Press: Does telling the truth matter anymore? 

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To say that this nation is hopelessly politically divided is the understatement of the year. It shouts out at you in every political poll. We no longer have two competing political parties but two armed enemy camps. It prevents progress on any front and debases our entire political system, discouraging millions of Americans from getting involved in politics, running for office or even going out to vote. 

Those concerned about how to restore faith in politics have put forth several good ideas, including: instituting campaign reform; ending partisan gerrymandering; getting rid of the Electoral College; and enacting term limits.

But I suggest a bolder, yet easier to achieve, first step: Let’s get back to telling the truth. Demand that our politicians tell the truth. Honor those who do. And banish those of either party who do not. 

It seems so quaint now that, after the scandals of Watergate, Jimmy Carter won the presidency by making one simple promise: “I’ll never tell a lie.” After all the lies of Richard Nixon, that’s exactly what the American people wanted to hear. They yearned for a president they could trust to tell the truth. 

And that’s one of the most powerful lessons I learned in grade school. No doubt inspired by the (apocryphal) story of little George Washington and the cherry tree, we were taught to respect the president of the United States because he was the one man who would never tell a lie. You could count on it. 

Which is why it was such a shock in 1960 when war hero President Dwight Eisenhower, straightest of all straight arrows, admitted lying about American U-2 planes spying on the Soviet Union. Americans weren’t upset we were spying on the Soviets, they were stunned that the president had told a lie — even a lie, one could argue, necessary for national security. 

At least Ike admitted telling a lie. How times have changed. Last week, in the GOP response to President Biden’s State of the Union (SOTU), Sen. Katie Britt (R-Ala.) offered a horrific tale about sex-trafficking of a 12-year-old girl by Mexican drug cartels. She clearly implied the event happened because of Biden’s failure to secure the border.

Except, as independent journalist Jonathan Katz first reported, it didn’t happen under Joe Biden, but under George W. Bush. And it happened deep in Mexico, not in the United States. Britt knew before giving her SOTU response, because she’d met with the young woman a couple of years ago. 

Yet, when confronted with the truth, Britt didn’t apologize for lying or misleading people about the facts. She insisted it was legitimate to blame a 20-year-old sex trafficking incident on Joe Biden’s policies of today. And fellow Republicans lined up to defend her. Why? Because in today’s MAGA Republican Party, the truth doesn’t matter anymore. The only thing that matters is scoring political points.  

Britt, after all, is only following the playbook of MAGA leader Donald Trump, whose entire reelection campaign is based on one “Big Lie” that he, not Joe Biden, won the 2020 election. Yes, the Republican Party, which impeached Bill Clinton for one lie in 1998, is about to re-nominate Donald Trump who, according to the Washington Post, told 30,573 lies during his four years in the White House. 

If we really want to “make America great again,” I suggest we start with expecting and demanding that our political leaders tell the truth. It won’t solve all our political problems, but it’s a good start. The truth matters. 

Press hosts “The Bill Press Pod.” He is the author of “From the Left: A Life in the Crossfire.”  

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