Lies and More Lies

In light of the fact that the New York Times recently reported that Trump was guilty of 87 “misstatements, exaggerations, and falsehoods in a week” I thought this post from a while back worth repeating, though, as I say, those who follow this man are convinced that every criticism that is leveled against him is a lie by “those damned liberals.” As I also say, we have lost sight of just what lies are — they are not just those statements we dislike, they are those statements that seek to alter the truth and tend to mislead.

In one of my favorite episodes of “Seinfeld” George is giving advice to Jerry who has been asked to take a lie detector test to determine whether he does or does not watch a soap opera every day. He is seeking to impress a cute policewoman and is afraid the truth will put her off. George is giving him advice because George is so good at lying; it has become a habit with him. He tells Jerry, “it’s not a lie, Jerry, if you really believe it.”

Needless to say, this doesn’t work, because Jerry simply cannot keep up the ruse. But it seems to be working in today’s political scene as the Republican candidate (who shall remain nameless if not blameless) seems to be very good at lying. I suspect he has had a great deal of practice — after all he claims to be a successful business person when, in fact, his businesses have a habit of failing. But I also suspect that he really believes what he says. Or, perhaps, he doesn’t know what he says because he doesn’t listen to himself. His mouth seems to open when his brain is engaged elsewhere — heaven only knows where.

The problem is that his mindless minions who hang on his every word and grammatically incorrect sentence seem to believe whatever he says. One thinks of a cult where the followers blindly follow where the leader leads — or points. And this is a problem because when the lie becomes the norm, then facts are useless, even meaningless. Lying becomes merely a word that is used by the minions to discredit criticism of their leader who can do no wrong. Those “Fact-checkers” who claim to be neutral and only interested in setting the record straight are dismissed as biased and perhaps even in the pocket of the opposition.

Freud talks about the “reality principle” that operates as one grows older, separating fact from fiction, truth from myth. This principle is central to maturity in the human animal. Without it, he or she remains a child living in a make-believe world in which everything goes as planned and there is no pain or suffering. This, of course, is the world of those who continue to insist that there is no Truth (except what comes from one man’s mouth) and where lies are otherwise the norm. Reality is displaced by myth and the leader standing before you is larger than life and beyond reckoning. What others say about him are all lies. Everything he says is solid gold.

What happens in this case — and it is this case which is of major interest since so many seem to be living in this mythical world where one man has all the truth there is and everyone else is an inveterate liar — is that ears are closed to the truth as it relates to the real world: the real world has ceased to exist. The only world is the world in which the man standing before you says whatever comes into his head and it is taken for the truth, the only truth there is. Everything else is a lie, the only lies there are.

Philosophers will tell you that truth is attached to statements that correspond with facts in the real world. Thus, if I say the cat is on the mat, this is true if, and only if, the cat is, in fact, lying on the mat. But when the “successful businessman” standing before us tells us that the truth is what he says, and what he alone says, then the cat disappears and the only reality is the reality created by this man’s words — such as they are. We hear what he wants us to hear and nothing else. Our minds become closed to the fact-checkers because we are told they are biased. The word “lies” attaches only to those things said by those who oppose this man. The paradox is that he lies when he says that others lie. But we are no longer able to distinguish between the lies and the truth — except when it is pointed out to us by our Infallible Leader.

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It’s War!

I have a second email address that I tend to ignore for the most part until I realize that it is collecting over one hundred emails — mostly spam, of course. When I was emptying the trash from that site yesterday I came to realize that there were dozens of urgent requests from some group that calls itself “DCCC” wanting me to donate money to Donald Trump’s campaign. Oh yeah! You bet. Right away: I’ll get out  my checkbook. . . .

But as I gave some of the frantic notices some attention I came to realize an odd and somewhat disturbing fact: these people don’t see this election as a campaign; they see it as war! It’s Us against Them! It’s the little guy against the giant Establishment. They sprinkle their appeals with quotations from various sources on the “enemy’s” side that prove (to them) that the enemy is on the run. They are panicking! We are winning!

For example, one recent appeal quotes Barack Obama (their favorite hate target: he is the source of all evil, together with Hillary Clinton, of course) to this effect: “All the progress we’ve made is at stake in this election.” The DCCC see this as a sign that the “other side” is weakening and is in panic mode. Every time Fact Check is quoted to show that their leader has told bald-faced lies it is dismissed as a pure fabrication, a Lie to end all Lies. They lie, we don’t. They won’t listen to criticism of their leader because they know before time that whatever that criticism might be it is pure fiction. Their man can do no wrong.

Ironically, of course, the appeals are full of lies and distortions about how their leader is winning the war, though their minions cannot possibly recognize them as such because they see only black and white: US against THEM. They lie, we don’t. The thought that they are winning the war and that they have the enemy on the run keeps them energized and (I suspect) keeps the dollars coming in. Promises of doubling and tripling donations are sprinkled throughout the appeals that include the aforementioned lies and distortions about their leader’s winning ways. And the appeals have a frantic tone to them, designed to evoke emotional reaction, not thought.

The whole thing would be funny except for the fact that it is deeply disturbing. When, for example brilliant people like Stephen Hawking convince a couple of hundred reputable scientists to sign a letter to the American people urging them not to vote for Trump this is not seen as a weakening of their own lines; it is seen as a sure sign that the “other side” is on the run. “They,” one quickly realizes, is anyone who disagrees with them. And it doesn’t matter if “they” are reputable scientists, former Republicans, Pulitzer Prized winners, or even the Pope: they all lie when they dare to say anything critical of their leader.

This is not merely the refusal of someone to hear or read anything that might sully their leader, because they have determined that their leader defines the Truth — though this is certainly the case. This is not a matter of any attempt to draw rational conclusions from scattered, legitimate evidence. It is pure, unadulterated, visceral, hatred-driven determination to beat the opposition at any cost. And this is deeply disturbing because it suggests that these folks will stop at nothing to see their man win. And if he doesn’t win there will be Hell to pay, because it means that they have lost as well.

So much for the democratic ideal of open and honest debate among different political ideologies in an attempt to persuade voters to back their man or woman. This is the darkest form of warfare disguised as a political race — which Trump himself describes as a “movement.” He’s right. It is a movement, much like a cult. And reason and logic have no place at the table. It’s all about gut feelings, rage, hatred, and fear bundled up against the Establishment that has always been out to get those who are ready and able to do battle for their man.

The Real Victim

We have already heard the claim that this election is “rigged” and that Donald Trump may lose as a result. What this translates into it: My name is Donald The Trumpet and IF I lose it will not be as a result of my own failings as a person and a potential president, it will be because the Democrats have rigged the election.” In a word, it’s an escape clause that Trump has built into his ridiculous candidacy, because in his mind he cannot lose fair and square. The facts, of course, do not matter — though his claim is, indeed, based on the fact that the DNC managed to guarantee that Hillary would be their candidate and Bernie Sanders would not be. There is certainly some truth in that (if truth matters any more).

But it is a huge jump from that particular unpleasant fact to the outrageous claim that the entire election will be rigged to guarantee that Donald Trump will not be our next president. Why, we might well ask, should the Democrats bother to rig the election when the Trumpet is managing to undermine his own candidacy by continuing to shoot himself in the foot? If only he wouldn’t open his mouth, he might have a chance. But whenever he opens it another outrageous claim comes gushing forth and another doubter is born (we would hope).

To be sure, things have been done in the past to promote the interest of one particular candidate — Mayor Daily in Chicago practically delivered the election to John Kennedy back in the day. But there have been numerous other attempts, such as Jim Crow laws designed to disenfranchise certain voters (usually Democrats) and help the candidate of choice. And it would appear that Florida was pretty much delivered to George W. Bush by his brother not long ago. But to “rig” the entire election in favor of one candidate over another would appear to be practically impossible.

But that doesn’t matter, as we have learned. It’s not what is the case, in fact, that matters. It’s all about perception and the Trumpet is a master at deception — making the “truth” out to be whatever he says. He will say the word “rigged” enough to convince his mindless minions that it is a fact. And when he goes down in defeat in November (if he is not forced to resign sooner) he will shout “foul,” and his minions will rise up in protest. Let’s hope and pray that they not do so in violent protest — though I would certainly not bet against it.

The real victim in this race is not Donald Trump. If the real victim is not the Republican Party (which may well be the case) it is the truth. It is facts. It is what happens to be the case and not what people perceive to be the case. Truth is the real victim because the consequences of this transformation of lies into The Truth From On High are incalculable. The Donald will, as he says, take a long vacation and then probably work for Fox News and do the lecture circuit to help reimburse himself for the expenses he has incurred in this contest — and keep his face in the public eye. But what his mindless minions will do is anyone’s guess and those consequences follow directly from the rocks this man has turned over and the rage he has ignited in the hearts of so many people who might otherwise have simply remained mute. And, again, the truth will lie in tatters around our feet, unrecognizable and incapable of resuscitation. There’s the real victim.

Lies, Lies, Lies

In one of my favorite episodes of “Seinfeld” George is giving advice to Jerry who has been asked to take a lie detector test to determine whether he does or does not watch a soap opera every day. He is seeking to impress a cute policewoman and is afraid the truth will put her off. George is giving him advice because George is so good at lying; it has become a habit with him. He tells Jerry, “it’s not a lie, Jerry, if you really believe it.”

Needless to say, this doesn’t work, because Jerry simply cannot keep up the ruse. But it seems to be working in today’s political scene as the Republican candidate (who shall remain nameless if not blameless) seems to be very good at lying. I suspect he has had a great deal of practice — after all he claims to be a successful business person when, in fact, his businesses have a habit of failing. But I also suspect that he really believes what he says. Or, perhaps, he doesn’t know what he says because he doesn’t listen to himself. His mouth seems to open when his brain is engaged elsewhere — heaven only knows where.

The problem is that his mindless minions who hang on his every word and grammatically incorrect sentence seem to believe whatever he says. One thinks of a cult where the followers blindly follow where the leader leads — or points. And this is a problem because when the lie becomes the norm, then facts are useless, even meaningless. Truth becomes merely a word that is used by critics to shame their leader who can do no wrong. Those “Fact-checkers” who claim to be neutral and only interested in setting the record straight are dismissed as biased and perhaps even in the pocket of the opposition.

Freud talks about the “reality principle” that operates as one grows older, separating fact from fiction, truth from myth. This principle is central to maturity in the human animal. Without it, he or she remains a child living in a make-believe world in which everything goes as planned and there is no pain or suffering. This, of course, is the world of those who continue to insist that there is no Truth (except what comes from one man’s mouth) and where lies are otherwise the norm. Reality is displaced by myth and the leader standing before you is larger than life and beyond reckoning. What others say about him are all lies. Everything he says is solid gold.

What happens in this case — and it is this case which is of major interest since so many seem to be living in this mythical world where one man has all the truth there is and everyone else is an inveterate liar — is that ears are closed to the truth as it relates to the real world: the real world has ceased to exist. The only world is the world in which the man standing before you says whatever comes into his head and it is taken for the truth, the only truth there is. Everything else is a lie, the only lies there are.

Philosophers will tell you that truth is attached to statements that correspond with facts in the real world. Thus, if I say the cat is on the mat, this is true if, and only if, the cat is, in fact, lying on the mat. But when the successful businessman standing before us tells us that the truth is what he says, and what he says alone, then the cat disappears and the only reality is the reality created by this man’s words — such as they are. We hear what he wants us to hear and nothing else. Our minds become closed to the fact-checkers because we are told they are biased. The word “lies” attaches only to those things said by those who oppose this man. The paradox is that he lies when he says that others lie. But we are no longer able to distinguish between the lies and the truth — except when it is pointed out to us by our infallible Leader.

Planting The Seed

The man really is a piece of work! Donald Trump is preparing his mindless minions for his loss — which, in his world, can only happen if the other side cheats, if the election is “rigged.” He honestly believes, I do think, that he cannot lose unless the Clinton forces cheat — and this from a man who uses WikiLeaks to undermine the Democratic effort. He knows that the DNC cheated in making sure that Hillary won the nomination (which appears to be true) and he now reads the tea leaves and sees his eventual loss, which can only happen if the same machine works to bring him down. Consider this brief excerpt from a Yahoo News report on-line:

Donald Trump suggested on Monday that the November election may be “rigged” against him.

“I’m afraid the election is going be rigged, I have to be honest,” Trump said at a town hall in Columbus, Ohio.

The Republican nominee pointed to Bernie Sanders’ unsuccessful Democratic primary campaign as an example of elections being rigged. Trump has frequently claimed that Hillary Clinton only won the primary because national Democrats intervened on her behalf.

At his Monday campaign rally, Trump added that the Republican Party could not stop him in the GOP primary because of the margin of victory he racked up.

“Poor Bernie. He looks so upset. You know what, he shouldn’t have made a deal,” Trump said, referring to Sanders’ endorsement of Clinton. “I think my side was rigged if I didn’t win by massive landslides.”

He even pretends to be sympathetic with Bernie Sanders! But note the final remark: “. . .my side was rigged if I didn’t win by massive landslides.” Now there’s delusion for you. The man is not only a megalomaniac he is a deluded megalomaniac! And he may be just a touch paranoid. As I say, he honestly believes what he says.  In fact, I believe he is convinced that what he says is true because he says it. He is that convinced of his own greatness and superiority to the rest of us. He lives on an island that consists only of himself and he allows others to visit him from time to time, but only if they adore him, and pay him the homage he thinks he deserves. My goodness!

In any event, the tea leaves do appear to be right. Hillary had the expected bump after the convention, but her poll numbers fail to reflect the fact that growing numbers of disenfranchised voters are registering to vote to see to it that Trump fails in November. She appears to be extending her lead.

But we can be certain that Trump will prepare his followers to be braced for the loss and I will go out on a limb and predict that there will be a violent reaction in the Trump camp and among his followers after the loss which the man cannot possibly accept honorably: he doesn’t know what the word means.

Formula For Success

So, you wanna be president, eh? I have some tips for you garnered from years of looking and listening at key holes. These are some of the things successful politicians do to win voters — especially voters that would put them in the White House. Pay close attention!

  1. Exude confidence. Appear to be in charge. You want to convince your listeners that you have everything under control, are cool under fire, and will achieve greatness.
  2. Know your audience. Know what they want to hear and tell them precisely that. It’s not about what is true, it’s about what people want to hear.
  3.  Repeat. Again, repeat. If you say something several times people will believe it is true, whether it is or not. Indeed, truth is not the issue, it’s all about what people want to hear and saying it enough times that they will believe whatever you say.
  4. Appeal to emotion. Don’t try to overwhelm your audience with facts. Facts will just confuse people. Know your audience and know what they fear and what they desire. Exploit their known prejudices: play on them. Then probe. And repeat.
  5. Deal in generalities. Don’t get bogged down in specifics. People don’t what specifics anyway. They want clichés and formulas, no matter how vapid or even how untrue. Richard Nixon won his way into the White House by telling folks he “had a plan” for getting us out of Viet Nam. He never said what that plan was, because, as it turned out, he had none. But people believed him because it was what they wanted to hear (refer back to point #2 above).
  6. Smile, look sincere, and pause for effect after saying something your audience responds to favorably — as though you knew what they were thinking.
  7. Never, ever admit you were wrong. Don’t change your mind even if it has been shown that what you said was a bald-faced lie. Stick by your guns and attack those who insist that what you said was untrue. People prefer their candidates to be self-assured, even if they are chronic liars. They won’t recognize a lie anyway and very few of them will bother to check your “facts” to see if they are true.
  8. Pander to your audience. Give them more credit than they deserve. As a group they may have a collective I.Q. of 73.6 but treat them as though they are brilliant and wise enough to make you their choice for president.
  9. Attack your opponents at every opportunity. Blame every problem on them, especially if something terrible has just occurred, and assure your audience that if you were president this sort of thing would not have happened and will never happen again if your are elected. Your opponents can do nothing right. Stress that. Don’t worry whether or not this is true because, as said above, the audience doesn’t care about the truth, they want to hear what they already believe is true.
  10. Keep it short. K.I.S.S. No long sentences. No logic. No lengthy explanations with data and evidence to support. Remember that your audience has the attention-span of a cocker spaniel and act accordingly.

Delusions

In Joseph Conrad’s remarkable novel Victory he depicts a man by the name of Schomberg who owns a hotel on an island in the China Sea. He is a truly obnoxious man, large, heavily bearded, sweaty, and overbearing who lords it over his poor wife and anyone he takes offense to. He has become infatuated with a pretty girl who has come with Zangiacomo’s Ladies Orchestra to stay at his hotel and perform for the patrons. Schomberg’s wife is almost as repulsive as he is and he pines after the pretty girl whom the fates have brought to him; in Schomberg’s mind she is responding to his advances; he is winning the poor girl’s heart. He has visions of ridding himself of his wife, selling the hotel and running off with the pretty young girl who will love him all the more for taking her away from the tortuous life of a roaming violin player in an all-girl band. In fact, the young girl finds his advances positively nauseating. Please understand that Schomberg’s fantasies are all of his own making: he is repulsive to the girl who avoids him at every turn. When the girl runs off with a Swede whom Schomberg has already grown to hate, his imaginings take a turn toward total delusion with just a touch of paranoia. He is convinced the Swede tricked the girl somehow and stole her away just as Schomberg was about to triumph. His hatred grows beyond reckoning.

Schomberg is delusional. We can see that now because we see on every side around us a growing number of delusional people who have turned Donald Trump into their political savior, just as Schomberg turned the pretty girl into his personal savior.

In a delightful comic performance on HBO by John Oliver making the rounds on Facebook recently we were treated to the total unmasking of the Trumpet and his followers. A number of Trump’s followers were asked what they saw in the man and why they thought he would make a good president. They noted that he “tells it like it is,” that he is a “successful business person,” he is “tough,” and has “acute business sense.” To each of these claims, the comic destroys the fiction with the bare facts.  A number of his “success” stories are outright failures — such as his ventures into travel, magazines, vodka, steaks [!], and home mortgages at a time when banks were going belly-up due to housing failures. The man is not a successful businessman. In fact he has been bankrupt several times. He is convinced that the Trump label guarantees success, whereas in fact many of his ventures have been miserable failures — which, in every case, he blames on someone else. Fact Check notes that three-fourths of what he says is simply false. But Trump dismisses Fact Check as a “liberal” creation out to destroy him. He tells lies and creates fictions that he passes off as Truth From On High. Finally, he is not tough. He has remarkably thin skin, threatening those who oppose him with grievous bodily harm, law suits, or both. His reaction to criticism borders on paranoia.

The parallel is remarkable. Schomberg’s delusions are  mirrored in the minds and hearts of growing numbers of people in this country who flock to buy the snake oil Donald Trump peddles. They blindly accept his promises that the snake oil will cure all their ills while in fact it is vile smelling and will almost certainly make them sick. The truth is hard to swallow at times. But it is better to hold our nose and swallow it than to swallow the putrid liquid this politician is passing off as a panacea that will cure us all. It will not. It will only make us worse. Much worse.

Out Of Bounds

In the most recent Republican debate Donald “the Trumpet” had the audacity to speak the truth and the Republican loyalists collectively pilloried him. It matters not that he has been telling blatant lies throughout his campaign, as long as the lies are within the boundaries of accepted Republican dogma. It matters not that the trumpet insisted that the Muslims in New Jersey cheered when the Twin Towers were attacked (a lie) or that Mexican immigrants are all rapists (another lie). What matters is that he had the audacity to insist that the Iraq war was a mistake and that there never were any weapons of mass destruction. That was true but, more to the point, it was not acceptable to Republicans because George W. Bush was president at the time and he is regarded as the man who “made our country safe from terrorism” despite the fact that the Twin Towers were attacked during his presidency and all report indicate that he had been warned that an attack was immanent. The following slice from an interesting story on the internet spells out the essentials:

I won’t even hazard a guess as to whether this double-sided exchange helped or hurt Trump. Watching it on television you’d think Republicans watching hated everything he had to say. But the reality is that the in-studio audience was hand-picked by the state party, and seemingly stuffed with Bush supporters.

But if it did go badly for Trump what’s fascinating is that it went badly in exactly the kind of way you would have expected Trump’s campaign to go south months ago.

He went way outside the boundaries of the kind of things Republican Party politicians normally say, and in response Republican Party politicians (and their backers in the state party) piled-on to diss him. A political party, after all, is a coalition of like-minded people. When you step outside their zone of comfort and say things they wouldn’t say, they team up to crush you.

What’s important here is not that the Trumpet actually said something that happened to be true (which is remarkable in itself) but that the  Republican fraternity determined that these sorts of remarks are heresy, even blasphemy. You can say anything you want, no matter how absurd or untrue as long as you don’t bash one of us — in this case the Shrub who was supposedly in control when the Towers were attacked and later ordered the invasion of Iraq for bogus reasons. It really is about Party Loyalty and not about the Truth or about the Common Good.

And now that Judge Scalia has passed on the Republicans have clustered about and are determined to block any nomination that the president puts forward. Why? Not because he might suggest the wrong person for the job, but because he’s a Democrat and whoever he chooses is unacceptable a priori. This is called “poisoning the wells,” and it is an example of faulty logic, a logical fallacy in fact. But logic doesn’t matter to politicians these days any more than the truth matters. What matters is circling the wagons and making sure that those on your team are of one mind — even if that mind is closed and terribly small.

Truth In Fiction

As a trained philosopher who also happens to love reading what used to be called “Great Books” — but which are lately dismissed by much of the academic community as the works of “Dead, White, European Males” — I would like to make the case for reading works of fiction written by exceptional writers, such as Barbara Kingsolver (who is not D.,E., or M.). I have mentioned her before because she has the ability to write fascinating stories that have deep and important messages beneath the surface. Thus, they are not just tales, they are also food for serious thought. I have mentioned her name before and dare say I will mention it again, but at this time I would like to focus attention on a brief exchange between the writer-hero of her brilliant novel The Lacuna and his lawyer as the F.B.I. hovers in the background ready to arrest the writer for subversion. The time period follows the second world war when Stalin went from being our ally to being Satan incarnate, the “Cold War,” the period of the so-called “House Un-American Committee.” The year is 1948 and our hero’s lawyer is speaking:

“What these men are doing could become permanent.”

“What do you mean?”

Suddenly he looked weary. “You force people to stop asking questions, and before you know it they have auctioned off the question mark, or sold it for scrap. No boldness. No good ideas for fixing what’s broken in the land. Because if you happen to menition it’s broken, you are automatically disqualified. . . . .”

“I’m an old man, I’ve seen a lot. But what these men are doing is putting poison on the grass. It kills the crabgrass all right, and then you have a lot of dead stuff out there for a very long time. Maybe forever.”

Now, of course, the lawyer is speaking of folks like Martin Dies, J. Parnell Thomas, and later Joe McCarthy who many of us have forgotten or would like to have forgotten, men who assaulted Civil Rights and the First Amendment in the name of “Anti-Communism.” But events did evolve as the lawyer says, precisely, ” . . . . a lot of dead stuff out there for a very long time.” Countless decent men and women were brought to heel by frightened, small-minded, ambitious men in positions of power who were convinced that anyone who ever had shown any interest in, much less sympathy for, Communism or who spoke out for, say, Negro rights, or women’s rights, or may have read Karl Marx, were ipso facto Communists. And, despite the fact that no one really knew what Communism really was, thousands were scared silly — many of whom were literally destroyed by what was, in effect, a witch hunt.

Those days are over, one would think. But what about the other insidious elements in our culture that are designed to silence criticism and label the dissenter as an enemy, who fear words like “socialism” or “Muslim”? Those elements are more subtle in their tactics, but, at the risk of sounding somewhat paranoid, they are nearly as effective as the House Un-American Committee at silencing critics. In 1950 a writer dare not write anything favorable about Communism or the Soviet Union; today a writer dare not write anything that is not politically correct or pro-America. In either case, the written (and spoken) word is censored.

There seems to me to be a good deal of “poisoning of the grass” going on all around us. Does anyone seriously deny, for example, that the propaganda machine has gone into high gear as the DOD pays sports teams millions of our tax dollars to convince us that those among us wearing camouflage (and not at the moment hunting deer) are all, without exception, “heroes”? Does anyone in this culture today dare to suggest publicly that the wars these people are fighting are concocted by the government to protect monied interests? Does anyone dare to suggest the possibility that by invading Iraq for no good reason our nation gave powerful impetus to IS? Does anyone dare to suggest (other than on blogs that no one reads) that our democracy is “broken”and that the monied interests in this country will henceforth be calling all the shots? Recall the words of Voltaire: “To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize.” Are we not, slowly and quietly, being “forced to stop asking questions”?

Let’s hope I exaggerate. But let us never stop asking questions — or reading thought-provoking fiction that has at its center profound truth.

 

Imposter?

One of the more intriguing stories to come out of the race among a truly ridiculous bunch of clowns for the Republican nomination for President arises in connection with Dr. Ben Carson who claims to have risen from dire poverty to become a world-famous surgeon. Are the stories he tells about himself true? Does it matter? A recent article by Matt Bal on-line addresses this issue. As the article tells us, regarding the close scrutiny that faces every political candidate these days:

Perhaps more to the point, though, such scrutiny fails to make a critical distinction when it comes to measuring integrity — namely, the distinction between the stories a politician might contrive to tell you, on one hand, and the stories he has always told himself on the other.  . .

It seems very likely that, at least until this week, Carson had always believed he tried to kill his friend and that he spurned West Point to become a doctor. So what. That doesn’t make him an impostor. It makes him someone who found meaning in some pivotal moments of his boyhood, even if memory sharpened the edges a bit.

And these kinds of moments, real or embellished, have value when we assess our candidates, if we’re not looking at everything through some superficial, true-false lens. Carson’s book, which I devoured in a day, probably doesn’t tell us much about his trustworthiness now. But if you’re reading with any genuine curiosity, it can tell you an awful lot about the way he sees his own journey.

It explains the sense of destiny that propels a man who has never held elective office — and doesn’t know very much about government — to suddenly get up one day and seek the presidency. . . .

The things politicians believe about themselves are often a lot more illuminating than the truth.

Perhaps more “illuminating” but not more important. The truth of the stories politicians tell about themselves matters a great deal. People who tell falsehoods about themselves are in some sense of that word “delusional.”  And Ben Carter’s stories are not only false but also delusional. Take, for example, his claim that he turned down a “full ride” to West Point to enter medicine. West Point doesn’t have “full rides.” They basically enlist the men and women for a free education which then requires that they serve in the Army for a full term to repay the favor. In that sense, all who matriculate at West Point, or the Naval or Air Force Academies, have a “full ride.” Carter seems to be telling us a story he made up about himself to impress us with his determination to become a  man of medicine but also one who might well have taken another turn and become a major-general. Kids do this sort of thing. Perhaps we all do to some extent — as the article above suggests — but we are not all running for president! The main question to ponder is are those stories we all tell “porkies,” as the Brits would say, or are they a sign that we really don’t know what is true anymore?

The fact that Carson makes up this stuff raises the question of the man’s inherent integrity. Are we sure we want a man to lead this country who not only “doesn’t know much about government” but also has a very loose hold on the truth? Do we know what we are getting? Or is it sufficient that he has no track record whatever in the political race and THEREFORE must be OK? Our determination to find someone to replace the clutter that now fills the hallowed halls of politics is understandable, but we must be very careful what comes out when we turn over every non-political rock in sight.

I do love the comment I quoted in a previous post: “Whether or not you like the man, Ben Carson has forced us to ask the really tough questions, such as ‘Have we overestimated the intelligence of our brain surgeons?'” But it’s not all about intelligence. Not in the least. Martin Luther King once dreamed that the day will come when we are not judged by the color of our skin but by “the content of our character.” As near as I can tell, when it comes to character, this particular politician is running on empty.