In his article “A Government of Lies” (1992) in The Nation, Steve Tesich argues American society has made the conscious decision to live in a post-truth world at the expense of democracy. Tesich explains how humans’ desire to protect their self-esteem has allowed government figureheads to shield the public from the truth dating back to Nixon’s Administration. The author criticized society in the hopes of squashing any further travel into a post-truth nation where the truth ceases to matter and our founding fathers’ democracy looks more like a totalitarian regime.
Tesich’s argument is supported by anecdotal evidence. The author did not need statistics showing public opinion to support his argument. The article’s evidence and logic lies in the author’s dissection of the government’s action and public’s lack of action. Tesich argued the George H. W. Bush Administration’s “felt safe” in deceiving the public about the Persian Gulf War since “it knows that the truth would have little impact on us” because “we, as free people, have freely decided that we want to live in some post-truth world” (Tesich, 1992, p. 13). If the public would rather have government hold its hand, then one must expect secret actions will take place without public knowledge or consent. Tesich explained how the American public “looked to our government to protect us from the truth” instead of questioning if actions are in the best interest of the nation (Tesich, 1992, p. 12). The government is only held accountable if its people hold it accountable. As discussed in the article, the swift pardoning of Richard Nixon for the Watergate scandal (hiding audio tapes of phone conversations) started the avalanche that eventually allowed the government to censor the press while the public embraced a War they did not have all the facts about (Tesich, 1992, p. 12-13). Sadly, the proverbial saying of giving someone an inch motivates them to take a mile appears true. It is important to note that the author is not saying government has suddenly become evil. In fact, Tesich claimed it is “we who have changed…we have transformed what we have perceived” (Tesich, 1992, p. 14). He was referring to the public’s shifting view towards President Bush, however the idea of a shift in perception ruminates throughout the article. We have allowed our government to lie in exchange for a little piece of mind.
The author also argued that that more we, as society, stray from the truth, the closer we move towards a totalitarian government. Tesich claimed that we are “becoming prototypes of a people that totalitarian monsters could only drool about in their dreams” (Tesich, 1992, p. 13). When the will of the people is absent in government, democracy cannot flourish. He supports this notion of eroding democracy by reflecting on our changing views of moral absolutes. In the Constitution, the words “these truths to be self-evident” (including the idea that no person is another’s property) are written and are interpreted as “moral absolutes” with which we as citizens are expected to value and uphold (Tesich, 1992, p. 14). However, acceptance of President Bush’s idea that there are few moral absolutes in this world puts this concept in jeopardy (Tesich, 1992, p. 14). Ideas that are supposed to be common sense like freedom of oppression have been challenged and won. By continuing to let the government lie to us, we have given them ownership over us. They control the information- so they control us- making the public property of the government. This goes against the founders’ language in the Constitution. The author expressed that “democratic institutions are eroding” (Tesich, 1992, p. 14). We are trading freedom of choice for government control. However, I cannot help but wonder if this is human nature. Tesich questioned the founders’ motives for the “self-evident” inclusion in the Constitution for “had they been certain that they were self-evident to one and all, there would have been no need to spell them out” (Tesich, 1992, p. 14). He pondered whether or not the founders feared a time where “those truths could no longer be self-evident at all” (Tesich, 1992, p. 14). Maybe as we have evolved, what was true for one generation is not true for another. If we value democracy and desire freedom, then this shift in ideology is frightening. One could infere that we have lost our humanity by allowing this shift to occur. However, if it is an evolutionary change in human behavior due to changes in society, maybe an oppressive government is needed to bring about a new and improved humanity.
One of Tesich’s arguments really ate away at me. Tesich stated “we have reached the faulty national consensus that there is a crisis in our education system” when in reality “we don’t want them to be well educated” for education leads to confrontation which the government wants to avoid (Tesich, 1992, p. 13). He explained that our education system has not failed, in fact, we have taught exceptionally well to the point where many American’s “seek self-fulfillment in some narrow sphere of self-interest” (Tesich, 1992, p. 13). This saddened me because I see truth in it. It is easy to become self-involved through the education system of the United States. What makes a teacher great is someone who allows their students to grow individually but we do not have nearly the number of great teachers we should. We are taught to think certain ways to achieve certain grades and it is only through higher education that most learn to embrace knowledge to the fullest. Those that cannot afford higher education, however, are the ones at risk for single-mindedness.
I believe today we have started to question more. Maybe not as a whole, but groups of people have increasingly peeked inside to start to find the real answers and hold those who represent us in power accountable. More people just have to see that and help in the quest for the truth. We need to keep our government, our democracy, honest.
Tesich, S. (1992, January). A Government of Lies. The Nation. Retrieved from https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BynDrdYrCLNtdmt0SFZFeGMtZUFsT1NmTGVTQmc1dEpmUC1z/view