We all know politicians and leaders might not always tell us the truth, but many of us don't actually know how to recognize political lies. As a result, we tend to fall back to our old biases -- telling ourselves their side must be lying and our side must be telling the truth, or simply arguing opinions instead of facts. Civic Promise was established to help address this problem:
- by showing you the most common tactics used by unethical politicians to deceive and manipulate us;
- and giving everyone an easy way to socially promise you will not support or condone this unethical conduct as either a voter or politician;
- which we hope helps you support better politicians, political appointees and candidates who will represent you with the highest ethical standards -- particularly in how they communicate and address problems.
How does the Promise part of this work? Simple: Just retweet the Civic Promise (or share via other channels) as your personal promise that you will not support or condone (or vote for) unethical political conduct.
Note: You can share via other channels too.
This is my Civic Promise: I will not condone or support any political behavior lacking civility, honesty, and integrity, or any communications that are not completely truthful, accurate, and factual. https://t.co/iD0c9QMF19#CivicPromise— Civic Promise (@CivicPromise) October 24, 2019
People who believe in civility, honesty, and integrity avoid the following:
Below you'll find six of the most common political tactics used to deceive or manipulate an audience, and numerous examples have been included under each section as well.
Above all else, please just remember: People with integrity do not resort to the types of false arguments or political games noted below -- they understand these tactics are wrong, and they believe serving the public demands better of them. This is the basis for the Civic Promise.
Ignoring the argument
Ignoring or distracting from the argument, instead of expressing a valid opinion or the plain truth.[ Detailed Examples ]
- Not even acknowledging the issue or related concerns.
- Remaining silent on the issue (before, during or after your vote, or by avoiding any press or interviews).
- Promising to produce some plan or solution later, to avoid any real action now.
- "What-aboutism": trying to undermine any valid position by deflecting discussion of any important topic onto something else instead.
- Distractions, "non-denial denials," or trying to rationalize, normalize or otherwise justify unethical or illegal behavior like "everyone does it".
Attacking the speaker, proponents, or beneficiaries
False or malicious attacks and threats, rather than presenting valid arguments on the issue.[ Detailed Examples ]
- Outright lies directed at or about proponents or beneficiaries of some policy or political action.
- Using false or misleading statements, or "alternate facts" to confuse or muddy the discussion.
- Threatening some other programs or resources or government services opponents or their supporters need, if they won't compromise.
- Using overall or broad generalizations and mischaracterizations, to avoid any real discussion.
- Directly and personally threatening political opponents, or inflaming the public and your supporters towards potential violence against them based on false characterizations.
- Using some personal characteristic (race, gender, party affiliation, religion, etc) to undermine any discussion of the issue.
- Related to the above point: Use of well-known discriminatory, racially-charged, or gender-biased stereotypes, nationalistic "dog-whistles", or similar language to appeal to an audience's bias or bigotry.
- Intentionally eliciting an emotional response in your supporters to distract them from valid arguments against your position.
- Blaming the victims.
Outright and demonstrably provable lies
Using lies and deceptive tactics to undermine a proposed or existing solution or attack its supporters.[ Detailed Examples ]
- Complete and utter fabrications with no basis in reality or fact.
- Claiming some "false equivalence" (suggesting two things are the same or equivalent, when they are not) or "false dichotomy" (suggesting there are only two options, such as "either you're with us or against us", or your only options are "all or nothing").
- Using anecdotal stories or opinions or fake madeup talking points as "evidence" that you're right or they're wrong -- instead of actual, substantiated facts and data, science or statistical analysis, and experts.
- Anecdotal stories and heresay comments like "people are saying [...]", when people are in fact not saying [...]
- Exaggerating or emphasizing a narrow or only somewhat related minor factual part, to falsely discredit the whole.
- Exaggerations, generalizations, or other false or misleading claims in general.
- Using some "wedge" issue(s) within an overall proposal to derail the entire discussion or proposal.
- Oversimplifying complex and multi-faceted issues.
- Avoiding or ignoring discussion of specific aspects of a proposal that you actually have no valid argument against.
- Creating faction and sowing division: Often involving false dichotomies or intentionally divisive catch-phrases in an attempt to split otherwise potentially agreeable people into separate groups -- even though many people's interests and needs actually more often overlap.
Lies of omission
Trying to hide key details or avoid discussion of specific potential problems related to your own position.[ Detailed Examples ]
- Failing to provide a clear and accurate summary of the proposition, its short and long term goals, and precisely how we would cover the direct and indirect costs.
- Avoiding any discussion of what usually are very obvious longer-term and larger objectives of your current, seemingly unrelated, efforts.
- Proposing what appears to be a solution to a problem but failing to disclose, discuss, or even acknowledge some loophole or weakness that would render the entire policy ineffectual.
- Failing to disclose any conflicts of interest, secret deals, NDAs with secrecy clauses, and/or direct or indirect connections with organizations and advisors that benefit from your position, vote, or regulation.
Abusing the process
Using legislative, legal, or procedural processes as a political weapon.[ Detailed Examples ]
- Happening too often now in state legislatures: Calling votes, or postponing them, depending on who is present at the moment (whether there are more or fewer of your opponents present to vote); using technicalities of quorum rules (or actually violating them) to prevent legitimate and democratic representation, debate, or voting on legislation.
- Using legislation to prevent the public from fixing something themselves. For example, passing a law that seems to address an issue, but which actually was intended to prevent a related and pending public ballot initiative from being on the next ballot, and then revoking your law right after the election. Yes, this actually happened recently.
- Poisoning proposed legislation with unrelated items or unacceptable conditions. Also then using these "poison pills" as a means to then claim its original proponents (supporters) now are refusing to compromise or work with the other side because they won't vote for the legislation (which was poisoned by its opponents).
- Preventing relevant facts and truth from being presented or investigated.
- Trying to obstruct, prevent or otherwise interfere with legitimate Constitutional oversight and investigations.
- Legal maneuvers or abuse of established processes and norms, to prevent disclosure of facts and evidence.
- Repeatedly, and falsely characterizing legitimate oversight as "fake", "illegal", or in similar terms.
- Giving false testimony or public statements that spread known lies, previously debunked claims, or other misleading statements.
- Threats, both direct and implied, against anyone able to contribute relevant facts and answers.
- Threatening or intimidating citizens and the public who have simply voiced or expressed their legitimate opinions and valid concerns.
- Threatening to prosecute some case against opponents, when there is no intention or legal basis or substantive evidence to actually proceed with any legal action.
- Abusing the investigative and hearing processes simply to create sound-bytes and excerpts and various out-of-context "gotchas" to influence the "court of public opinion" to your (false) argument, rather than for legitimate findings.
- Abusing FOIA, subpoenas, or similar information requests to overwhelm an agency with limited administrative staff or purely to find any statements within the acquired materials that can be used out-of-context or misrepresented in ways that amount to a false attack on, or an undermining of, the overall issue or work done by an agency or group that is opposing you.
- Abusing Executive powers or its oversight of the public bureaucracy, law enforcement, intelligence or defense departments, and/or abusing the Legislative branch's power-of-the-purse to undermine, under- or de-fund any public policy, laws, regulations, or the normal duties of any agency or department in ways that limit the government's ability to support the law.
Using various types of distractions, fake controversies, and other tactics to draw attention from you, or to others.[ Detailed Examples ]
- Provoking totally unecessary fights or controversies with opponents or allies, both foreign and domestic, nearly constantly, just to get attention or draw it away from you.
- Filling the news cycles, press and other media channels, with non-stop (often fake made-up) issues or announcements or other communications, to interfere with or distract from meaningful day-to-day governance or any complete assessment of something currently more important.
- Constantly provoking the "court of public opinion" by falsely claiming crimes or violations for which no evidence or reasonable suspicion even exists.
- Supporting and promoting various debunked and false, fake, made-up conspiracy theories or anti-government screeds, in order to undermine good public servants, in what is still The People's government, and their legitimate efforts to promote the general welfare and serve the public interests.
- Agreeing to this Civic Promise only because it's not actually a legally binding contract (yet) and you know there's no legal consequence for violating any of these standards, and then continuing to lie to and manipulate the public. Version 2.0 will address this loophole but, in the meantime, we'll be sure and call you out.
About Civic Promise
The most basic but important measure of a person's character, their moral and ethical compass, is whether or not they lie to you. No matter where you are on the political spectrum, which party you prefer, or whether you're more or less liberal or conservative on particular policy proposals, you deserve public servants who are willing to commit to telling you the truth. The mission of Civic Promise is to help you more easily distinguish politicians who are ethical and honest from those who are not.
Civic Promise provides numerous examples of things good politicians don't do, to help you keep an eye on your political and other leaders -- to more easily recognize whether they're lying to protect their own interests, or honestly and ethically trying to represent yours. We believe the more you know about the various ways bad politicians lie to you, the better equipped you'll be to choose good ones with your future votes.
Civic Promise also includes a simple social agreement through which any citizen or good person in politics can pledge to support only the highest standards we expect from our public servants -- starting with truthful, accurate and factual communications, and conduct based in civility, honesty, and integrity.
Questions? Feel free to reach out via Twitter or email. We'll try to reply as soon as possible. Thanks for your support, and in helping us spread the word. Don't forget to retweet the Civic Promise, and keep in touch via social media.
Note: Civic Promise is a non-partisan, independent project created and managed by Thomas Krafft, currently preparing our application for 501(c)(3) non-profit status, at which point we will onboard senior staff and Board members from across the political spectrum.