“What is truth?” Pontius Pilate once famously asked.
Truth once mattered in America. Our most beloved president, George Washington, was revered as a man who supposedly said, “I cannot tell a lie” when confronted with the childish misdeed of chopping down a cherry tree. Abraham Lincoln, who usually ranks just beneath Washington in the pantheon of great presidents, is remembered as “Honest Abe.” In the past few decades, however, both parties have strayed from the traditional ideal to one that lionizes political figures who have what can only be called a casual acquaintance with the truth.
It is hard to say exactly when our expectations for presidential behavior went off track. Richard Nixon, one of the most infamous
failed presidents, is remembered for his proclamation that “I am not a crook.” Nixon’s protest turned out not to be true, but the president’s behavior was not quickly excused or forgiven. Nixon resigned to avoid impeachment in 1974.
President Reagan may have lied about his knowledge of the Iran-Contra affair or he may have purposely kept himself in the dark to maintain plausible deniability. Either way, the Gipper’s image suffered from his end-run around Congress. Bill Clinton certainly lied about his own scandals. He was impeached for perjury, lying under oath, about his affair with Monica Lewinsky, yet Democrats rallied around Clinton and, until recently, he remained a respected elder statesman of the party.
Barack Obama is fondly remembered by Democrats as well, but is closely associated with two lies. In the most well-known example, Obama received “Lie of the Year” honors for his claim that Americans could keep their doctor under Obamacare. The second, the claim that the terror attack on the Benghazi consulate was precipitated by an anti-Muslim video, was not actually spoken by the president, but the idea was widely pushed by members of his administration, apparently with his blessing.
Since Donald Trump burst onto the scene, the situation has only gotten worse. President Trump has kept fact-checkers busy and examples of his falsehoods and exaggerations are too numerous to list here. Suffice it to say that the man who established his political bona fides by questioning Barack Obama’s birth certificate may be on track for a lifetime achievement award in addition to the “Lie of the Year” he received for his denials of Russian attacks on the 2016 election.
The penchant for lying is trickling down to infect members other elected officials. In the past week, there have been two big lies in the news that didn’t even involve the president. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) had egg on his face after claiming that the FBI did not reveal the political bias of its sources in FISA warrant applications against Carter Page, only to admit later that the information was included in a footnote. Later in the week, Ron Jonson (R-Wis.) twisted text messages between Peter Strzok and Lisa Page to claim that President Obama interfered in the investigation to Hillary’s emails. In reality, the text messages referred to Obama’s desire to be informed on the Russia investigation prior to a meeting with Vladimir Putin.
And don’t get me started on liberal lies that attempt to engineer their version of what society should be. While deriding the right as anti-science, the left makes unsupported and outlandish claims that an unborn baby is not a human or that gender is fluid and infinite. The leftist redefinition of common terms is a positively Orwellian lie.
The fact that these claims have been shown to be false won’t change the fact that many of the faithful will still believe them. Partisans on both sides seem to have embraced the view of Obi Wan Kenobi that “many of the truths we cling to depend greatly
on our own point of view.”
The problem with this approach is that Kenobi’s was defending an outright lie. When he told Luke that Vader killed Anakin, Kenobi knowingly and intentionally misled his protégé and covered up the truth. It is no different when Nunes reverts his claim that the FBI omitted the required disclosure to a claim that the footnote was too vague. Likewise, the liberal claim that a baby in the womb is not a living human is nonsensical, especially considering technological advances that show what life in the womb is like.
Politicians have always lied. What seems to have changed is that voters of both parties no longer seem to care or desire to hold them accountable. Democrats excused President Obama’s lie about keeping your doctor by arguing that Obamacare helped the uninsured. Republicans excuse President Trump’s baseless claim that Trump Tower was “wiretapped” by arguing that the FBI surveilled Trump campaign members… albeit after they had left the campaign.
Information has become disinformation. News has become fake news. Both sides are so guilty that their goal is to obscure the truth rather than to reveal it. The modern goal has become to reveal only enough of the truth to skewer one’s enemies while protecting the guilty on your own team.
The truth is good, bad and sometimes ugly. While it is tempting to cover up the sins of one’s allies, the American people need to see the truth about problems and misdeeds on both sides. Neither side is pure and blameless.
“Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants,” Justice Louis Brandeis once said. People in power who operate in darkness behind closed doors tend to become corrupt. Shining the light of truth on government is the only way to protect our Republic.
It is up to American voters to insist on truth from their elected officials and stop excusing their lies and accepting a society that is, for all intents and purposes, post-truth. The post-truth age we live in is an era where what matters is twisting the facts to fit one’s preconceived beliefs and biases.
“The truth will set you free.”