It is a cultural requisite to trust the truth but that trust must be earned by public officials and not squandered in a fog of political expediency.
And yet, in our cynical, polarized nation, even telling the truth seems somehow passe and naive. Too many politicians turn their noses up at truth, whether it is to ignore lawful subpoenas, claim unfounded exemptions from laws or use every trick in the legal book to delay and ultimately negate legal claims.
The Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University noted in a report that “As a country, we should not enable, support, or disseminate untruths, misinformation, and lies. Nor should we remain silent or fail to hold accountable those political leaders who systematically communicate falsehoods.”
The report went on to say that “giving citizens greater access to the truth will advance democratic ideals, including fairness, justice, and equal rights. It will allow citizens to hold elected officials accountable and to make ethical choices when evaluating political leaders and candidates.”
Trump remains the leading antagonist to truth, with huge support from his world, as he continues to use any angle to game the system so that he can avoid a trial until after the 2024 election and if he wins, he will erase all the charges.
Clarence Thomas, entrusted to be the final decider in the law, has accepts millions of dollars in free trips and other goodies from billionaires who need Thomas’ approval in court. Thomas says current court rules allow him to accept the payola and that he plays by different rules.
Politicians like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., are having a disproportionate impact on dismantling ethical values that were once a force in government.
These attacks on moral values are not new. Vaclav Havel, the former Czech leader, said, “Without commonly shared and widely entrenched moral values and obligations, neither the law nor democratic government nor even the market economy will function properly.”
Huckleberry Finn explained why it seems that a lie is alright as long as it remains hidden.
“That’s just the way: a person does a low-down thing, and then he don’t want to take no consequences of it. Thinks as long as he can hide it, it ain’t no disgrace,” says Huck in Mark Twain’s “”The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn.”
In the end the absence of truth reveals the feet of clay. No government can survive for very long without truth and integrity
To this point, former U.S. Sen. Alan K. Simpson, R-Wyo., noted, “If you have integrity, nothing else matters. If you don’t have integrity, nothing else matters.”
The great theologian and scholar, C.S. Lewis, advised that truth and integrity are not relative and are not determined by popular norms, especially when they are hyped by leaders.
“Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching,” Lewis wrote.
We live in a schizoid time when children are told to honor values that are constantly being ignored by the likes of trump and his enablers.
One of the nation’s earliest rules of conduct was the Boy Scout pledge. The timeless pledge goes, “On my honor, I will do my best; To do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law; To help other people at all times; To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.”
The words are as relevant and true today although young boys and girls need only look around at the politics in the nation to see that, to too many people, the words are just words and not backed up by actions.
A Scout is: Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean and Reverent, or “feeling or showing deep and solemn respect.” These are still good values to instill but how to bring on reverence in the current state of affairs is troublesome to say the least.
And then there are the three promises of the Scout Oath: “Duty to God and country, Duty to other people, and Duty to self.” Duty is defined as commitment but the order of duty seems to have been flipped, starting with “self.”
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., offered observations upon receiving the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize. He talked about the strides in science and technology but said that “something basic is missing.”
“There is a sort of poverty of the spirit which stands in glaring contrast to our scientific and technological abundance. The richer we have become materially, the poorer we have become morally and spiritually. We have learned to fly the air like birds and swim the sea like fish, but we have not learned the simple art of living together as brothers,” said King.
King said that every man lives in internal and the external realms, and each is equally important. The internal realm of spiritual ends is expressed in art, literature, morals, and religion. King said that the external realm is the complex of “devices, techniques, mechanisms, and instrumentalities” that we live by. The balance is out of whack, King said.
“Our problem today is that we have allowed the internal to become lost in the external. We have allowed the means by which we live to outdistance the ends for which we live,” he said.
The battle between darkness and light has continued through the millennia. Today’s protagonists are Trump and the rest of his sycophants. But their crude and dishonest behavior was seen as necessary by no less than the 16th century philosopher and writer, Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli, who wrote that “a successful ruler of a principality…is brutal, calculating and, when necessary, utterly immoral.”
German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche was equally negative about the purpose of morality.
“Morality is just a fiction used by the herd of inferior human beings to hold back the few superior men,” wrote Nietzche who was a role model for fascists through the years.
Machiavelli wrote that leaders must be malleable and shrewd about morality because people are “quick to change their nature when they imagine they can improve their lot.”
“The fact is that a man who wants to act virtuously in every way necessarily comes to grief among so many who are not virtuous,” Machiavelli wrote. “Therefore, if a prince wants to maintain his rule he must be prepared not to be virtuous, and to make use of this or not according to need.”
Before Machiavelli, philosophers generally defined a good leader as humble, moral and honest. Machiavelli said morality is a non-sequitur when it comes to being a ruler.
“It is better to be feared than loved, if you cannot have both,” Machiavelli wrote. Honesty is also irrelevant because “experience shows that those who do not keep their word get the better of those who do.”
Other Machiavellian comments that apply to today’s climate. For instance:
“The first method for estimating the intelligence of a ruler is to look at the men he has around him.”
“It is not titles that honor men, but men that honor titles.”
“Whoever believes that great advancement and new benefits make men forget old injuries is mistaken.”
“Every one sees what you appear to be, few really know what you are.”
The Catholic Church knew the potential impact of Machiavelli’s philosophy and in 1559, put all of his works on the church’s “Index of Prohibited Books.”
Schools in England are legally required to promote moral development. In the U.S. it would be nearly impossible for the two camps to agree on what is moral even if there’s agreement that morality is important.
The British government in 2014 issued guidance to schools on promoting the “fundamental British values” of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, and mutual respect and tolerance. In the U.S., each precept has been violated again and again, making the words hollow and meaningless.
A member of the nation’s highest court admits to taking free trips on a billionaire’s private jet and Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts has opposed congressional efforts to impose more stringent ethics rules on judges.
Philosophers throughout the ages have fought the dark forces and for them, morality has been a source of strength and can be the same today for a nation floundering in confusion and anger. Words of advice about morality include:
“Morality is not properly the doctrine of how we may make ourselves happy, but how we may make ourselves worthy of happiness.” — Immanuel Kant.
“A man that has lost moral sense is like a man in battle with both of his legs shot off: he has nothing to stand on.” — Henry Ward Beecher.
“The most important human endeavor is the striving for morality in our actions.” — Albert Einstein.
“Morality comes with the sad wisdom of age, when the sense of curiosity has withered.” — Graham Greene.
“Morality is truth in full bloom.” — Victor Hugo.
“Even if everyone else is not doing good, I alone will. Even if everyone else is doing wrong, I alone will not.” — Gautama Buddha.
“Compassion is the basis of morality.” — Arthur Schopenhauer.
“So far, about morals, I know only that what is moral is what you feel good after and what is immoral is what you feel bad after.” — Ernest Hemingway, “Death In The Afternoon.”
“A man without ethics is a wild beast loosed upon this world.” — Albert Camus.
“Even the most rational approach to ethics is defenseless if there isn’t the will to do what is right.” — Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.
“Live so that when your children think of fairness, caring, and integrity, they think of you.” — H. Jackson Brown, Jr., author of “Life’s Little Instruction Book.”
As for the dark side, trump has many, many enablers but one of the most cynical must be Mike Huckabee, a Baptist minister, right wing political commentator, trump supporter, former Republican presidential candidate and former governor or Arkansas. His daughter, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, is the current governor of Arkansas.
Last year, Huckabee came out with a children’s book titled, “The Kids Guide to President Trump.” The blatant political ad for trump was meant to indoctrinate children as part of a series of “The Kids Guide” books, magazines and videos, operated by Huckabee’s company, EverBright Media. Other book titles include “The Kids’ Guide to the American Dream,” “The Kids’ Guide to the Bible” and “The Kids’ Guide to Fighting Socialism.”
“Isn’t it amazing how so much that President Trump said still rings true,” Huckabee said in an advertisement for his latest children’s book. “But schools and the media don’t want our kids to hear anything positive. And that’s why my team created The Kids Guide to President Trump. It’ll teach your kids all about President Trump’s accomplishments and his vision for America.”
The publication of “The Kids Guide to President Trump” came at a time of growing calls for book banning and restricting instruction in schools around issues of race, gender or sexual orientation. Proponents of book banning also have come out against teachers expressing political views that contradict Republican perspectives.
“The Kids Guide to President Trump” has not been banned while it claims to have served “1 million families” and delivered “6 million lessons.”
The kids guide tells children that “while his (trump’s) political opponents would like to forget about the 45th president of the United States, his impact is still felt across the country. His popularity among his supporters has yet to wane, and some expect him to run in 2024’s presidential election.”
The Guide series is presented as a bundle, including a digital workbook, streaming video and monthly Everbright Kids magazine subscription.
“A Kids’ Guide discussing the 45th president would be an appropriate edition in the series as well,” said “The Kids Guide to President Trump.”
In the book’s preface, Huckabee laments the “bias” in mainstream media and that facts are “analyzed and discussed through a partisan lens.”
The answer to this negative programming is The Kids Guide series as it “offers information on every aspect of our nation’s history from the American Revolution to the roots of American exceptionalism to presidential history.”
“The Kids’ Guide to President Trump is marketed to tell the truth about President Trump as well as the accomplishments of his presidency,” Huckabee wrote. “It is marketed as an unbiased guide, and it begins with Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. The guide will then discuss Trump’s “greatest accomplishments” while in office.”
The streaming video that accompanies the Kids’ Guide is titled “Great Again: Restoring Faith in America” which sounds curiously like “Making America Great Again.”
Huckabee wrote that many of today’s educators “promote a curriculum in which children are taught that America is not and never has been a great place. Some American forefathers are vilified and ridiculed for personal choices, and these individuals’ personal lives are used to tarnish their accomplishments.”
“We can’t afford to let our children believe that these imperfect humans didn’t promote ideas that have made our country a bastion for freedom and liberty — for all people,” Huckabee writes.
Machiavelli and Huckabee, perfect together.