Saturday, December 2, 2023

Lying liars and the lies they lie


     A lot of writers who win the Pulitzer Prize let it go to their heads. They preen and strut. But I've always managed to stay the same humble scribe that I was when I joined the newspaper. Similarly, being a big New York Times best-seller author can inflate an author's ego until it pops. Though I try to keep myself grounded in solid Midwestern values of family, decency and hard work that are my guiding stars.
     Do you see what I've done above? It's not a lie, as such. I never say I won the Pulitzer Prize — I didn't. Nor have any of my books gotten anywhere near best sellers. 
     Rather, the opening graph is the kind of deceptive self-puffery that a lot of people seem compelled to indulge in, that is when they just don't flat out invent stuff. Originally, I was going to just outright lie — claim to have won a Pulitzer, to being a best-selling author. But my fingers wouldn't do it.
     Just as well. I wouldn't be good at it; honestly, I'm confused by liars. I just don't get it. It's obvious why they commit their fabrications. To puff up their shriveled little souls. To impress others. They feel the truth about themselves, whatever it is, is not sufficient — even when that truth is that they're a former president of the United States, rich and famous, with a good chance of returning to office. Obviously they need more. Constantly more. More than any version of reality can provide. They're trying to fill a bottomless pit — some gaping wound in their soul — and rather than do the hard work to close the hole, repair the void, be satisfied with what they've got, they keep shoveling stuff in. It's never enough, which is why the lies keep increasing: more and more, bigger and bigger. Because the hole keeps getting bigger.
      Now that I think of it, maybe I'm not confused by liars. Maybe it's their supporters who I really don't get. How do they not perceive the deceit? It's so obvious. Why are they not disgusted? It's so pathetic. To me, even a few small lies are enough to turn me off on a person. It only takes a little spit to spoil the soup. I read a recent New Yorker profile of NYC's new mayor, "Eric Adams Administration of Bluster." The story wasn't only about his lies, though they kept popping up, and stood out. Everything else fell away. Adams claimed to be a vegan, but when called out for eating fish, he first denied he had eaten any, then denied he had ever said he was a vegan. He claimed to have been a boxer; then denied having claimed to be a boxer.
     Small shit. But the pivot of the piece was this:
     "The Mayor apparently reserves the right to mix incidents from his own life with material from his quantum lives: things that could have happened, or almost happened, or happened to someone he once met. All potentials exist simultaneously. An Adams untruth will not be outrageously grandiose and grifty, like those told by Representative George Santos. But Adams doesn’t just polish anecdotes. He is unusually ready to repeat things that are confirmably untrue, or that — in their internal contradictions, or avoidance of specifics, or mutability from one telling to the next — seem very likely to be untrue."
     I finished the profile with one thought: the man's a liar.
     Period, full stop, end of story. I don't know what kind of tangled end is waiting for Adams, but when it shows up in its screeching, slo-mo train wreck glory, I'll be there muttering "So what did you expect?"
      Although, when that end comes, it isn't very satisfying either. Yes, watching the George Santos  finally get the heave-ho from Congress Friday — only the sixth man in the history of the United States to be ejected from the House, and three of those were for supporting the Confederacy — carried with it a faint note of satisfaction. About time. Couldn't happen to a nicer guy.
    But only a muffled note. A gentle "ping." As much as I wish I could spin Santos being hocked into a handkerchief as some kind of turning point, I really can't. It wasn't his continual, ridiculous prevarication that did him in, but actual crimes, albeit unproven ones. The man is accused of stealing his own campaign funds to pay for porn. Roll that sentence around in your mind. He didn't deny it, just conjured up some imaginary rush to judgment while the more shameless Republicans, who had voted to overturn the 2020 presidential election, talked about the risk denying the voters their sacred mandate. A shame that hypocrisy isn't poison; they'd keel over dead on the spot.
     No, I think Santos was so insanely over the top that even as lame an organization as Congress was prompted to finally get rid of him — plus he isn't particularly popular. That's key. If only he had created a strong base for himself before his lies came to light, we'd probably be stuck with him. 
      Heck, maybe Santos isn't through yet. All he has to do is show up at the Capitol Monday morning, declaring nothing unusual happened Friday and he is still in office. A certain percentage of people would buy that. The same slice who will buy anything. There are so many of them. I get the upside for the liar — he basks in undeserved praise. But what benefit do the dupes derive? The right to admire an undeserving hero? How satisfying could that be?


  1. Well to me the reason people follow liars is somewhat simple. A certain percentage of humanity is gullible. Some very gullible. Add to that a percentage of bad luck and/or greed. Then toss in a liar who is also good at twisting their opinions and giving them someone to blame all their troubles and problems on. People have a tendency to believe what they want to believe. And when they do that once you embrace the lies it is hard to stop. And one of the reasons it is hard to stop is almost no one wants to believe they are wrong. To admit that their idols are liars would mean admitting they are wrong. And by admitting they might be wrong they are opening themselves to ridicule. No one wants that. Thus my corollary that “Stupidity loves Company” If you are doing something that others believe might be stupid the thing to do is get more people to do the same thing. If you get others to do the same thing and someone says it’s stupid you can tell them”How can it be stupid when all these other people are doing it too?” This way you get large groups of people who believe something stupid like lies that cling to the lies and the liar so tightly. They want to avoid being called dumb and hope agains hope maybe the liar is telling the truth after all. And if course the profit motive but that’s another rant.

  2. Then there’s the immense orange elephant in the room who has brought lying to new levels never seen on the world stage, I would hazard to say. And he just never stops. He is not as creative as Santos but much more dangerous. I loved it when the UN laughed at one of his lies. My concern is that this habitual, pathological lying normalizes it so that so many now fail to recognize truth

  3. Santos would have a serious problem if he showed up at the Capitol on Monday. TV showed them changing the locks on his now former office & they removed the plaque with his name from the wall.
    But then we have lots of liars here in Chicago. Brandon Johnson claims to be competent, which is an appalling lie & all 50 aldercreatures claim to be honest, which we all know is another total lie.

  4. Wow! I have to say that decades of reading your work (including your book), this one stands out as the very best. On top of that, the comment above actually made it better!

  5. "A shame that hypocrisy isn't poison..." LoL, that one hit the spot.

    Though if it was, we'd all be dead or dying, eh?

  6. Good article. Your last paragraph sounds like it came from the George Costanza playbook.

    1. “It’s not a lie if you believe it.”
      - George Costanza

  7. Let he who has never lied throw the first stone. Though no fan of Trump, Santos, Adams or anyone approaching their outrageous disregard for the truth, I think it's a mistake to categorize lying as an aberration when it's really the norm with truth telling the outlier. There is a faction of linguist anthropologists who claim that language evolved in our ancestors as the result of a need to adopt a more effective ability to lie beyond pointing in the wrong direction, grunting in feigned satisfaction or annoyed disagreement. All of us lie to a greater or lesser extent, most often to protect our fragile psyches from distress and frequently just for the hell of it, improving a somewhat tiresome story or hiding latent malice or disdain. We couldn't get through the most placid of days without the ability to dissemble: "I'm fine," "no problem," "won't take a minute," "sorry," etc. I'd be lying if I said I'm contributing this opinion to Neil's blog out of the goodness of my heart or an implacable desire to share my hard won wisdom with peers, when the truth is I'm showing off and pretty clumsily at that. I hope I haven't told more than a half dozen lies in doing so.


    1. Good one, but lying to protect one's self, and lying to hurt or gain power over and deliberately connive easily duped mopes are not the same.

  8. My parents taught me three things about lies: (1) "It's a sin to tell a lie." (2) "Some people would just as soon lie as look at you." (3) "If someone fools you once, shame on them. If someone fools you twice, shame on you." For the past seven years, I've watched people allow themselves to be fooled over and over again, and I've often wondered if their parents taught them anything about lies.

  9. 🚢🏽‍♀️Trans John/Karen 3/22December 2, 2023 at 12:08 PM

    I occasionally let people in on the fact that I’m a Harvard man. You see, since there was no Dan Ryan Expressway way back then, the hospital where I was born, St. Bernard, now popularly located at 63rd and THE Dan Ryan (screw you, THE Ohio State), was formally recognized by the USPS and Cook County Records guys as situated at 63rd and Harvard. Hah! My siblings and I are also orphans. So sad.

    Are these people being fooled? Well, yeah. On the other hand, as some members of my family told to me in 2016, about…you know who…, ‘He explains things in ways the ‘average’ person understands’. Is your neighbor named Rodriguez and talks funny? Got a mosque in your community? Are they taking away your guns (even if you don’t own any)? A colored guy living in the White House illegally? Queers teaching your schoolchildren their secret agenda but they made bibles illegal? I’m your guy! I’ll get rid of all of them for you! The fact that he was snickering at these ‘chumps’, as he referred to them, sometimes -especially in the case of military veterans or surviving family- openly, laughing at the fact that people voting Republican would believe anything, only made his devoted armies embrace him more. The people that seem to follow him from rally to rally, throwing cash at him, eager to believe anything he tells them? So many of them seem to be the same rural, semi-educated, suspicious, superstitious folk that have long been indoctrinated to despise ‘them educated city people who think they’re so much better and smarter than us.’ Fooled or fools? Or just nasty people who think they’ve found their savior?
    Apparently, enough Americans are ‘above average’ to outvote him twice. Unfortunately, the first time around he won on a technicality.
    George Santos? Instant buyers’ remorse. Literally. Lots of people didn’t bother checking out his amazing tales who should have been. Especially N.Y. Democrats who took it for granted that the seat was theirs by some ‘divine ‘right’. Guess She was busy that day. November, you know, fixing football games and all. Which doesn’t leave his own party off the hook, either. And the people who are supposed to be our default guardians of the truth, in this instance the New York news media?

  10. A guy who, in a better world, would not need to lie about having won a Pulitzer Prize has written: "Once you get in the habit of ignoring reality, the specifics of the reality being ignored hardly matter." That seems apropos, as usual, when it comes to the success of charlatans like Santos.

    Michelle Goldberg had a fine column in the NYT yesterday, "Farewell to George Santos, the Perfect MAGA Republican," suggesting that Santos' behavior was too closely modeled on the Biggest Loser's and that the obvious similarity may have played a part in the vote to throw him out.

    There are an impressive variety of grifters among Republican congresscritters, but she writes: "no one embodies Trump’s fame-obsessed sociopathic emptiness like Santos. He’s heir to Trump’s sybaritic nihilism, high-kitsch absurdity and impregnable brazenness.
    Perhaps the reason a critical mass of Republicans finally jettisoned Santos is that he was too embarrassing a reflection of the values of the party’s de facto leader.
    It’s not just his grift and vanity that made Santos such a perfect avatar of the MAGA ethos. Even more significant was the defiance he showed as his flagrant wrongdoing was revealed and the way that defiance endeared him to some of Trump’s most avid supporters."

  11. If anyone asks me, your books should be best sellers.

    Lies are often easier than honesty. But that easier, softer way isn't real.

  12. People lie for many reasons, attention, respect, approval, self-aggrandizement, Hell, I'm no shrink. I don't even play one online.

    The most brazen liar I have ever known was my wife's first husband. He was so good at it that even Vietnam veterans thought he had been a Green Beret. In reality, he never spent a day in uniform. Imagine my wife's humiliation when she had to tell them the truth.

    Apparently, what he did is all too common, Veterans have told me about it. And, about twenty years ago, they directed me to a book called "Stolen Valor." It reveals that numerous people claiming to have been traumatized or injured, in the Vietnam War, never served there.

    The book also contributed to Congressional passage of the Stolen Valor Act of 2005, which made it a crime for any imposter to falsely claim to have been awarded military medals. That's been the undoing of a number of politicians and political office-seekers, who claimed to be decorated combat veterans, both in Vietnam and elsewhere.

    Liar, liar, pants on fire. And now your ass is gonna burn, as well...


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