The Urgency of Truth
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Opinion — Matt Faye, business owner, father of three
Not long ago I would have considered any number of issues as being the defining issue for this year’s presidential election. Global warming would have easily taken that spot. Our government’s response to the pandemic became the top issue in March, only to have its limelight pulled away by systemic racial injustice and police reform. Other top contenders from Income disparities, corporate vs. individual taxation, judicial nominations, right to life vs. right to choose, healthcare system reform, immigration policy, or any of the republican vs. democrat approach issues that are always worthy of debate are now sidelined as afterthoughts. Corruption, an impeachment, abuse of presidential power, replacing qualified and patriotic public servants with incompetent loyalists, moral failings, shielded tax returns, failed disaster response, propagating conspiracy theories, extorting foreign leaders to slander political opponents, disparaging the military, cronyism, sexism, racism, and dozens of scandals any one of which would have doomed previous presidential candidates also now take a place on the warm-up bench. Presidential character and institutional norms? Forget it, a quaint idea long forgotten.
As important as all those issues might be, none of them measure up to what should be the only issue on the ballot this November — Truth. Four years ago I would ask my republican friends how they reconciled their candidates record of dishonesty, only to be given the justification that “all politicians lie” and that it was a price worth paying against the alternative of another four years of democratic agendas or another Clinton in the Whitehouse. It is true that all politicians paint a partisan picture of reality that is aimed at their own election prospects, and even I can react with a bemused eye-roll when the president lies about the easily fact-checked size of his inauguration crowd. Who cares, right?
This level of blustering is not what’s at stake this November. What’s at stake is this — As a democratic nation built on the principle of elected officials taking an oath to act in the interest of the public, are we okay with our highest office being occupied by a president so willing to lie and deceive the public he has sworn to serve? Four years of a Donald Trump presidency has given us enough evidence that when it comes to maintaining power, popularity and control, he has not only a willingness to deceive, but that it’s part of his built-in operating system. It’s his way of doing business. He has disabled every fragment of moral principle that might compel him to think twice before lying and has installed deception as a tactical virtue in the pursuit of winning. Some have called it pathological, but that diagnosis to some degree alleviates him of responsibility. For Trump, lying is purely tactical and there is no internal shame or apprehension involved. The revelation of Bob Woodward’s interviews on tape of his knowing the dangers of the COVID 19 virus well in advance, is indisputable evidence that his willingness for deception is not limited to appeasing his base or propagating his image as a noble genius, but that even public safety is not a high enough concern to warrant honesty with the American people, let alone action. But indisputable evidence is not enough to turn the hearts and minds of an enraptured fan base and a scrolling fact-checker thread is no use against the constant tweet storm or blaring megaphone that is the presidential pulpit.
As a nation and members of a global society, we face very real problems and threats that are going to take dedicated, honest and competent efforts to solve. As a business owner and father of three, I know that living and working with a commitment to truth is not just a noble or moral ideal but practical methodology for solving any real problem. Our government is not a reality TV show designed for our ideological entertainment, it’s OUR government. It’s a working institution we have tasked with managing functions we share as a society, solving problems we face as a society, and creating policy that promotes prosperity for us all. Any organized government, business, institution, family, or society that operates in denial of truth, even when deception serves its interest, is doomed to fail. Short term wins turn into long term loss. Functional turns into dysfunction. Harmony tuns into chaos, and democracy turns into autocracy. I’ve tried to raise my kids with this principle above all else as any responsible parent does, that a commitment to truth comes before self-interest, political ideology, religious affiliation, or group identity. Of course, for them I didn’t put it that way. It was more like “when you lie to your parents, the damage you do to your reputation and the loss of freedom that come from broken trust far outweigh the thrill you had at that party last night.”
It is not a republican or democratic issue, but an American principle issue
We have to put truth as the top issue on the ballot this year. It is not a republican or democratic issue, but an American principle issue. An issue of what kind of society do we want for ourselves and our children. Do we believe that governments that institutionalize the deception of their citizens are working governments, or do we still look at North Korea, Russia, and other populations ruled by deception and say “that’s not us, that won’t be us”?
The rights and privileges of living in a democratic society also come with the responsibility of being a democratic society. We can’t just blame politicians for lying, we have to take on the responsibility of not tolerating being lied to. That starts with not lying to ourselves. With social media that trends outrage as a commodity and amplifies extremists as if they represent the masses, it has become impossibly difficult to focus on what is true. Technology has turned the art of influencing mass audiences into an algorithmic science making us vulnerable to bad actors internal and abroad. As a population, our reliance on self-affirming media and our failure to value critical thinking has made our perception of the truth a loosing battle. That does not alleviate us from our responsibility. We can’t just rely on Mark Zuckerberg or our intelligence agency to protect us from misinformation. We have to take the responsibility of scrutinizing the motives and source of the media we consume, look outside our bubble of outrage, and stay off the share button on stories designed to inflame division or spread conspiracy. Our responsibility is not just to vote, but to vote responsibly, and we can’t do that from inside a reality bubble.
The reality outside our respective bubble is that as republican citizens or democratic citizens, we are far more alike than different. We all want to earn a living, to take care of our families, to work hard and to receive the value of our work, to choose our religion, and the opportunity to pursue our vocational path. That the left or liberal leaning Americans hate America, want to take your guns, or don’t care about economic prosperity is a lie. That right leaning or conservative Americans are uncharitable, don’t care about racial equality, or care only about capitalism is also a lie. And for God’s sake, there is no deep state, illuminate, or secret cabal trafficking our children into sexual slavery. The reality is that as American citizens our commonality far outweighs our differences. None of us hate America, we all value law and order, we all want freedom and prosperity. Black lives matter, blue lives matter, all lives matter. All extreme rhetoric to the contrary is a partisan lie designed to further divide us, distract us from the issues that really affect us, and cement our political loyalty.
The most tragic aspect of the Trump administration is who he is really lying too. His promise of making America great again is not a deception that affects me, because I’m not interested in what he sees as great again. The tragedy is that he’s lying to his supporters, those who legitimately yearn for an ideal of American greatness. When his promise of American strength turn into American isolation and conflict, his promise of raising the middle class turn into corporate favor that deepens economic disparity, his promise of healthcare reform turn into millions of Americans losing their healthcare insurance or their ability to afford treatment, and his promise of uniting America (yes, he promised that once), instead further intrench patrician warfare and civil unrest, it is his supporters to whom he has lied to that will suffer the betrayal.
We don’t need another four years to evaluate the outcome of a Trump presidency. We don’t need more congressional reports or special investigations to confirm a pattern of deception, obstruction and self-interest. We can deduce for ourselves the facts of the matter. The only reason to hide a tax return is because it will reveal tax evasion. That choosing a public servant with a record for self-promotion does not serve the public. That the only reason he continually sides with Russian leaders over the American intelligence agency is that he values opportunistic power over democratic principles. And let’s be honest, the only reason he ignored warnings of a pandemic is not because he did not want to panic us, but because he simply didn’t care enough about the consequence to human life as much as how it would affect the stock market or his reelection. What we need to do if we are to have any chance at solving the monumental challenges that face our nation and world, is put our ideological differences and political identities aside and prioritize our most important American ideal — that a functional society must embrace the truth and reject the normalization of lies and deception if it is to remain functional. We need a president who will not deny the science, disregard the facts, ignore his expert advisors, or declare the free press enemies of the people. This difference between the two candidates is not subtle. Victory for any political ideology at the cost of a government we can’t trust is too high a price to pay. A dedication to truth is the only issue on the ballot that has any chance at making America great again.
Further Reading: Trump’s contempt for truth leaves a toxic legacy around the world
Opinion by the Washington Post Editorial Board
SEPTEMBER 22, 2020