Secretary Hillary Clinton and President-elect Donald Trump both played fast and loose with the truth
Secretary Hillary Clinton and President-elect Donald Trump both played fast and loose with the truth prior to and during their campaigns to win the presidency. Most of us weren’t too offended or surprised by this as we know politicians have never been celebrated for strict adherence to truth.
But does it make a difference that Clinton or Trump — or anyone for that matter — abuses the truth? Does absolute truth really even exist in 2016?
Some would say there is no absolute truth. They’d say there’s no authority for deciding what’s positive or negative — right or wrong — good or bad. This “situational ethics” leads to a “if it feels good do it” mentality that can shatter society.
Once upon a time there was absolute truth. Our own Declaration of Independence says so saying, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”
It seems today as if absolute truth is as old fashioned as the language in which the Declaration of Independence was written. Nonetheless, truth is an essential aspect of our democracy, without which the unlikely experiment of American democracy cannot survive. Consequently, we should all be wary of truth’s diminished stature.
We once seemed to know how vital truth is. The 9th of the 10 Commandments orders, “Thou shalt not lie.” Moms and Dads used to teach, “You can’t believe everything you read.” I wonder if parents still teach this truth. If they do, it’s a much harder lesson to teach today.
The 10 Commandments are considered “state sponsored religion” if displayed on public land. With the Internet and social media, everyone can develop their own truths — their own version of reality, misguided as it may be — and then find someone who agrees with them. And today they have the forum to express their version of reality publically to thousands of citizens. The recent reports about so-called “fake news” on Facebook possibly having a role in Trump’s unexpected presidential campaign win is just one example of the danger of this false narrative.
In his column entitled “Moral Truth vs. Opinion” published in the Colson Center newsletter BreakPoint, John Stonestreet writes: “Justin McBrayer, an associate professor of ethics at Fort Lewis College, says he couldn’t figure out why the high school graduates showing up in his classroom had no concept of moral truth. The overwhelming majority of freshmen, he says, ‘viewed moral claims as mere opinions that are not true.’”
“But it gets even worse,” according to Stonestreet. “A little digging reveals that public schools today teach, as a matter of course, that all value claims are opinions, not facts. One grade-school worksheet, for example, categorized the statements ‘copying homework is wrong,’ ‘cursing in school is inappropriate,’ and ‘all men are created equal,’ as opinions — not facts.”
It is an absolute truth that in America all men (and women) are, in fact, created equal. We haveto believe and pursue that ideal. We have to demand our schools teach this fact not as opinionbut as truth.
In a Washington Post column entitled “The truth is losing,” reporter David Ignatius writes: “Richard Stengel, the State Department’s undersecretary for public diplomacy, bluntly states the problem (that) should worry us all: ‘… how does the truth win? We like to think that truth has to battle itself out in the marketplace of ideas. Well, it may be losing in that marketplace today,’” Stengel warned in an interview.
“Stengel poses an urgent question for journalists and, more broadly, everyone living in free societies or aspiring to do so. ‘How do we protect the essential resource of democracy — the truth — from the toxin of lies that surrounds it,’” Ignatius asks.
Ignorance is not, as the old adage claims it is, bliss. To protect truth we need an informed, educated citizenry that doesn’t believe everything it reads, a citizenry that reads and interprets legitimate news instead of fake news, and a citizenry that spends less time reading people’s opinions online (those opinions attempting to serve as truth but in fact are often lies masquerading as facts or situational ethics). And we citizens collectively still have to believe, 10 Commandments-like, that lying is a sin.
If our democracy is to survive, we must live by truth — real, moral, absolute truth — whether we like it or not. Lies and situational ethics have to be exposed for what they are: destructive to our democracy. As novelist and philosopher Leo Tolstoy was quoted as saying, “There is no greatness where there is not simplicity, goodness, and truth.”
Barry Fetzer is a columnist for the Havelock News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.