Van Ens: Jesus’ teachings tell us not to lie; do presidential half-truths get a pass? (column)
Telling the truth reveals strong, moral personal character.
Prior to Donald Trump’s presidency, voters expected political leaders to narrow the gap between their promises and performance, admit mistakes and refrain from loose talk lacking substantive fact.
Now, Trump’s supporters give him a pass on accuracy because they say he goes to bat for the little guy. Few supporters hold the president to his word. They endorse his sales pitches, which push “facts” beyond what can be proved.
The president speaks fortune-cookie language, larding sentences with superlatives and bloated scattershot promises
On Jan. 10, 2018, The Washington Post reported, “President Trump has made more than 2,000 false or misleading claims over 355 days.” This fact-checker uncovers the range of widespread presidential distortions of the truth, averaging “5.6 claims a day … (when) he touts an assortment of exaggerated, dubious or false claims.”
Trump repeats the false claim that he’s struck a dying blow to the Affordable Care Act. No, the Affordable Care Act’s obituary is premature. It is not “essentially dead,” as the president publicizes.
Moreover, the president swears that “bigger is always better.” Trump alleges he pushed through the “largest tax cut in U.S. history.” No, he’s lied about this achievement 55 times because the Treasury Department’s data details the Trump tax cut ranks eighth compared to previous tax reforms.
President Trump candy coats political victories. He brags how the economic rebound is directly caused by fiscal policy on his watch. No, the economy was revving up during the Obama presidency and is even stronger overseas than in the United States.
Some of Trump’s fabrications occur because he denies losing the presidential popular vote to Hillary Clinton. Almost 63 million Americans voted for Donald Trump, but nearly 66 million voters cast ballots for Hillary.
Even these facts don’t stop Trump from manipulating what’s self-evident. His explanation for this discrepancy is massive voter fraud. Trump repeats what is only true in his head but not corroborated by evidence on the ground in voting booths. He prattles ad nauseum that 3 million to 5 million voters cast illegal ballots in the 2016 presidential election, with Hillary Clinton winning the popular vote. No evidence has been uncovered supporting Trump’s tale of massive voter fraud. Nor did such trumped-up fraud diminish his popular vote count.
Is lying a harmless idiosyncrasy our president spins?
W.R. Matthews, once dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, wrote the book “Strangers and Pilgrims” in 1945. He describes why habitual lying makes the liar feel powerful and confident he’s got a lock on what’s true.
“When I am lying, if I am good at it,” writes Matthews, “I am conscious of occupying a superior position. I know the truth, but to get my own way, I impose delusions on others, thus triumphing over them doubly — by having a monopoly of truth on the matter in question and by altering the world in accordance with my will …”
What happens when we lie our way to the top? The liar “has adapted his opinions and his conduct so often” writes Dean Matthews, “… that he does not know what he is really like in himself. Or, worse still, he may have played the part of the disinterested and noble character so long that he has come to believe that he is really disinterested and noble …”
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught: “Let what you say be ‘yes,’ or ‘no’” (Matthew 5:37). Don’t lie.
The Rev. Dr. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the nonprofit, tax-exempt Creative Growth Ministries (www.thelivinghistory.com), which enhances Christian worship through dynamic storytelling and dramatic presentations aimed to make God’s history come alive.