My parents taught me that lying was wrong.
Their argument was five-fold:
- First, ultimately the truth comes out; maybe not immediately, but in time it would emerge, and you would be embarrassed or ashamed to be caught in that lie.
- Second, your lie could hurt someone, and we didn’t want to hurt other people if we could avoid it. [They did offer this caveat: If it was a white lie, intended to protect someone from harm, it might be okay.]
- Third, it can be hard to keep track of lies and you might contradict yourself later (“What a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive” – I remember that adage from that font of all wisdom, Sargent O’Rourke on F-Troop.)
- Fourth, if you make a practice of lying, you won’t be trusted, and when you need to be believed, you will be out of luck (see the fable ‘The Boy Who Cried Wolf’).
- Finally, and possibly most important, when you lay your head down on your pillow at night you want to have a clear conscience so you can sleep peacefully.
I was convinced. I am not perfect – I can’t say I’ve never lied, but I am really bad at it. Ask my family.
It appears that our president didn’t learn this lesson, or he has conveniently forgotten it. It is hard to believe that we need to review the reasons to value honesty. Let’s take a closer look at how Trump fails:
- The first argument assumes a person can be embarrassed. Trump has no shame. When he is caught in a lie, he doubles down on it.
- The second argument assumes that we value not hurting people. Trump is unconcerned about people’s feelings – he puts this on display every time he mocks someone for their disability and, more generally, how he treats people in his life.
- Trump could not care less about keeping track of his lies, he makes no attempt to do so. When a reporter brings up statements Trump has made in the past which were incorrect or contradictory, he pretends it never happened or shrugs his shoulders.
- Trump doesn’t value relationships and doesn’t want to acknowledge dependence on anyone, so he moves through the world without worrying about whether his word means anything. He has been sued repeatedly for not fulfilling commitments. His lack of credibility has done damage to our relationships with allies across the world.
- Considering that he is known for tweeting at all hours of the night or early morning, sleep appears to elude him.
Trump’s enablers and followers apparently didn’t learn that lying is wrong either. It frightens me for our future – lying has become normalized. What will it mean for our country if our culture no longer values personal integrity and if we believe the ends justify the means?
Trump’s lying may in fact be criminal when you consider his handling of the coronavirus. I believe he has blood on his hands.
I understand the temptation to lie when it is expedient. If a lie gets you what you want in the short term, it can be quite tempting. Sometimes we lie to avoid conflict or unpleasant conversations. Whatever the motivation, it is short-sighted. If you lie to avoid conflict, it puts off the inevitable and possibly makes it worse when you finally do have to confront it. If you lie to achieve a short-term goal, it may jeopardize more important long-range accomplishments. We need to take a longer view, in our personal relationships and in our professional lives. I think any number of societal issues we face would be improved if we did that.
I was thinking about this because of a Facebook exchange I had with a neighbor. She is a Trump supporter and she posted a comment that she wasn’t voting for Trump’s personality, but for his principles(!). What principles? I was stunned. She made this remark in response to someone that criticized Trump for lying. Incessant lying is incontrovertible evidence of a lack of principles and/or mental illness. In either case, it is not a quality that someone who is entrusted with the presidency of our country should possess. This neighbor’s world is upside down. But, that’s what happens when you depend on Fox News and talk radio for your information.
Yesterday that same neighbor criticized Biden on Facebook for being boring. I long for boring. I am exhausted after four years of outrageous statements. I can’t wait for us to turn the corner and heal from this divisive and painful time – not to mention finally getting a handle on the pandemic with thoughtful, scientific federal guidance.
Tomorrow is election day. I pray that Americans send a resounding message by rejecting the Lying Liar and those that have enabled him in the House and Senate. While I also hope that Trump is held accountable for his crimes after he is out of office, I think I will be satisfied if he and his family fade away and are no longer part of our national conversation. It is an interesting question: what is best for our country? Pursuing investigations and possible prosecution or focusing on the future and turning the page on Trump. But, I am getting ahead of myself. We can debate that question after he is sent packing.
I am practically holding my breath with anxiety – I need to remind myself, and you, to breathe until we get through this, hopefully in 48 hours.