When I was growing up, every Canadian kid knew the story of young George Washington and the cherry tree. Boy chops down tree. Dad asks him who did it. Boy, knowing he faced certain punishment, bravely admitted his guilt. Boy grows up to be the first president of the United States of America.
The moral of the story wasn’t difficult to grasp. Telling the truth, even if it might hurt you, is a sign of good character. It is the kind of good character that is not only exulted in famous leaders of the past, it’s an example for all of us in the present. Good countries are built on the good character of their leaders and their people.
Some truth is subjective. I live my life based on certain religious truths that aren’t shared by all, but there are moral truths that are generally accepted. Truths that are necessary for the common good, and are reflected in our laws. It is wrong to steal from your neighbour. It is wrong to kill each other. It is wrong to slander another. It is wrong to lie.
Our justice system is based on the premise that the truth must be told in courts of law. Oaths are taken as a sign of allegiance to a country, a government, or a group. Vows are a sign of fidelity and love in marriage. None of us are perfect, but we have to believe that the person speaking the words will act on them to the best of their ability. The basic belief and need for speaking truthfully is foundational in our governments, societies and in our families.
All good parents try to instill the importance of telling the truth to our children. One of my kiddies tried to get off the hook by saying, “I wasn’t lying. I was only kidding!” We stressed over and over the importance of honesty whether it was a pre-schooler’s spilled juice cup, or a teenager’s evening plans.
When trust is broken, it takes a lot of work to regain it. How can we trust a person if we can’t trust what they say? This was a basic lesson for all children to learn.
And yet, here we are. The first days of the new American administration are showing that President Trump feels no greater urgency to tell the truth than did Candidate Trump. His staff faces the media and unabashedly speak of “alternative facts” and how their boss’s opinion is based on what he believes is true.
Sadly, there is some truth to this. If I restricted my facts to alt-right news media, Trump’s speeches and twitter account, my view of what is true would be completely skewed from what it is now. I would believe that the USA is a dystopian wasteland, a carnage of poverty and violence. I would blame the “other” for all my misfortunes, and feel free expressing my fear and hatred of cultures that don’t mirror my own white, Christian world.
Trump’s “truth” is not my truth but it is, sadly, shared by many. Politicians are elected by people who agree with the agenda and platform that the politician presents; their truth. Trump is now acting on all the promises he made, promises that seemed so outlandish that saner minds were convinced they would never happen. So, in this sense, Trump was not lying.
Governing requires discerning for the common good, and good discernment requires careful exploration of all the facts at hand. And, here is the danger. As with his horrible “birtherism” movement, Trump’s truths are not based on objective facts. He isn’t a fan of intelligence briefings. He bypasses inconvenient statistics and makes up facts on the fly. He flings numbers around that can’t be proven, just to inflate his own ego. He bullies and threatens anyone who questions him, especially the media, and is already silencing federal employees and departments.
Put simply, Trump’s truths are based on lies. No amount of doublespeak, word spinning or doctoring can hide the simple fact that the man will unabashedly ignore objective facts if they are counter to his version of truth.
If Trump had chopped down the cherry tree, he would have probably pointed his finger at the kid next door, the one from the family with a questionable back-ground. You know, the ones who shouldn’t be here in the first place. All this while still holding the hatchet in his tiny hands.