COMMENTARY: “When in doubt tell the truth.” — Mark Twain
Mark Twain’s quote is from a long-past society. In the 21st Century people seem to view truth as something to be avoided always. Our society, which is connected by the media and Internet, absolutely worships at the altar of innuendo, myth, purposeful misdirection and downright lies.
What are the three hardest words to say? Some think it is “I don’t know.” Many people say that. Others think it is “I was mistaken,” which isn’t heard often. But the three hardest words to say are, “I deliberately lied.”
Yet it happens all of the time. We’re inundated in this “I deliberately lied” society, where making up stuff is valued more than telling the truth. Example: this presidential campaign.
Today’s conventional wisdom is that everyone should lie if we really care about our country. They say, “I have to lie about this candidate I oppose because the opposition is lying about my candidate.”
Candidates do not care if they have been recorded saying the opposite of what they’re now saying. When questioned, they proclaim, “That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.”
Worse, with all of the data available to citizens today it is amazing that the truth suffers more in today’s world than in past societies. As a lifelong historian I have studied most of the history of our country but I do not recognize statements currently being made about the founding and development of America.
Example: In February 2015, President Obama said, “Here in America, Islam has been woven into the fabric of our country since its founding.”
That is certainly not true. A more truthful statement would be that people from many lands wove the fabric of our country during the last couple hundred years. No one nation or region, certainly no one religion, has dominated the founding of our country. However, America has been served well by Protestant, Catholic and Jewish citizens.
People today confuse opinion with truth. In fact, it seems opinion is the new truth. If I say, “The Sun rises in the East.” I am told, “That is just your opinion since you belong to the other political party.”
The great dividers of our society are two dominant political organizations: Democrats and Republicans. Both groups view truth as only from their perspective. What one candidate is reported to have said is more an exercise in seeing the bias of reporters than seeing the truth.
A real truth bomb is the recent “birther” controversy. It is contained in this question: Was President Obama born in Hawaii? The media acts like it is a one-sided issue where Republicans are acting in very inappropriate ways.
The research is quick and easy. However, it doesn’t fit the political agenda so it is ignored. The birther question came into being not by Donald Trump, nor by Hillary Clinton.
Rather, it started as a promotional booklet produced by then Literary Agency Acton & Dystel celebrating the authors they at that time were representing on the 15th anniversary of the founding of their company.
On one of the thirty-six pages is this statement: “Barack Obama, the first African-American president of the Harvard Law Review, was born in Kenya and raised in Indonesia and Hawaii. The son of an American anthropologist and a Kenyan finance minister, he attended Columbia University and worked as a financial journalist and editor for Business International Corporation.”
The next page had a description of Ralph Nader and the 1990s boy-band New Kids On the Block.
That’s where the “birther” story started. We know that some members of Hillary Clinton’s 2008 campaign gave this information to the media. Mainstream Republicans repeated it then and during the eight years of Obama’s presidency.
Did Donald Trump start this? No, but he could have researched it and then not repeated it. Truth has no place in the “birther” controversy since it serves the partisans on both sides. It is great for fundraising.
An old joke is: How can you tell if a politician is lying? When their lips are moving. Today: how can you tell if the media is lying? Nowadays, they will always lie — so expect it and embrace truth.
Michael Swickard is a former radio talk show host and has been a columnist for 30 years in a number of New Mexico newspapers. Swickard’s new novel, Hideaway Hills, is now available at Amazon.com.