Even though parents stress the importance of always telling the truth, most of us learn to lie at a relatively young age. I was personally quite adept at fibbing by early elementary school (“I didn’t mean to drop a water balloon in Lisa’s room,” “I already finished my homework, Mom,” “Sorry Mrs. Silver, I left my homework on the bus,” “No, I don’t like her. Girls are gross”).
We tend to get better at it as we age, to the point that sometimes the only thing stopping us from lying is the fear of getting caught. We stretch the truth with regard to our financial dealings (“A friend of mine told me that you lowered his cable bill by more than $100 when he called”), our personal lives (“Of course I remembered our anniversary!”), and work (“I’m just about finished with my column”). Anyone who says differently is either a saint, or, well, lying.
It makes me sad to think that even though we implore our kids to be honest, we are less than ideal role models on that score. We could — and should — try to be better, but on the whole, we’ve already lost that war: People lie. Even our eminently moral forefathers, Abraham and Isaac, had moments when they were less than forthcoming — and the Torah, to its great credit, doesn’t hide that truth.
Still, wouldn’t it be refreshing if some of our leaders told the truth about WHY they are lying to us? Just imagine what it would be like if everyone called a spade a spade.
For instance, Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) claim that he refused to allow a hearing on Merrick Garland, President Barack Obama’s nominee to replace Justice Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court, because it was an election year and “the American people should have a say in the court’s direction.” What if he had just said, “Look, I’m blocking the nomination almost a year before Obama leaves office in the faint hope that a Republican wins the presidency and nominates a conservative judge.” He wasn’t fooling anyone, as he well knew, and if he had told the truth we would have been spared hours of watching talking heads on cable news debate the never-engaging subject of precedent.
What would it be like if Robert Mueller decided to hold a press conference one day and tell the world — as one federal judge has already done — that he’s throwing the book at Paul Manafort, not because the former Trump campaign manager deserves to go to prison for the rest of his life, but because “Hey, maybe he’ll give us something juicy about the president if we hold his feet to the fire.”
When prosecutors announced they would not retry N.J. Sen. Robert Menendez on corruption and bribery charges after a hung jury in his first trial, the Democrat accused officials of discrimination and disbelief that a “Latino kid from Union City and Hudson County could grow up to be a United States senator and be honest.”
Months later he was rebuked in a letter signed by the Senate Select Committee on Ethics — including all three Democratic members — for “knowingly and repeatedly” accepting “gifts of significant value” without seeking approval from the committee. Having been so harshly scolded, wouldn’t most of us appreciate hearing Menendez admit, “I can no longer argue that this is a partisan attack. Instead, I’d like to apologize, and in spite of my foibles, urge you to vote for me in November.”
No, this would never happen, but I wish it could.
And then there are the misstatements that are unnecessary and misleading. For example, as a candidate for president, Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.), told the New York Daily News editorial board that during the 2014 war against Gaza, Israel’s attacks were “indiscriminate,” and said that he didn’t remember the exact numbers, “but my recollection is over 10,000 innocent people were killed.” But even the decidedly anti-Israel UN Human Rights Council counted 1,462 civilian deaths. Sanders, who volunteered for some months on a kibbutz in 1963, should have said, “I’m not comfortable speaking on an issue of which I am so clearly ignorant.”
In May, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the United Nation’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, accused Israel of effectively caging the people of Gaza “in a toxic slum from birth to death,” when he could have just said what everyone already knows to be true about too many UN officials: “Condemnation of the Jewish state is our cover for anti-Semitism. Hey, we don’t care for Jews.”
How about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu heaping praise on President Donald Trump as a great statesman? If only the always-shrewd Bibi would just say, “Sure, he’s a little meshugga, but now the American embassy is in Jerusalem, the Iran nuclear deal is history, and the president’s son-in-law, an Orthodox Jew, is in charge of brokering peace in the Middle East. So why not shmaltz him up?”
Yes, we are surrounded by liars who could so easily tell the truth, but I hold a glimmer of hope that this will change. After all, no less than the president of the United States, a man not exactly known for being straightforward — The Washington Post’s Fact Checker found that by the end of May, Trump had made “3,251 false or misleading claims” during his presidency — recently demonstrated his commitment to the truth.
Following the firing of then-FBI director James Comey in May 2017, the White House said several times that Trump’s decision was based solely on the recommendations of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, and that Comey’s dismissal was not related to the FBI’s investigation into possible connections between Russia and individuals in the Trump campaign. But in a subsequent interview with NBC News’ Lester Holt, the president said, “Oh, I was gonna fire regardless of the recommendation…And in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, ‘You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story.’”
Has it come to this? That it takes President Trump to show us the path to truth?