Lie to me!

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I’m been watching Ken Burn’s monumental documentary on the Vietnam War. It is a deeply sobering experience.

Both those who served in the war and those who protested the war were united in a curious way. Both never considered the possibility that the government would lie to them and both felt profoundly betrayed when they found out that many in the government had been lying all along.

[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Instead of feeling betrayed by lies, the American public demands them.[/pullquote]

The Vietnam War began a period of profound cynicism toward government, further bolstered by Richard Nixon’s behavior in orchestrating the Watergate break-in and systematically lying about it for years. Even those whose eyes had been opened by government sponsored lying during the war were nonetheless shocked that a president would break the law and attempt to get away with it.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Fifty years later, the government it still lying to us, with one important difference. Instead of feeling betrayed by lies, the American public demands lies.

Lie to me, they beg the President and the Republican Party.

Lie to me! Tell us that by demanding equality — which, afterall, merely means being treated equally — black Americans are insisting on special privileges.

Lie to me! Tell us that immigrants, a criticial engine of both innovation and population growth, are stealing our jobs even though they have nothing to do with the decline of manufacturing in the US.

Lie to me! Tell us that rogue nations like North Korea will be intimidated by a flaccid, floundering buffoon of a president who thinks Twitter insults are a form of warfare.

Lie to me! Tell us destroying Obamacare, the best and most inclusive health insurance program that this country has ever known, will not deprive people of health insurance.

No one should think that the American taste for lies is restricted to government. Indeed the desperate desire for lies and the credulousness with which they are greeted was pioneered within the realm of healthcare.

Many people are begging for lies:

Lie to me! Tell us that autism is a government conspiracy, not a genetic defect.

Lie to me! Tell us that vaccines, one of the greatest public health achievements of all time, don’t work and actually cause harm.

Lie to me! Tell us that our foods are riddled with toxins and we can prevent cancer by eating right and wasting money on detoxes and crystals.

Lie to me! Tell us that childbirth is inherently safe and interventions are bad even though childbirth is inherently dangerous and interventions save lives.

Lie to me! Tell us that the secret to mothering resides in breastfeeding and that breasts never fail.

Lie to me! Tell us that disease is caused by improper alignment of the spine, and chiropractors can manipulate us back to health.

Lie to me! Tell us that medicines become more powerful by being diluted and homeopaths perform a valuable service by marketing water to the gullible.

What has happened to us? Why can’t we handle the truth in politics or in health?

Why? Because we are lazy and weak.

We prefer the comforting lie over the painful truth. In politics we prefer to pretend that we are victimized rather than acknowledge that we are more often victimizers. In healthcare, many delight in imagining that they are educated and bold, when the reality is that they are merely ignorant, defiant and very, very afraid.

Nearly 60,000 Americans died in Vietnam because we believed government lies, but in our defense, we didn’t realize that the government was lying. Now we know better, yet now we insist on lies. Many among us are happy to believe government lies and healthcare lies. Tragically, the death toll this time is bound to be much higher.