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Debasing our Political Discourse

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Once the lie we heard repeatedly was that George W. Bush lied us into war. He was routinely excoriated by the left for this during his years in office. It was an absurd, partisan trope that took root as the anti-war sentiment grew in the wake of the American military action to remove Saddam Hussein from power. And it was reinforced dramatically by the left in the Obama years that followed the Bush presidency — all the while President Obama, himself, fibbing up a storm from the Oval Office and on the political stump.

President Obama spent much of his two terms living off the lies he and his allies told about the Bush administration until these claims ultimately wore thin and ceased to be profitable. After all, you can only blame a president out of office for nearly eight years for all your difficulties and policy failures for so long. Of course, they didn’t stop blaming the second President Bush cold turkey. They continued to keep the meme going right up to the moment President Obama stepped down, invoking it whenever they still needed an excuse for their own failures.

But the truth about this meme is that there was never any evidence that Bush “lied us into war;” no reason, in fact, to believe the former president had actually lied about Saddam’s possessing weapons of mass destruction (the Iraqi dictator had indeed possessed them a decade earlier and had kept the story that he still did alive, it turns out, to keep his enemies off balance). Yes, the Bush administration got their facts wrong but being wrong isn’t the same as telling a lie.

The former only means you didn’t actually know what was going on while the latter means you did but pretended something else was going on instead.

The latter, of course, is evidence not merely of error but of an intention to deceive. It’s that intention that’s a problem of character, a reason to distrust and, when serious enough, to discount whatever else a person who would lie so easily might say.

The left created the tale of George W. Bush’s perfidy to justify its hostility towards his administration and to ramp up political opposition to Republicans in general. Bush’s successor continued that trope because it served his own interests, though he did so less directly via his obvious disdain for his predecessor and, indeed, for all things Republican. But now we are reaping the whirlwind of this foolishness that comes of debasing our rhetorical currency by pretending errors are lies for political purposes. Harry Reid, in the Obama years, even lied about Obama’s second opponent, Mitt Romney’s allegedly having paid no taxes from the Senate floor (where he was, by law, immune from civil suit for slandering his target) and then laughed about it afterwards, reminding his questioner that Romney lost, didn’t he? For Reid, and for many Democrats at the time, that was enough. Lying about lying was fine as long as you got the result you were after.

And now we have a president, in Donald Trump, for whom truth seems to be an alien concept. Indeed, Mr. Trump has shown himself to be quite prepared to lie his way into office and to lie about lying when discovered, attacking all those who call him out on each deliberate falsehood to destroy their credibility or scare them into silence.

President Trump does so much of this that it’s often unclear whether he actually knows the difference between truth and falsehood. Many have suggested he is in some kind of fantasy world, that he’s really crazy, not merely disingenuous. But he apparently gets the impact lying can have when he’s on the receiving end as the discovery that his National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn, had apparently lied to members of his own team reveals. President Trump has now cut his losses with Flynn and showed him the door — just as he would have when he was still hosting Celebrity Apprentice.

But this shows us something else, that our new president actually can tell the difference between truths and falsehoods. And if he can, then he, too, can and should be held accountable for the untruths he spouts with abandon. One good thing, at least, can now be said to have come out of the Flynn imbroglio for we now know that his boss, President Donald J. Trump, is at least sane enough to know truth from falsehood and why it’s important to respect the former and reject the latter.

So we no longer have any reason to suppose President Trump is entitled to a pass from his supporters because he somehow lives in a different kind of world than the rest of us. Every time he concocts another tall tale about his crowds’ size or whether he really said the many false things everyone in the world, who is paying attention, actually knows he said, he should be held accountable, even by his supporters, just as he held Flynn accountable for messing up his administration’s credibility by having been caught in a lie.

Truth telling really does matter it turns out, even to a President Trump and so Republicans must now give up the notion that this president is different and so entitled to different expectations than we apply to other human beings. It turns out that, in fact, he is part of the same kind of world as all the rest of us. He owes it to us, to the entire country in fact, to lay off the bullshit from here on and get down to the job he was elected to do and become every American’s president.

This isn’t just about you, Donald.

About Stuart W. Mirsky

Stuart W. Mirsky, a former New York City official who last served as Assistant Commissioner for Operations in the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene before retiring in 2002, wrote a column, "The Rockaway Irregular," for The Wave, a south Queens based weekly, for more than a decade (until Hurricane Sandy changed the equation). He is an original founder of the Rockaway Republicans, one of the most active Republican groups in southern Queens, and author of a number of books, including The King of Vinland's Saga, an historical novel of the Norse in 11th century North America, A Raft on the River, a memoir of Holocaust survival, and Choice and Action, a work of contemporary philosophy addressing the implications of relativism and nihilism for our moral beliefs.

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