Hannah Arendt writes about the Pentagon Papers in her essay Lying in Politics,” which first appeared in The New York Review of Books, and later was published in Crises of The Republic. Arendt opened her account by stating that the
“basic issue raised by the papers is deception…. The famous credibility gap, which has been with us for six long years, has suddenly opened up into an abyss. The quicksand of lying statements of all sorts, deceptions as well as self-deceptions, is apt to engulf any reader who wishes to probe this material, which, unhappily, he must recognize as the infrastructure of nearly a decade of United States foreign and domestic policy.”
It is still too early to draw the lesson of the whistleblower who came forth this month to report that President Donald Trump has been running a covert and shadow foreign policy aimed at using United States foreign aid to further his personal and political aims. But it is likely that when the full account of the present is written, we will be shocked by the extent of the deceptions and self-deceptions that have indeed once again become the infrastructure of United States foreign and domestic policy.
Allison Stanger, who has written an excellent new book Whistleblowers: Honesty in American from Washington to Trump, argues that American whistle-blower laws predate the U.S. Constitution. But now the rest of the world is following suit, passing laws that give protections to those who report examples of public or private criminality. The European Union has passed a particularly strong whistleblower law. This is important because, as Stanger writes, “Crime that transcends borders cannot be fought by a single country. Malta’s Pilatus Bank, for example, which laundered money for Russians, Azerbaijanis, and Iranians, could not be shut down until the United States intervened. It follows that if Americans are also corrupt—a distinct concern, given the many accusations against Trump—corruption multiplies exponentially throughout the world. Anti-corruption initiatives are essential to the rule of law.”
For Stanger, the European Union law is particularly important also within the current American political scene. She writes:
Passed in April and formally adopted this month, the EU law arrives just in time. Whistle-blowers are the lifeblood of free societies. The global proliferation of whistle-blower-protection laws, an idea that began in America in the 1770s, is imperative when corruption networks sprawl across national borders. Trump’s business dealings—which remain opaque—have involved a German bank, Russian investors, and properties in a variety of countries. The 11 million documents that surfaced in the 2015 Panama Papers leak exposed a global industry of tax avoidance. The previous year, the so-called LuxLeaks scandal revealed the role the Luxembourg government had played in helping multinational corporations evade taxes.
The Arendt Center’s Virtual Reading Group will begin reading Hannah Arendt’s “Lying in Politics” and The Crisis of the Republic on November 8th. We invite you to join us.