The fallout from the reality-obliterating experience of President Donald Trump will haunt us long after his departure from office. His ignorance, his amorality, his perversely mean-spirited assaults, his race-baiting, his lack of compassion, his greed, his illiterateness and his unbridled impulsivity will hopefully over time become simply bad memories, much like recalling a bad stomach virus yet feeling relief that is has passed. But there is one cancerous consequence of the Trump experience that may not be extinguished by the passage of time. The release of the redacted Mueller report makes a patently obvious fact yet even more glaring. The normative ethic of “truth” is under intense attack and giving way fast. Our intrinsic value around the construct of truth may be irrevocably shattered.
Politicians and elected officials have invariably dodged or obscured the truth as they have prevaricated on their way to achieving their goals. But when one was caught red handed in a bald-faced lie there was a consequence, a price to pay. Clinton was impeached for lying under oath. Wars have started over lies, and our government has deposed and installed foreign leaders and suppressed inconvenient truths in the process. The gray area between what was or was not true was often blurred by the perpetrators and their spin. The dance with truth is as old as human existence. Yet now the truth appears perhaps irrelevant. TRepublican members of Congress, save Mitt Romney, suggest Trump’s lies are no big deal and it’s time to move on. If there is no consequence to getting caught in a lie, then honesty is no longer required, no longer valued. Truth, now appears to be anachronistic and may cease to remain a standard of behavior.This radical shift of values begs words to aptly describe it. The immeasurable effect of our acclimation to Trump’s lies leads our nation into unchartered territory. What would our world look like if truth and lie blurred, became indistinguishable and, therefore, irrelevant? What happens to a culture when honesty is no longer a value let alone a virtue? That society withers. Honesty, at least the standard of it,is the social capital that binds us as a society. The basis of communication, governance, commerce, relationship, love and friendship all require a premise of honesty as the currency of social capital. The semblance of truth is the necessary foundation of society. When the premise of honesty evaporates, what is left other than avaricious self-interest? This is the reality at our doorstep. Mendacity is not quarantined to the White House.
The floodgates open
Thus far there have been no discernible consequences to Trump’s lies. He lies in any moment he chooses, only to deny what he has just said, notwithstanding that it has been recorded. It matters neither to him nor to tens of millions of Americans. Trump’s flagrant mendacity opens the floodgate for others to also see the truth as naïvely unnecessary . Mueller’s report now proves what most of us intuitively knew; Sarah Huckabee Sanders creates her own facts from the podium of the White House Press Conference. NowWilliam Barr, our new attorney general, lies about conclusions of the special counsel’s report. Although some politely suggests he misled, he indeed blatantly lied. Barr indeed said, “President took no act that in fact deprived the Special Counsel of the documents and witnesses necessary to complete his investigation,” implying Trump’s full cooperation.[i] Yet, the report states that the president ordered his attorney to fire the Special Counsel, and then to lie about it. In fact, Barr’s lies are too numerous to recite here, but they are the proverbial canary in the coalmine. Has Barr been so emboldened by the brazenness of his boss’s lies that he feels he too was insulated from consequence? Yes, the floodgates do appear wide open.
As our elected officials – –many of who have demonstrated a resounding lack of principles to begin with– – see the President and his brethren escape penalty, they too are likely to rush headstrong into this bbottomless quagmire. This avalanche has already been unleashed. So, what can we do about it? How do we reestablish the necessity of honesty in our political arena and uphold the moral tenor of verity as a society?
I swear to tell the truth
We can start here:Simply swearing to serve and protect the Constitution, as we have seen, is far too vague and leaves the door wide open to lying. Every elected official as they are sworn into office must raise their hand as if they were in a courtroom under oath and swear to tell the truth. If one perjures his or herself in a judicial chamber, they risk significant penalty. Yet our politicians, judges, and presidents can lie at will as long as they are not providing testimony under oath. This must stop.
The way to hold our politicians accountable and to repair the core value of honesty in our society is to require them to not knowingly lie. For the entirety of their term of office they must be effectively under oath. Anything less leaves us the fools. What kind of insanity is it to spend countless billions of dollars to elect individuals to represent us who at the same time are free to lie to us? We anoint them stewardship of our country, our lives, and our planet. We must demand their veracity.