Lying, Cheating and the Corrosion of Democracy*

Lying, Cheating and the Corrosion of Democracy

From the title, you might suppose that today’s TLR is about America’s elected officials. Although that would have been an excellent guess …, apologies, but today’s topic addresses a broader spectrum of liars and cheats problem. The focus is on four individuals: Britain’s new Prime Minister … Boris Johnson; a leading American businessman and entrepreneur … Elon Musk; a leading American sports hero … Bill Belichick; and a leading America legal scholar and appellate lawyer … Alan Dershowitz – all of whom provide an unsavory cross-section of questionable role models for the world’s youth. All are liars and cheaters who have spread the message – and the ethic – that lying and cheating are normal, desirable and incredibly useful tools for achieving success. Leaders and heroes who lie and cheat make lying and cheating more than merely acceptable – they make them an integral part of society. Although tyrants and autocrats like Vladimir Putin, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Kim Jong Un, Nicolas Maduro and Bashar Al-Assad are deft practitioners of the art of lying, cheating and stealing – and purvey their corruption throughout their corrupt societies –, the Rule of Law that lies at the heart of democratic society rejects those practices …, and Western heroes in every capitalist discipline historically have actively condemned them and avoided even the appearance of lying, cheating or stealing themselves. In the 21st Century, that’s been changing. Instead of vilifying liars, cheats and thieves, democratic societies today are more readily glorifying accepting the success they’ve attained … whatever the means, ignoring the morality and the corrosive effects of the methods used … thereby undercutting creating new and potentially durable anti-democratic societal norms. Corrupt societies encourage further corruption. Societies that accept lying, cheating and stealing encourage more lying, cheating and stealing … and ultimately encourage corruption, corruption which undermines societies. That appears to be the direction in which 21st Century democracy has been heading.

Boris Johnson is Great Britain’s new Prime Minister. Johnson was the leading proponent of Brexit ahead of the 2016 referendum on the UK’s membership in the European Union. He campaigned in what became known as the “Brexit bus” which had a huge slogan on the side claiming the UK spent ┬ú350m every week on EU membership which, post-Brexit, could be spent on cutting costs at the National Health Service … which was a lie. After being corrected by the UK Statistics Authority – Johnson’s statement had zero basis in reality –, Johnson nevertheless repeated the claim even after the 2016 referendum result. He’s made further implausible, yet popular, claims about the purported benefits of Brexit, avoiding the truth in favor of unsubstantiated, vote-getting assertions. As Prime Minister, he has promised to take Great Britain out of the European Union on October 31st come what may – a so-called “hard Brexit.”

Johnson’s career began as a journalist at the The Times of London, from which he was fired in 1988 for inventing an unseemly quote from his Oxford professor — a lie, and one usually fatal in the business of journalism. He then joined the Daily Telegraph, becoming the newspaper’s correspondent on the machinations of the European Union in its capital, Brussels, which he used as a platform to file outrageous – read “false” – Europhobic stories that fueled British anti-EU populism and were so well-received by readers that he was appointed the Telegraph’s chief political columnist. That period of Johnson’s career featured some of his most infamous remarks, including references to “flag-waving piccaninnies,” “tribal warriors [who] break out in watermelon smiles,” and “tank-topped bum boys,” earning additional readership for the Telegraph and increasing his notoriety. His next stop was as an editor at the Spectator where he supported columnists who wrote about “Orientals [with] larger brains and higher IQ scores [and] blacks at the other pole.” His record as a journalist prompted Lord Patten, a former Conservative Member of Parliament and Secretary of State for Education, to point at Johnson as “one of [Britain’s] greatest exponents of fake journalism.”

Caroline Lucas, former leader of the British Green Party, recently tweeted that by electing Johnson as Prime Minister, Britain has had “inflicted on us a prime minister with a record of bigotry, racism, lying, and incompetence” and called Johnson “a liar, a racist, and Donald Trump’s poodle” (the latter, in part no doubt, a reference to his unseemly mop of hair). And she’s not even his biggest critic. Guardian columnist Owen Jones has tweeted: “He is a serial liar, a charlatan, and a bigot.” And, to top off the critics, Lester Holloway, a journalist at The Guardian, recently wrote: “Mr. Johnson, whose laziness is proverbial and opportunism legendary, is a man well-practiced in deceit, a panderer willing to tickle the prejudices of his audience for easy gain. His personal life is incontinent, his public record inconsequential. And his premiership could bring about the end of Britain itself.” Even his supporters acknowledge the validity of many of these denigrations.

Johnson is now the leader of Great Britain and undoubtedly a role model for many of its youth.

Elon Musk has been the subject of prior TLRs (see “Elon Musk” in the February 27th TLR, and “The Return of Truthiness” in the May 15th TLR). There is no reason today to rehash his historical lying … although it’s worth noting that he hasn’t paused in his … overstatements despite run-ins with the SEC, the media … and with respect to contradictory facts that so very often have proven his statements to be exaggerations lies misleading. The most recent of his forecasts to have … not worked out quite as he had represented resulted in the price of Tesla stock dropping by 13.6{29ea29b64b10057f61377b2c087cd5b7537a0cd24da4295a308b0bf589469f35} this past Wednesday, quite a big loss for those investors who put their faith in his visionary predictions.

Earlier this year, Musk advised investors that he expected Tesla to be “profitable for all quarters going forward,” a boast he confirmed several times thereafter. This past week, Tesla reported a loss of $1.12/share, quite a substantial, and a surprising, quarterly loss. At the same time, yet another Tesla senior executive, the company’s chief technical officer, announced that he too is leaving the company … following the departure of more than 25 senior Tesla executives since January 1998. That’s a lot!

Musk nevertheless continues to be held in high regard by many Americans, including entrepreneurs and investors. He’s a role model for their future endeavors and investments.

Bill Belichick is the record-setting head coach for the National Football League’s New England Patriots. The Patriots’ teams he’s coached have won 6 Super Bowls and he’s been named the AP’s NFL Coach of the Year 3 times. That makes him a hero to many Americans, especially young American males. Unfortunately, he’s also been a record-setting football cheater. As NBC Sports stated in a 2015 article: “The perception around the NFL is that the New England Patriots are known to cheat….” Fox Sports added the following quote from Ex-Bears quarterback Jim McMahon: “I know he’s a liar, so cheating ain’t far behind….”

The first incident of proven cheating in Belichick’s career was in 2007 when the New York Jets caught a Patriots’ assistant taping Jets’ defensive signals from the sidelines, a blatant violation of NFL rules. The NFL fined Belichick $500,000, the largest fine ever imposed on a coach in league history … and this in 2007, one of the three years in which Belichick was named NFL Coach of Year. Belichick was contrite, at least in his undoubtedly required public statement: “I accept full responsibility for the actions that led to [the] ruling. I apologize … for the embarrassment, distraction and penalty my mistake caused…. Part of my job as head coach is to ensure that our football operations are conducted in compliance of the league rules and all accepted interpretations of them.”

But Belichick couldn’t really have been sorry for cheating …, because he cheated again.

The second incident of proven cheating by the Patriots is known as Deflategate, when the Patriots deliberately deflated footballs during the American Football League Championship Game of 2015. The controversy resulted in the suspension of Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady for four games, a team fine of $1 million, and the Patriots’ loss of two draft picks. Boston Globe sports columnist Dan Shaughnessy neatly summed things up: “The Patriots were [purposely deflating footballs]. They had a system of deflating footballs after the balls were inspected by officials. Any agenda-less person who reads the Wells Report would come away with no other conclusion.” Although Brady took the fall for the team, few doubt that Belichick was at the heart of the conspiracy and, most likely, masterminded it. And he walked away a happy man: The Patriots won the game!

Like most liars, Belichick hates the media … undoubtedly because the media’s job is to expose liars and cheats. The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution ensures freedom of the press, which has empowered the American media to act as a watchdog on liars, cheats and crooks …, and the media have been closely watching Belichick. The media has prided itself on reporting on both his lies and cheating and his record-breaking achievements. Belichick appreciates the reporting of his achievements and detests that the media also has focused on the cheating, and consequently has made apparent his distaste for the media’s inquisitiveness … as have all the liars and cheats and crooks throughout history. For example, in September 2018, two days after the Patriots had announced a trade for former Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon and had added him to both their roster and their website, Belichick not only refused to discuss Gordon with the media, but denied that the Patriots had acquired him, bobbing and weaving in response to media questions. An honest “I’m not prepared to discuss the acquisition at this time,” would have served everyone better.

The message that Belichick sends young Americans is that he’ll do whatever it takes to win, including lying and cheating. Young American’s have gotten the message … and undoubtedly are acting on it.

Alan Dershowitz is a famous American academic and appellate lawyer best known for representing many of America’s noted accused murderers, including O.J. Simpson. Dershowitz attained a high public profile after he was played by Ron Silver in the 1990 hit movie “Reversal of Fortune,” a recounting of the appeal of Claus von Bulow for his conviction of attempted murder. Dershowitz’s defense was brilliant and ethical and deserving of the praise it received. However, more recently Dershowitz has shown that he’ll stop at nothing – truly nothing – in defending … himself, crossing ethical lines that lawyers, whether or not renowned, have diligently avoided crossing. Dershowitz himself has been accused of participating in the underage sexual wrongdoings of his client, Jeffrey Epstein. As part of his extra-legal response, Dershowitz has been going on television and contacting reporters to label one of Epstein’s accusers, as well as her lawyer, David Boies, as liars. The pot calling the kettle …? Dershowitz has accused Boies of admitting (in a taperecording Dershowitz alleges he secretly made of a conversation) that his client is lying. Boies’ response: “What Alan does is he plays a second or two out of context; he never lets anybody listen to the whole thing.” David Boies is one of America’s leading litigators whose ethics haven’t before been questioned. The same cannot be said of Dershowitz.

Dershowitz had a multi-decade career in which he established himself as perhaps the most prominent and consistent defender of civil liberties in America. Although all lawyers are hired guns engaged to defend people who sometimes are guilty, Dershowitz thereafter became a specialist at doing so …, and at being paid more handsomely than most for the pleasure. After all, Dershowitz isn’t a trial lawyer or a savvy corporate lawyer. He’s a specialist in constitutional law and in writing appeals, neither of which previously was in high demand. Some view his change-in-career direction as a simple sell-out, and further view his tactics as unsavory.

And, yet, along with Elon Musk and Bill Belichick, Alan Dershowitz is a hero to many Americans and a role model for young lawyers … just as Musk is for young entrepreneurs, Belichick is for aspiring athletes and sports fans, and Boris Johnson is for voters.

Finally (from a good friend)

*┬® Copyright 2019 by William Natbony. All rights reserved.

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