When I was a child, my older brother told me stories about tarantulas living under beds and rocks that tasted like candy. When I believed him (as I always did), he’d howl with laughter and tell me how gullible I was. In a fit of fury, I’d call him a liar.
My mother was quick to intervene. “We don’t call people liars,” she’d say sternly. That’s how seriously the word was taken. “Liar” was the worst insult that could be hurled.
That attitude wasn’t exclusive to my mother. Hammurabi’s Code, chiseled into stone almost 4000 years ago, declared that giving false testimony warranted having both eyes poked out. That would give reason enough to watch words carefully, but there’s something beyond that fear, something inherent, that causes most people to speak truthfully.
It has thus come as a surprise to discover that the current President of the U.S. has little regard for truth. Does he know the difference between truth and untruth? Does he care? Does he think everyone operates in this manner? No one can guess what he might say next.
In 2017, immediately after being sworn in as president, he announced that the ceremony was attended by the biggest crowd in inauguration history. He persisted with the story until someone produced aerial photos proving otherwise. Caught in a corner, he said he had included the TV audience in his statement. No one believed that. What did it matter?
Then came a waterfall of statements manufactured from thin air. Figures, figment and events fell from his lips and into his twitters in half-sentences as he chirped on and on. Attacks on anyone disagreeing with him were immediate, vicious and childish, complete with name-calling usually given up by the eighth grade.
Who is this man? There always are different political viewpoints, but flat-out lying? That’s been left to dictatorships and broken down republics.
Our president is charged with holding us all together, showing equal respect for all cities, areas and people. No disparaging remarks about states that lean toward the opposing party; no withholding of our common funds as punishment; no using the White House for personal gain; no making up “facts” from thin air, otherwise known as lying.
Even if our traditions sometimes seem a little outdated, they provide stability, something to count on when high winds blow. They are the things that give proof through the night that the flag is still there.
One of those traditions is our expectation of truth from our leaders, and we also expect truth from ourselves. Yeah, I know. That’s naïve; and it’s also the thing that distinguishes America. We’re not required to pretend that nonsense makes sense, and when we tire of nonsense, we throw it out with the person that brought it in. I’d just as soon keep that tradition around for awhile longer.
All of us standing in line to vote have a big decision to make. The long lines are a hopeful sign – no matter how the votes fall. Yesterday I drove around the block twice just for the joy of seeing people spilling out the door and down the sidewalk, masked up and patiently waiting to cast their ballots.
I wish Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Ben Franklin and their cohorts could see what they created. They worked, argued and struggled over every word in the Constitution, and not one of them was totally satisfied with the end result.
For those who like to wrap themselves in the American flag, fine; but true patriotism is about voting – rain or shine, convenient or not. Many of us will be up late Tuesday night watching the returns come in, and when it’s over, the winner wins. Period. That’s another tradition, and high emotions or not, we can keep it intact. We can. We must. George, John, Thomas and Ben are counting on us.