The honesty issue has been troubling me of late, because not only do we, the people, seem less concerned, but also nonchalant about boastful mistruths made daily, especially by politicians.
Case in point: The NYT reported last week that an official at the Interior Department embarked on a campaign that has inserted into the agency’s scientific reports misleading language about climate change – including debunked claims that increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is beneficial. The misleading language appeared in at least nine reports so far, the NYT investigation showed, including environmental studies and impact statements on major watersheds in the West. The effort was led by Indur M. Goklany, a longtime Interior employee, who has been promoted by the Trump administration to review the agency’s climate reports. The wording, known as “Gok’s uncertainty language,” inaccurately claims that there is a lack of consensus among scientists that the Earth is warming. The final language in one of his reports inaccurately states that some scientists have found the Earth to be warming; others have not.
According to NASA, multiple studies published in peer-reviewed scientific journals show that 97 percent or more of actively publishing climate scientists agree that Earth’s climate is warming, and that the warming trends are extremely likely due to human activities.
Okay, that’s one small example of government lying to us. Need I add that according to the Washington Post fact checkers, Trump made 16,421 false or misleading during his first three years as president. And that number was before the coronavirus ever appeared on the American scene, with the president continuing to say to us this week that the virus is under control and any American can get tested for coronavirus, which isn’t true.
Not a good role model for presidential truth telling. Remember, long ago George Washington cut down a cherry tree and then readily admitted he did it because could not tell a lie to his parents. How refreshing, if the tale is true.
Now that we are in the midst of the presidential primaries, lies and cover-ups have been popping up all over the place. Each candidate, I suppose, is just trying to paint the best self-portrait, and hoping that voters don’t catch their exaggerated slip-ups.
A couple of years ago, comedian Stephen Colbert labeled all this “truthiness” -- the quality of a statement seeming or being felt to be true, even if not necessarily true. We laughed about it at the time, but it’s become more operative in our society -- except it’s much more than truthiness now – oftentimes it is just plain lying.
And it happens locally. One city council candidate suggested that she didn’t really want more growth in Palo Alto, that she wanted us to carefully monitor new developments n our community. I took that to mean slow and controlled growth. Since she was elected, she’s very pro-growth in housing and in commercial development. I’ve seen mayors and city managers give brief reports so that their city “looks good.” That’s better, they think, than telling the truth to the public. I’ve seen city officials hold off for months – sometimes years – releasing investigatory results to the public.
And interpersonally, what we believe has become the new truth. My son has a business friend who told him, “Well, I can’t agree with you, because I feel differently, and, therefore, I know I am right. You have to respect what I feel.” My son replied, “I respect what you feel, but you are factually wrong.” And his friend replied, “So what?”
Isn’t the truth better than lies? I care about truth, probably you do too, but many Americans don’t seem too anymore. What is happening? Are our “feelings” preempting our factual knowledge? Are we losing our sense of morality – i.e., lying and cover-ups are becoming okay? Are you worried?