Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

When Is Lying, Cheating, and Stealing Acceptable?

Voter fraud disenfranchises and disillusions the electorate.

Publicity photo by CBS television, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
Lost in Space Jonathan Harris & Robot 1967
Source: Publicity photo by CBS television, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

When I was a kid, I loved the original television show Lost in Space. There was one character that was downright evil. His name was Dr. Smith. To the spaceship crew, he was nothing more than a lazy, whining scaredy-cat. The viewing audience, however, got to see his true character which was that of a conniving villain. Dr. Smith would frequently take advantage of the youngest (and hence most gullible) member of the crew, 10-year-old Will Robinson.

I wanted to yell at the TV screen the famous words of his robot friend, “Warning Will Robinson,” because Dr. Smith always got him in trouble. It was clear to me, even as a 6-year-old, that he was bad because he was always lying, cheating, and stealing.

Desire Trumps Morality

Sometimes people want something so bad, that they are motivated to bend the rules, or worse. When I was in college, I knew someone who was accepted to West Point. I thought that was pretty cool. Then during his first semester, he was caught cheating on an exam, sent home, and not allowed to return. I felt bad for him at the time, but as someone attending a state university, I didn’t fully understand the importance of the school’s honor code.

Author Unknown, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
West Point honor code monument
Source: Author Unknown, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

The U.S. Military Academy at West Point has an honor code that states: "A cadet will not lie, cheat, or steal, or tolerate those who do." A cadet who breaks the code will be expelled from the school. The code is taken very seriously, so much so, that if cadet is aware of another cadet breaking it and doesn’t tell anyone in authority, then that cadet, even though he or she has not lied, cheated, or stolen, will also be expelled.

The honor code is important because West Point is grooming the next generation of leaders for the military and beyond. People want honest, trustworthy leaders, and the honor code is designed to help cadets develop honesty as a lifelong trait. It shows them that there are no exceptions to honesty and that lying, cheating, and stealing are never acceptable.

Is It Getting Worse?

That concept, however, for America as a whole, seems to be eroding. President Herbert Hoover observed that back in the 1930s when he said: “When there is a lack of honor in government, the morals of the whole people are poisoned.” What worse role model could there be than a lying, cheating, and stealing government? A citizen’s reasoning can quickly become: “If the government can, then why can’t I?”

Pete Rose wants to be in the Baseball Hall of Fame. He currently owns the record for the most career hits in baseball history. He broke Ty Cobb’s 60-year-old record in 1985 and has held it for 35 years — so far. This alone would ordinarily get him into the Hall of Fame, but it never will. Pete Rose was permanently kicked out of baseball for gambling. He made bets on the team he played for and managed. Professional baseball has an unforgiving rule when it comes to gambling. It dates back to 1919.

The Cheaters Came to Be Known as the Chicago Black Sox

Eight members of the Chicago White Sox baseball team accepted bribes to intentionally lose the 1919 World Series. The White Sox were clear favorites to beat the Cincinnati Reds. Most gamblers were betting for the Sox and against the Reds. Those who bribed the players were betting the opposite.

Unknown author, Public Domain, Wikipedia Commons
Chicago Black Sox, 1921, seated L to R: Chick Gandil,, Lefty Williams, Swede Risberg, Eddie Cicotte, Buck Weaver, Joe Jackson
Source: Unknown author, Public Domain, Wikipedia Commons

The whole sordid affair was made into an excellent movie titled: Eight Men Out. Those eight players were banished from baseball for life. Cheating was absolutely unacceptable. It was a scandal that could have destroyed professional baseball forever. If a game can be fixed, if cheating is okay, then what’s the point in watching the game, following a team, and becoming a fan? In response, Major League Baseball created its no-tolerance rule against gambling to prevent cheating — and it saved the game.

Baseball Doesn't Affect Your Life Like Government Does

In 1948, Lyndon Baines Johnson ran for Senator in Texas. He was losing the election to Governor Coke Stevenson. Then remarkably, six days after the polls had closed, 202 additional ballots were suddenly discovered and suspiciously all of them were in Johnson's favor (search Ballot Box 13 Scandal). Johnson then won the election by 87 votes out of one million cast. There was plenty of evidence that pointed to cheating and voter fraud. Stevenson contested the election in federal court, but Johnson’s attorney, Abe Fortas, successfully argued that federal courts had no jurisdiction in a state election, and Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black agreed, ending the investigation. Fortas was later rewarded by President Johnson with a seat on the Supreme Court.

Photo by Yoichi Okamoto, LBJ Presidential Library, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
LBJ with Abe Fortas
Source: Photo by Yoichi Okamoto, LBJ Presidential Library, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

If LBJ had not won that election, he would not have become Vice President of the United States, and then President after John Kennedy’s assassination. Dishonesty seemed to be a regular characteristic of Johnson. As President, he lied about the North Vietnamese attacking a US ship in the Gulf of Tonkin in August 1964, which he used to get the United States involved in the Vietnamese civil war (search Gulf of Tonkin Incident).

Being at war helped him get reelected later that year in November. That lie led to nearly 60,000 Americans killed-in-action, over 150,000 wounded, and 1,600 missing. President Lyndon Johnson’s poll numbers dropped so low that he did not seek reelection in 1968 and has gone down in history as one of America’s least favorite Presidents.

Cheating the Electorate Is Tantamount to Treason

Worse than cheating in school or baseball, voter fraud can demoralize an entire nation. When the electorate believes their votes don’t count, and that elections are fixed, then the government can no longer be represented as the will of the people. Americans used to laugh when the Soviet Union claimed their leaders were voted into office by free elections of the people; we all knew that was impossible in a communist dictatorship. Let’s hope that when voter fraud happens in the United States, it will be thoroughly investigated until all the facts are known, that the instigators are properly punished, and the will of the people restored.

Robert Evans Wilson, Jr. is an innovation/change speaker, author, and consultant.

More from Psychology Today

More from Robert Evans Wilson Jr.

More from Psychology Today