The degree of accuracy contained in the apocryphal tale of America’s first President, George Washington, which provides that, as a youth, he spontaneously and honestly confessed to his father that he (wrongfully) chopped down the cherry tree, or the conduct of an inquiry into the historic basis for President Abraham Lincoln’s nickname, “Honest Abe,” is relatively inconsequential. What does matter is the symbolic message communicated by such folklore, viz., that the good character and natural inclination of Americans, is to reliably tell the truth (today, we might say, it is in our DNA). These two virtuous Presidents were elected by a voting population which did not deem it necessary to suspect any variation from the implicit traits of honesty and truthfulness, they experienced in interaction with each other, and expected of their governmental representatives.
The natural assumption of truthfulness, in fact, comprises the cornerstone of any successfully stable, interdependent, and interactive society. Historically, survival and existence were dependent upon truthful and reliable reports, often concerning matters which bore on life and death. As societies matured into more complex political-social entities (city states, and much later, national entities), presumed accuracy and truthfulness, remained a cornerstone support, facilitating mutual protection, social interaction, and ultimately, the growth and maturity of such societies through the communication of reliable information and instructed skills.
Since veracity, was always implicit, any questioning of the same was perceived as blatant insult. Like the traditional trust that necessarily exists between family members, especially spouses, its questioning was unnecessary and rare; and usually portended serious problems. It has been observed, empirically, that once the elements of trust and veracity, are breached, they can never be fully restored.
Thus, truthfulness and sincerity, existing as natural and implicit assumptions, an individual, who had been shown to have uttered a falsehood, became a social pariah, a resident outcast from society and, in effect, a stranger. The intentional act of lying, encompasses the secret withholding of the truth, from others, by the perpetrator, who may see himself as superior, by virtue of his exclusive knowledge of the truthful facts. Yet, by this lone and selfish act, he has effectively separated himself from those he knowingly misled; in pictorial terms, he has donned the invisible mask of deception, and has effectively, become a stranger, living behind that mask. This would be unendurable for a properly socialized member of society, who might well, remorsefully, confess his lie. Not so with the selfish, or sociopathic liar who may see his engineered deception as a personal accomplishment. It may be surmised that the latter never was, in essence, a dedicated and fully committed, member of society and had always worn a mask.
In sum, the element of truth was universal, and ultimate faith in its existence, made any explanation of such assumption, superfluous. Truth was never a subject for discussion but was the natural expectation; in rare cases of offense, the miscreant was adjudged a societal pariah, an outcast from that society.
From its inception, the surprising elevation of Donald Trump, an incapable, ignorant, egoist, to the office of President, began to evince harmful, bizarre and embarrassing activity. In his first days of office, Trump commenced an unprecedented series of adolescent style, informal, telephone calls to foreign heads of state, despite his complete ignorance of official protocol, or any knowledge [ by this transmographied former game show host] of the political state of affairs between the respective country telephoned, and the U.S. Further damage to the Office of the President and the country, has included appointment of self-serving, inept, cabinet members and departmental Secretaries; causing national and international embarrassment and disrespect by his acts and statements; publicly expressing his derogation of science, especially climate science; articulating voiced disrespect for the women’s movement; commission of publicly advertised acts of sexual abuse; making bigoted statements on the subject of civil rights; manifesting consistent opposition to sensible gun laws, in support of the NRA; showing express disrespect for learning and intellectual pursuits; engaging in an inappropriate and cruel nativist immigration policy, and so very much more, as we have enumerated in prior writings. Notwithstanding the extensive list of these shameful misdeeds causing great damage to the nation and to the Office of the Presidency, due to his incompetent and impulsive rule, we see, yet, a far more devastating and enduring wound to the very heart of the nation; and that is his attack on, and disparagement of, that precious, systemic and irreplaceable commodity, truth.
We assume that the substantial social and political injury caused to our nation, domestically and internationally, by Trump’s sheer ineptitude and ignorance, in time, will be repairable by succeeding competent leaders. But, we fear, that spiritual damage to the basic systemic identity of our nation is so profoundly insidious, that full restoration and healing may not, be completely attainable. We again refer to the essential message of the “Honest Abe” and George Washington societal myths, which still have significant resonance, and are in stark contrast to Trump’s total disregard for, and frontal attack, upon truthfulness. Not unlike traditional and practical faith in marital fidelity, the subject of implicit citizen truthfulness had always been the normal assumption, and had never, until now, been a subject of discussion, but was always the natural, automatic assumption. Such an effectively damaging outcome could never have been accomplished by any well- financed propaganda campaign of a foreign enemy.
The conduct of the Trump presidency, from its outset, has shown little regard for veracity. His profound ignorance and complete lack of capacity for the position of America’s chief executive, complicated by an adolescent ego, seems to serve as an impassible roadblock, preventing Trump from accepting any guidance regarding his impulsive and perpetual mistakes. Accordingly, mendacity, inconsistency and subterfuge, continue to be his defensive strategies and main survival tactic. On a great many occasions, he has, wearing the referenced mask, comfortably contradicted statements he made the very same day. Trump’s constant output of mendacity and sham, is loyally ratified, when needed, and called upon, by his chosen sycophants. It is the (legitimate) media such as the N.Y. Times and The Washington Post as well as the (long standing, dependable) news services, he persists in claiming, that are disseminating “fake news,” (a signature Trump defensive term) critical of his Presidency.
We are gravely concerned that the policy of glib, apparently super -confident, but false, statements of fact, on the part of, (no less) a President of the United States, may, conceivably, result in some degree of erosion of the previous American emblematic reverence for truth. We fear that in some subtle and gradual fashion, regular exposure to the President’s convenient, defensive tactics of mendacity, may acquire some measure of normalcy, the smallest degree of which, would surely constitute major, devastating injury to the traditionally understood American moral character.
Society cannot advance, nor can its citizenry strive for enhancement, unless the conduct of our lives is reliably unmasked, and proceeds in a milieu of mutual trust.