We were preparing the annual financial report to the parish the other day, and the tricky part of the debate was how to present complex details in a simple way that was not misleading or open to misinterpretation.
I commented that we must aim for complete transparency, at which point a member of the committee observed, “The problem with that, Father, is that as soon as you declare that you are being completely transparent everyone wonders what you are hiding.”
Indeed. So we distrust the salesman who sidles up and says surreptitiously, “Listen, for you I’m going to do this special deal….” We worry why a church banner needs to declare, “All are Welcome!” And when someone says, “I’m going to be completely honest with you.…” we start sniffing out the lie.
I suspect that Donald Trump is going to win this election, and the main reason he will win is because the American people are desperate for a leader they believe will speak the truth. Mr. Trump is a deeply flawed and, in my opinion, a dangerous candidate. However, what trait do his followers most admire him for? They think he “tells it like it is.”
It doesn’t matter if he is another lying politician. What matters is that his followers believe that he is a straight shooter, a man with guts who is not afraid to speak the truth. They believe he speaks the truth when he calls global warming a fraud. They believe he speaks the truth when he claims to uncover government corruption. They believe he tells it like it is when he speaks out about immigration, gun control, and trade deals that are bad for working Americans.
Donald Trump’s genius is that he is a salesman, and the best salesmen do not try to sell you their product. They first figure out what you want, and then they sell you that. Mr. Trump understands what the customers want and he’s giving it to them, and what they want is someone they can trust to tell the truth.
Whether what he says is true or not, really does not matter. What matters is that a large number of Americans trust him. Likewise, they do not trust Mrs. Clinton. She could read them the King James Version of the Bible wearing a hat, and they would smell a rat.
Why are we in such a situation? Because we have been lying for a long time. We like to blame the lying politicians, and to be sure the majority of the politicians are liars, but we cannot let ourselves off the hook. We get the leaders we deserve.
The fact is, we’re a nation of liars. We lie about our military adventures overseas. We lie about our conquest of nations. We lie about the economy. We lie about world poverty. We lie about pollution. We lie about big banks. We lie about abortion. We lie about astronomical rates of incarceration. We lie about pornography. We lie about gun crime. We lie about creeping euthanasia. We lie about immigration.
We are a nation of liars because we as individuals are liars. We lie about our looks. We like about our age. We lie about our income. We lie about our taxes. We lie about our achievements. We lie about our gender identity. We lie about our faults. We lie about our sins. We lie about most everything.
We have become a Pontius Pilate nation asking cynically, “What is Truth?” as we wash our hands of a difficult decision.
Consequently, we have drifted into a quagmire of falsehoods. We are “on the edge of a grimpen where there is no foothold.” We are dancing on quicksand and tiptoeing through a minefield. No one trusts anyone, and when we get into such a state of distrust, the person who seems to be most honest and transparent is the one we distrust the most. If he seems too good to be true, he must be too good to be true.
There are two ways forward when faced with such a morass. The first and most frightening way is the way of tyranny. When a people are desperate for someone to tell them the truth they are likely to follow the person who lies in the most convincing way. This is why Mr. Trump bullied his way to the nomination and will probably bully his way to the White House.
The people are clearly not interested in facts, experience, and rational arguments. They don’t trust the leaders who have presented them with facts, data, experience, and rational arguments in the past because they have used “facts, data, and rational arguments” as the best way to lie, cheat, steal, and kill.
The people want what they think is the truth, and they want it super-sized. They want it loud. They want it with backbone. They want it acerbic, assertive, and even aggressive if need be. They would be happier with a truthful tyrant than a lying libertarian.
There is, of course, another way.
That way is for an army of ordinary men and women of integrity not just to speak the truth, but to live the truth. It is no mistake that the One who said, “I AM the Truth” also said, “I AM the Way and I AM the Life” because truth is not simply a verifiable statement. It is a way and a life.
It is a way of life.
No matter what the future holds, this second way is the way that will prevail, even if first its progress is halting and slow. This way and this life will prevail against the lies not only because it is practical and possible, but most of all because it it true.
Books on the topic of this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.