Politicians have always enjoyed taking part in groundbreaking ceremonies, and why not? They get to look like regular, productive folks with shovel in hand, and when their legislative machinations got the funding for a given project to go ahead, they deserve some credit. So they line up with their sparkling shovels that look like they’ve never seen a day’s work and muck about in the dirt for the cameras, usually just picking up a clump of earth and tossing it right back where it came from.

That’s easy when you’re breaking ground on some project going on top of raw soil. It’s a little tougher when you’re inaugurating something like a school expansion that’s going onto an asphalt parking lot or paved play area. You can’t stick a shovel in that, and no pol is breaking ground with a jackhammer — though that’s a photo we’d like to print. So, governments have taken to doing things like dumping a bunch of dirt onto a tarp so the pols can stick shovels into it and look like average Joes and Janes. It doesn’t really work.

Now they’ve taken it to a new embarrassing level. Now, when the work is indoors (and even sometimes when it’s not), they’re being given troughs full of dirt to pose with. It’s like the pols are literally playing in a sandbox — how symbolic — though the soil doubtlessly contains a lot of clay, too. You saw it in the photo that went with our Dec. 15 report on a power cable project as the officials staged a groundbreaking on an actual stage indoors, and our March 2 story about reconstructing Kennedy Airport, when they stood on a platform so they could shovel soil and not get their shoes dirty. Later in March, at PS 26 in Fresh Meadows, they shoveled dirt out of a makeshift plywood box onto a concrete playground. Don’t worry; they had their hard hats on.

The projects are all something to be proud of. The photos, not so much.

In a genuine groundbreaking, a politician can actually do some work, however small, to earn that photo op. Someone’s got to dig the hole, probably a bunch of someones, and if state Senator So-and-So wants to invest a tiny bit of sweat equity along with the taxpayers’ money, great. Completely fake groundbreakings, on the other hand — which actually create more work because someone has to lay the tarp or build the sandbox, bring in the soil and take it back out — are pure propaganda. They debase everyone involved — the officials, the institutions they’ve directed funding to and, yes, the media outlets that run the photos without qualifiers.

Why does it matter? Because it feeds a toxic culture of dishonesty, a paradigm of falsity. If officials say they participated in a “groundbreaking” that really was anything but, one might wonder what else they are misleading us about. They said they could close Rikers Island and move detainees to new, local jails; they’ll only have room for 3,300 of the more than 5,000 who are locked up. They said letting defendants free without bail wouldn’t pose a problem; a segment of recidivists is wreaking havoc on society. They said legalizing marijuana would be fair and just; it’s been a disaster.

Should we think that those who told these mistruths believed what they said, and just happened to be wrong? Or should we doubt their sincerity? The fake groundbreakings help push citizens to believe the latter. Our elected representatives should be above this nonsense. They’re not — but maybe that could change. It wasn’t too long ago that city officials were putting their names on public garbage cans they got funding for, until they were shamed into stopping. Maybe they can be shamed out of playing in the sandbox for photos that anyone can see are staged, vapid and meaningless. Our leaders have enough real work to do, and so do the people setting up piles of dirt for them to play with.