Dignified Lies

He’s so full of crap he attracts flies.

Stephen Colbert

There was considerable praise for the civility of the vice-presidential debate between Senator Kamela Harris and Vice-President Mike Pence. Their interaction was in striking contrast to the prior week’s presidential debate which, due largely to President Trump’s constant interruptions, insults, and “counterfactual statements” (lies) was characterized (on the air) by CNN’s senior political analyst Dana Bash as “a shitfire,” a shorthand version of the more common (and even more nasty) term, “a shitfire in a dumpster.” Despite basic disagreements, Harris and Pence rarely interrupted one another and almost never tried speak over one another, as did Trump in his “debate” with Biden.

Civility is consistent with the basic value of respect for others, despite different views. Observing a civil, dignified interaction between debate opponents feels like a return to normal standards of behavior. The debating parties appear to respect one another despite having different opinions.

But civility can also be a useful stratagem. A skilled debater can twist the truth and can even present outright lies, which seem less like falsehoods than merely differences of opinion. Pence used a soft-spoken dignified approach to make factually false assertions. Moreover, he had the audacity to criticize Harris for making up facts, actually citing the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan who said “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.” Pence did this while actually making up his own facts.

This is why Stephen Colbert’s sarcastic comment rings true as a valid description of Pence’s statements. Pence presented lies as facts while criticizing Harris for presenting facts which Pence falsely claimed were lies. It is no surprise then than this would attract a fly. The poor creature landed in Pence’s silver hair and took more than two minutes to determine that it would not be possible to get into the crap within the Vice-President’s skull.



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Marshall Sashkin

I taught organizational psychology at a number of universities across the US and was active in research and publishing, with a focus on leadership and change.