Lies, damn lies, and alternative facts. Trust is the foundation of leadership. But we let our political leaders get a way with lies.

Lies, Damn Lies, and Alternative Facts

We’ve been recently introduced to a new term: alternative facts. A “creative” way to rename false facts. I prefer to use the more common term: lies.

Lying is a part of human nature. Prof. Dan Ariely has done extensive research on why we lie. His conclusions, in a nutshell, are that Everybody has the capacity to be dishonest, and almost everybody cheats—just by a little. The behavior of almost everyone is driven by two opposing motivations. On the one hand, we want to benefit from cheating and get as much money and glory as possible; on the other hand, we want to view ourselves as honest, honorable people.

And yet, we expect our leaders to be honest, truthful, and most important, trustworthy. This is true for businesses, the military, and even sports.

We all remember the infamous business cheating cases of Enron and Bernie Madoff. Also, former HP CEO Mark Hurd was fired for cheating on his expense reports. In sports, we’re all familiar with the use of performance-enhancing drugs. Famous successful athletes, including Mark McGuire, Barry Bonds, and Roger Clemens, were disgraced, and their reputations and careers forever tarnished, when we learned of their acts of cheating.

Why do we let our Politicians lie to us?

I believe that trust is the foundation of leadership. Great leaders are first and foremost trustworthy. They earn our trust through their actions, behavior, and character. But when trust is broken, it’s almost impossible to repair, and they can no longer lead us.

That’s why it amazes me to see that we don’t hold our political leaders to these same high standards of honesty and trust. Time and again we let them “get away” with blatant lies, and gross acts of dishonesty.

The risks and dangers of a dishonest political leader are far greater than those of a baseball player, or a CEO. And yet, for some reason, we are willing to accept their lies, even after we know that they are lies.

If our spouse, friend, or colleague would lie to us, in the same manner, we would not tolerate it. It would make us disappointed and angry. Couples divorce because of cheating, friendships brake without repair because of a lie. 

What makes matters worse, is that these so-called political leaders are now taking advantage of our forgiveness to their lies. They have lost any sense of shame and integrity. They see almost no risk in being dishonest with their public. Furthermore, when their lies are exposed, they don’t see the need to apologize or show remorse.

Public Lies in the Era of Social Media

These days it’s very hard for public figures and politicians to hide their lies and dishonest acts. There are cameras and microphones everywhere. Everything they say and do is caught on video, audio or photo. News and information travel faster than ever and spread wider than ever. Nothing is deleted.

And yet, while you would expect that to be a strong deterrent to public lying and cheating, it seems to have almost an opposite effect. Political leaders use social media to spread their lies and even position them as alternative facts.

Joseph de Maistre, the famous 18th-century French diplomat, and philosopher, once said: “every nation gets the government it deserves”. In other words, people get the leaders they deserve. So, if we believe that we deserve honest, trustworthy leaders, it’s up to us to hold them to higher standards. And not let them get away with lies, even if they are currently calling them alternative facts.



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