“They all lie.” It’s a constant refrain about our political class. There’s a sense of resignation in that sentiment that threatens the survival of our participatory democracy. Our government is becoming increasingly defined by the exploits of sociopaths who violate the public’s trust.
Pathological lying and a lack of empathy or conscience are hallmarks of these sociopaths. Newly sworn-in Rep. George Santos may have taken it to a whole new level, but it’s a broader problem that Americans cannot accept.
We now appear to have a growing number of officials who have brought to life Jon Lovitz’s Tommy Flanagan character from “Saturday Night Live” with their lies, exaggerations and hyperbole.
Last week, President Biden again claimed he was a civil rights activist, a fantasy that has been decisively disproved. He has long been known for outrageous claims, yet he has been in Washington for half a century.
Republicans do it, too. Former President Donald Trump isn’t really the world’s leading expert on technology, you know.
George H.W. Bush was shot down over the Pacific in World War II. He flew 58 combat missions. He never felt the need to puff himself up, brag, or inflate his biography. Who he was, was enough. That’s not so today.
The so-called democratization of information has yielded countless new platforms and methods for communicating in the digital era. It has also increased competition for audience mindshare. In so doing, it has further ingrained the dangerous confluence of celebrity and public service.
Members of Congress and other elected officials once toiled in relative obscurity. Now, all have the ability to be national figures, staples on cable and streaming news, podcasters, authors and social media mavens — and profiteers. As our officials become ever more overexposed, they feel they need to compete for more clicks and views. That leads to a comfort level in making claims and statements that are increasingly hypocritical, outrageous, improbable or just plain false.
As the government continues to get bigger and more powerful, the level of corruption also rises. Absolute power corrupts absolutely isn’t just an old axiom. It’s a demonstrable fact in the historical record.
The revolving door between the government and Big Pharma, the insider trading, unaccountable bureaucrats, influence peddling from unions, and Big Tech manipulation of information, just to name a few, all create an environment where lies can become the norm and truth is fungible.
The left’s intersectionality is also to blame for this sociopathic behavior. When we have a culture that prioritizes race, gender and sexual orientation over qualifications, ideas, and ethics, you get an explosion of people who run for office because they check the right boxes.
Mr. Santos’ leveraging of this corrosive culture was brilliantly devious. He presented himself to his district as a gay, immigrant, Hispanic Jew from a broken home precisely for this reason. Like any good con man, he constructed a phony narrative to target the people he needed to make his score — namely, left-leaning suburban swing voters.
Right-thinking people know that who you are is about what you’ve done, what you believe and what’s important to you, not immutable physical characteristics.
We’ve come to equate skin color, gender or sexual orientation, for instance, with the kind of authenticity and ethics that make a worthy public servant. Just ask Vice President Kamala Harris.
Accepting or even empowering sociopaths is a downward spiral. As our political class lowers its standards for honesty, intelligence and genuine commitment to service, the lower the quality of those willing to enter public life becomes. That imperils not just public confidence in the system but also empowers entrenched, unelected officials like Dr. Anthony Fauci, arguably another sociopath.
The saints among us are few and far between, but we cannot equivocate on figures who exhibit the traits of the sociopath. They are clinically not suited for public service or politics.
Political parties may love the guy willing to say anything to get elected because it often works. But in the long run, those sins boomerang on everyone.
We want to be able to take our elected officials literally and seriously. That means ditching those for whom biographical spin is like an appendage. For too many years now, we’ve been forced into the false choice of one or the other. We’ve become used to divining the truth from a tangle of the dubiously credible. We’re at a tipping point.
Americans who write off this behavior are partly to blame for its proliferation. The George Santos saga should force all Americans to assess if and how much they’ve excused this type of behavior. House Republicans can start by ejecting Mr. Santos from office.
• Tom Basile is the host of “America Right Now” on Newsmax TV, an author and a former Bush administration official.