“You Can’t Handle the Truth”

November 6, 2019

Movie goers will likely remember the exchange between Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men. Cruise, the Navy attorney, shouts at Nicholson, the commander of Guantanamo Base in Cuba, ” I want the truth.” Nicholson, fires back, with the classic line-“You can’t handle the truth.” Whoever was responsible for that line, perhaps director Rob Reiner, was way before his time when it comes to the dilemma we face today in American politics – there is the truth and then there are those who “can’t handle the truth.”

One of the core issues of the Trump presidency (there are too many to mention) is the President’s unrelenting attack on the truth. Since mid-August the President has made over 12,000 false or misleading claims, some of them so outrageous that even a middle school kid could recognize a blatant lie. And yet Trump’s base has held steady and the vast majority of his supporters don’t seem to buy the argument that their president is lying. They either don’t care; they see lies as part of the political game; they have bought into the fake news argument;  or most likely, they simply love their guy who can do no wrong.

Critics of Trump and his base point out that Nicholson’s outburst about Cruise not being able to handle the truth may be at the heart of the problem of a president who has clearly set the record for lying while in office. Besides being the 45th President of the United States, Trump is a cult figure who has shrewdly developed an appealing (to some) persona around himself. By speaking the language of largely white, working class Americans, talking tough to his adversaries, promising to defeat the liberal elites, Trump has made it difficult for his supporters to embrace truth and reality. Simply stated, Trump is their guy and no amount of fact or reasoned criticism is going to change their devotion to the cult figure. They can’t handle the truth because to embrace the truth would destroy their political soul and dismantle the underpinnings of the personality cult.

At the end of the courtroom drama Cruise deftly gets Nicholson to admit that he ordered a Code Red that led to the death of a soldier under his command. As Nicholson is hauled out to face serious charges he can’t believe what is happening, after all he was held in high regard by those in the military and was likely destined for promotion to a White House position. But the message of the story is that eventually truth wins out and that thinking people can indeed handle the truth; it may take some time, courage and unrelenting pressure but truth does overcome falsehood.

What’s Wrong With Saying I Am Sorry?

April 8, 2019

Unfortunately, we live in an age in which politicians on all levels, and in particular on the national stage are adverse to admitting wrong and following through with a public apology. Whether it’s Joe Biden touching women who don’t want to be touched or Donald Trump refusing to say he is wrong and then lying about it, the moral code of just saying “I’m sorry” is sadly in decline.

Most of this refusal to apologize is born of enormous ego trips and perhaps in Trump’s case a psychological defect, but it would be refreshing if political leaders just climbed down from their high horse and admit that they were wrong on a public policy issue or a behavior pattern. We are living in a time when too many Americans take their cues from political elites and just stonewall their response to a problem or personal defect. Yet, there are still countless examples from daily life where we humble ourselves and say “I’m sorry.” Husbands and wives end a fight with I’m sorry;  children run to their parents after some minor dispute and say I’m sorry; members of a church community are often advised by their pastors to say I’m sorry ( the Catholic Church calls it reconciliation); and neighbors often end a petty disagreement with a handshake and an apology.

But not in Washington.  What replaces the apology is the blame game – the political opponent or partisan group that challenges a leader for a miscue is instead characterized as at fault and the spin agents enter the fray and provide the media with all kinds of excuses for just saying ” I’m sorry.” No apology just theatrics. This refusal to apologize for an obvious error in judgment or outright lie is one of the contributing factors in our political malaise. Telling the truth is downgraded and admitting wrongdoing is a political strategy to be avoided at all costs. You would think that political leaders who want to win elections or hold onto power would just try out the truth/apology model and regain the trust of voters with an old fashioned tactic. Certainly President Trump has championed the no apology strategy but Democrats are no better, especially the army of candidates for the White House in 2020.

There is a lot of work that has to be done in order to get this country and its political culture back on track to moral and ethical normalcy, but a good start would be for politicians to simply say  I’m sorry.” I know its risky these days, but it is worth a try.