One of the common experiences of contemporary politics is feeling like what you are being told is so stupid and nonsensical that the person saying it knows it is stupid and nonsensical too. Denial of climate change, evolution and established historical fact certainly provide such moments, and often occur in conjunction with an embellished personal history of phony degrees, reconstructed events and outright lies. Despite the likelihood of such figures being caught in the snare of their own falsehoods, each year one or another political leader is tripped up by inconvenient truths.
The impetus for political sophistry – the active effort to deceive others by intentionally using false arguments – lies in the conjunction between ambition and expectation. Political ambition, of course, too often includes the particular motivation to raise oneself above the status of others, a goal well-suited to a political system which financially and socially rewards those willing to undergo constant attention. Devotion to the glare of the camera builds delusions of grandeur and invulnerability, which from time-to-time results in notable moments like Congressman Anthony Weiner’s “crotch shots” and “sexting” messages going public.
Political expectation exerts its own peculiar force, bending policy statements and publicly expressed opinions to the directional winds of major campaign donors. Thus complete reversals of opinion, such as Mitt Romney’s view of government facilitated healthcare reform, occur with Orwellian regularity. Money has so thoroughly captured American politics that it trumps all other forces, most notably honesty and truth. We know it when the politicians are lying, but the worst of it is that they know it too. There are, without question, some politicians actually as stupid as their opinions, and in that sense they can be bemoaned but forgiven. As to the others, those with no excuses except claims to power and money, well, some say America gets the politicians (and Supreme Court) it deserves.
Over the past fifty years a virtual University of Political Deceit has been established, right-wing think-tanks devoted to granting degrees in Philosophistry – the love of deception. Relying on utopian capitalist mythology, Biblical interpretation, revisionist history, unproven economic theory, cultural distortion, inflammatory and manipulative language, and in some cases outright bigotry and hatred, such institutions garner media attention by taking on the appearance and mantle of legitimate institutions of learning. By now, aspiring Philosophists can avail themselves of a collected body of falsehoods enshrined by the likes of the American Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation and other such impressive-sounding instrumentalities wielded by billionaire plutocrats implementing their “bloodless coup” on America’s political and economic systems. Combined with the acquisition of press, radio and television outlets, they also control a 24-hour global propaganda machine that supports their “legitimacy.”
“Bloodless coup” is neither apt nor accurate. From police practices which result in shooting innocent children to military policy which calculates death in terms of “collateral damage” actual blood is shed. To further their plutocratic agenda in the political sphere corporate captains of industry and finance effectively wield the levers of government, inflicting immeasurable pain and suffering on voiceless millions who struggle each day just to make ends meet. In the wake of plainly plutocratic “pursuits of happiness”, nature is laid to waste and humanity lost while sophistry, now firmly embedded within our national “fair and balanced” narrative, disguises and masks actual acts of violence and damage.