Politicians have always tended to be dishonest. It goes with the territory.
Whether the system they operate in is democratic or not, the short term payoff from saying one thing and doing another, or denying one’s real intentions, motivations or personal history will often seem to outweigh the cost (if there is one) of being found out.
But there are different kinds of liars.
Peter Oborne’s The Rise of Political Lying nicely showed how that pretty straight sort of guy who took us into the Iraq war saw politics as a branch of PR. Everything was about “how will this play in the media” to the point that nothing was real any more. Somehow these people convinced themselves that everything they were doing was for the good, and so it was impossible that they were actually doing anything wrong, even if people were misled.
Bush the younger perhaps lacked the intelligence to think clearly about the morality of the choices that he was making. But a large number of the “neocons” around him believed in principle that leaders should lie to the public: that it was their duty to do so; that the public could not be trusted with the truth. They got these ideas from Leo Strauss, whose students many of them had been, and who seems to have believed in the “noble lie” as correct and necessary for social cohesion.
See for instance this interview with Shadia Drury who has written extensively on Strauss.
If Shadia Drury is right, then American policy-makers exercise deception with greater coherence than their British allies in Tony Blair’s 10 Downing Street.
Clearly Trump’s lies come from a different place again. I wondered quite a lot about this, but this article about the influence of Norman Vincent Peale on Trump explains a lot. As a child Trump attended Peale’s church. Peale’s book “The Power Of Positive Thinking” (which was a massive best seller in the 1950s) more or less told people that believing something could make it so. Correspondence with reality was not required.
This article on Peale’s politics is also interesting and revealing.
Of course this kind of relationship with reality is common among Trump’s supporters. A disturbing number of people who owe their existence to the discovery of vaccination (more than 200 years ago) now doubt its efficacy as well as its safety, and have received apparent confirmation of their doubt through Trump’s appointment of a “vaccine sceptic” to chair a commission on “vaccination safety and scientific integrity”. And many of Trump’s supporters think the world is 6000 years old, and that this can be made so simply by “believing”.
But behind Trump, in the form of Steve Bannon there sits a man with yet another attitude to truth. Unfortunately in his case, (and he is generally seen as being the brains behind the new administration) this attitude is more akin to that of Goebbels.
What a world we live in.