday Express (London), etc. Alterman is the author of 10 books. On October 7, 2004, he wrote an article in The Nation entitled “When Presidents Lie.” The very first paragraph of his article describes the rise and result of Presidential dishonesty.

“Presidential dishonesty, like so many things in life, is not what it used to be. Before the 1960s, few could even imagine that a President would deliberately mislead them on matters so fundamental as war and peace. When the evidence of presidential lying grew so enormous the phenomenon could no longer be avoided, its revelation helped force both Lyndon Johnson and his successor, Richard Nixon, out of the office. LBJ’s false assurances regarding the second Tonkin Gulf incident, and their later exposure, would prove a significant factor in his own political demise, the destruction and repudiation of his party, and the ambitious Texan’s personal humiliation and disgrace. Much the same can be said about his successor, the no less ambitious or dishonest Nixon. He, too, paid for his deceptions with his presidency, his reputation and a degrading defeat for his party in the following presidential election.” Eric Alterman, “When Presidents Lie,” The Nation, October 7, 2004

What is incredibly worrying is the amount of effort put forward by parents to teach their children to tell the truth. At least in the past, the dishonesty of the presidents was less obvious to the general population than it is today. Listen to what Eric Alterman says about the 1980s.

“By the time of the Iran/contra scandal in the mid-1980s–little more than a decade after Nixon’s public disgrace–lying to the public had become an entirely mundane matter, one that could be easily justified on behalf of a larger cause. During the planning of the secret weapons sales to Iran, Reagan Cabinet officials, as well as the President himself, had warned of dire consequences should the public become aware of their plans: George Shultz argued during the crucial meetings that Reagan was committing “impeachable offenses,” while Reagan himself predicted that if there was a leak to the media, “We’ll all be hanging by our thumbs in front of the White House.” But while the revelation did convulse the nation’s political system for a year or so, it turned out that the President and his men had overestimated the cost of being proven liars as well as suppliers of weapons to terrorists.” Eric Alterman, “When Presidents Lie,” The Nation, October 7, 2004

Today, however the lies are “in your face.” while the evidence says one thing, the leadership loudly proclaims “alternative lies.” Notice the phrase “alternative lies.” I prefer to alter the phrase that has become commonly used that was introduced by Kellyanne Conway, “alternative facts.”  There are no facts associated with the absolute dishonesty displayed by this crew. But the problem runs much deeper than truth or lies. The agenda is really an assault upon the Constitutional fabric of the nation. Past Presidencies have manipulated the truth as a defensive mechanism. The New York Magazine describes our present situation as quite different.  By Jonathan Chait , in his

“Donald Trump is an authoritarian by instinct. He displays the classic traits of an authoritarian personality — a man obsessed with domination and humiliation, and unable to tolerate cognitive dissonance. (Guidance for Trump’s presidential daily brief directs that his memos not only be short but, Ashley Dejean reports, “should only include facts that support their analyses.”) For years he has lavished praise upon authoritarian regimes in China, Russia, North Korea, and Iraq for having the strength to crush their opponents. And the first month of his presidency has seen Trump metamorphose from a reality-television-populist-outsider candidate into an actual president who sounds — but, so far, at least, only sounds — like the strongman leaders he has always admired.” Jonathan Chait , “Donald Trump, Pseudo authoritarian” The New York Magazine,

As time has progressed however, there is now more than just sound. The assault upon the media, the attempt to rule by Executive Order, the firing of the FBI director and the continued attempt to reshape the news has demonstrated the real objective. Almost every day, there seems to be an adjustment of facts. almost every day the motive becomes clearer.  Kim B. Serota, Timothy R. Levine, & Franklin J. Boster makes it clear in their article “The Prevalence of Lying in America: Three Studies of Self-Reported Lies”

“It is not sufficient that something is false for it to be a lie; it is the intent that distinguishes the lie. As Bok (1999) observes: ‘‘The moral question of whether you are lying or not is not settled by establishing the truth or falsity of what you say. In order to settle this question, we must know whether you intend your statement to mislead’’ (p. 6). Kim B. Serota, Timothy R. Levine, & Franklin J. Boster, “The Prevalence of Lying in America: Three Studies of Self-Reported Lies”

Clearly, Isaiah accurately describes the situation that exists today.

Isaiah 59:14  And judgment is turned away backward and justice standeth afar off: for truth is fallen in the street, and equity cannot enter.

Cameron A. Bowen


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