Do you remember that old legend of George Washington and the cherry tree. Given an ax at the age of six, the future father of our country cut down a cherry tree to his father’s dismay. But when asked by his father how this attack on the cherry tree happened, the young Washington uttered the famous line,” I cannot tell a lie, it was I who cut down the tree.” Obviously George Washington didn’t live in what we call the post-truth America.
In this two month interim election period when America is supposed to turn its attention away from politics and look ahead to the holidays, we have become a nation still beset by charges and counter-charges, demonstrations and fear-mongering, assaults on ethnic identity and claims of hypocrisy. There is no rest from a campaign of meanness, threats and enemies in our midst.Isn’t this supposed to be the season of giving, healing and brotherly/sisterly love?
But what I worry the most about is the new normal in American politics and national life- a lack of respect for the truth. We hear stories about fake news, Internet conspiracy theories without foundation, and just plain, old fashioned whoppers. Lying has become the accepted form of political conversation, and there is little being done to stop post-truth America. Where is George Washington when you need him?
When the truth regarding anything in our universe is treated so shabbily that it is without merit and has so little value, the social glue that keeps us civilized starts to fall apart. We believe what we hear and don’t bother to do a simple fact check; the media who a generation ago was trusted to keep us informed and point the way to reality is damaged perhaps beyond repair; and our leaders, especially our next president, seem to value post-truth as a valuable weapon to reduce the influence of enemies.
If we as a people are so gullible that we can be shaped like robots by slick lying; if we are so lazy as a people that we can’t take the time to find what is true; and if we are so cynical as a people that we don’t care that lying doesn’t matter, since everyone does it, then our nation is on a dangerous path.
In an election someone wins and someone loses and the winner gets the opportunity to shape the future, while the loser gets to complain. But when the winners have little regard for the truth and make policy statements and justify their actions based on public lies, then the end result can only be destructive to the common good.
The oath of office administered to our public officials requires them to uphold the Constitution. I would like to suggest that a new clause be added, one that requires them to tell the truth to those they serve. It’s not too much to ask.