Since his inauguration, the President has spoken more than 20,000 lies, exaggerations, and fabrications in order to create an alternative reality in which he is the be-all and end-all to solve all of America’s problems. The most recent barrage of lies came in his 70-minute ranting acceptance speech for the Republican Presidential nomination on the south lawn of the White House. The extent of his disregard for the truth among US Presidents is singular in living memory.
Granted, every politician is, at times, selective with the truth in order to make a political point or advocate for a policy position. However, this President’s breadth and depth of dishonesty reaches levels unique in modern American presidential history.
The Democratic analyst Paul Begala (on the podcast “Words Matter” hosted by Katie Barlow and Joe Lockhart – August 31, 2020) noted that what’s unique about this President is that he doesn’t just shade or shape the truth, he redefines it altogether. For a large portion of the country (30-35%), many say that they support him because he “tells it like it is.” Some might acknowledge that he gets specifics wrong, but they love that he’s (what they say) “politically incorrect.” To my ears, they’re responding positively on a gut level to his base racism, homophobia, Islamophobia, hatred of immigrants of color, disregard and disrespect for law and the US Constitution, for America’s democratic institutions, and civil society’s norms.
As a rabbi, teacher, and writer, the facts, truth, and integrity matter to me. As I’ve done often on this blog over the years, I turned this week to Jewish tradition to find a few passages in the wake of the Republican National Convention that affirm the principles of truth, honesty, and integrity in public and private life as opposed to what I saw and heard last week.
“Truth is the seal of the Holy One, Blessed is God.” –Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 55a – 6th century CE
“Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel said: The world is sustained by three things, by justice, by truth, and by peace.” –Pirkei Avot 1:17, 200 CE
“You shall not give false testimony [in a court of law].” (Exodus 20:16 – 9th century BCE
“The Holy One, Blessed is God, hates a person who says one thing with one’s mouth and another in one’s heart.” –Babylonian Talmud, Pesahim 113b – 6th century CE
“There are other matters that fall under the heading of falsehood; for example, of people who praise themselves for having virtues that they do not really possess… [also] our rabbis teach that it is forbidden to mislead others.” –Isaac Aboab, Menorat Ha-Meor, 14th century CE
I offer, as well, a few additional thoughts gleaned from American and world literature that emphasize the importance of speaking the truth and not remaining silent:
“When I despair, I remember that all through history, the way of truth and love has always won. There have been murderers and tyrants, and for a time they can seem invincible. But in the end they always fall.” –Gandhi, 1869-1948
“They deem the one their worst enemy who tells them the truth.” –Plato, 427-347 BCE
“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” –George Orwell, 1903-1950
“Fear distorts truth not by exaggerating the ills of the world, but by underestimating our ability to deal with them… while love seeks truth, fear seeks safety.” –Reverend William Sloane Coffin, 1924-2006
“We are not afraid to entrust the American people with unpleasant facts, with foreign ideas, alien philosophies, and competitive values. For a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.” –President John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963
“Truth is not only violated by falsehood; it may be equally outraged by silence.” –Henri Frederic Amiel, 1821-1881
“The one who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as the one who helps to perpetrate it. The one who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.” –Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., 1929-1968