Friends of Padre Steve’s world,
The careless abandon with which the Trump administration, not to mention others of various political or ideological persuasions treat truth is having a corrosive effect on our society. The danger is that the moral corrosion will seep into every institution and every individual before anyone really figures out what is going on, and thereby depriving us of the ability to differentiate between truth and falsehood, right and wrong; in effect to deprive us of the means by which we take our moral bearings. Hannah Arendt described this phenomena well:
“the result of a consistent and total substitution of lies for factual truth is not that the lie will now be accepted as truth, and truth be defamed as lie, but that the sense by which we take our bearings in the real world – and the category of truth versus falsehood is among the mental means to this end – is being destroyed.”
We have to be able to distinguish between truth and falsehood is essential to our humanity and to the functioning of a political system that is based on individuals who act rationally. That is one of the brilliant aspects of the preamble of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, is that the founders, being products of the Enlightenment understood human nature far better than many of us do today. They certainly were not perfect and they were often contradictory in the application of their ideals to the world that they lived in, but they believed that humanity should progress, and that government should be a part of that progress.
Within that was the understanding that the ideal government should be about the virtue of governing truthfully. Thomas Jefferson probably said it best: “The whole art of government consists in the art of being honest.” This is certainly something that has not been practiced much in our history, and the foibles of people in power, be they in government, business, or religion, demonstrate that honesty, to quote Billy Joel, “is such a lonely word.”
However, our founders and many others before us understood the poisonous effects of continual lies on the body politic. They understood that government based on lies cannot survive, nor can societies where people erase the line between truth and falsehood. One only has to study the disastrous history of totalitarian regimes, where truth is suppressed, and lies so rampant that they can are believed. William Shirer wrote of his years reporting in Nazi Germany:
“It was surprising and sometimes consternating to find that notwithstanding the opportunities I had to learn the facts and despite one’s inherent distrust of what one learned from Nazi sources, a steady diet over the years of falsifications and distortions made a certain impression on one’s mind and often misled it. No one who has not lived for years in a totalitarian land can possibly conceive how difficult it is to escape the dread consequences of a regime’s calculated and incessant propaganda…”
I am disturbed by the blatant use of lies, half-truths, distortions, “alternative facts” and “alternative truths” by the Trump administration. Likewise I am disturbed by the actions of some Trump opponents who deliberately spread lies to further their opposition. Stooping to the methods of your opponent is never a good means of a movement to achieve its end, for if it does succeed in overcoming or overthrowing the regime that it opposes, it will end the end be no better. Likewise, it will have squandered its integrity, and lost the trust of people, and with it, its moral authority.