U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis “retired.”
Only he didn’t. He resigned in a formal protest against the amorality and inefficacy of President Trump’s policies and behavior.
ISIS, the murderous Islamic terror group, has been “defeated.”
Only it hasn’t. It’s territory in the Middle East has only been shrunk, but the brutal organization remains as potentially dangerous as ever.
These two whoppers spun by the president just in the last 48 hours are only two in literally thousands he has publicly told since he was elected to office in 2016, and before. In 700 days, he “has made 7,546 false or misleading claims,” according to a report Dec. 20 by the Washington Post‘s ongoing Fact Checker database that tracks and verifies presidential statements.
Facts matter. And truth. Lies are the mortal enemy of both.
So, now is an excellent time to resolutely consider how to make it illegal, preferably a federal felony, for government officials, elected or otherwise, to lie to or otherwise deceive the American people. (I have posted about amending the Constitution before, here in a piece on the 2nd Amendment.)
We should start the long ratification process immediately, not after Donald Trump exits the presidency, which by all signs likely may be a fait accompli — by voluntary resignation or forced removal — before the statutory end of his first term.
If you don’t think this destructive epidemic of official untruthfulness is a dangerous problem, you haven’t been paying enough attention — by regularly watching reputable cable and network news shows (except Fox, which operates as a government mouthpiece like Russia’s Pravda), reading trustworthy newspapers and magazines (like The New York Times, not the laughable National Enquirer), or surfing valid news sites on the web (but not Breitbart, which is a right-wing trolling factory, not a fount of balanced reporting).
Since Trump was elected, a lion’s share of scrupulous, high-standard journalism has focused on this one lament: Why is everybody in American government, from Trump down, lying all the time, and gratuitously?
The answer is simple: because they can (because there’s no law to stop them, no matter how deviously destructive to the norms and institutions, even the deepest-held values, of our democratic republic).
So, the most honorable and knowledgeable among us are reduced to the equivalent of impotently whining about all the lying, while the cynical liars continue to peddle their bogus notions and schemes. “We’re going to build a big, beautiful wall” on our southern border to keep out illegals (“And Mexico will pay for it!”). Etcetera.
For example, James Comey, the former FBI director was practically apoplectic on Dec. 17 after emerging from a six-hour grilling by U.S. House Republicans mainly about the old-news non-issue of Hillary Clinton’s questionable email use long ago while secretary of state. He had been refused the opportunity to testify publicly before the House, which he charged provided “cover” for the president.
“So another day of Hillary Clinton’s emails and the Steele dossier,” Comey told reporters, summing up the questions he faced. “This while the president of the United States is lying about the FBI, attacking the FBI and attacking the rule of law in this country. How does that make any sense at all? … Republicans used to understand that the actions of a president matter, that the words of a president matter, the rule of law matters and the truth matters. Where are those Republicans today?”
For good measure, he added:
“At some point, someone has to stand up — and in the face of fear of Fox News, fear of their base, fear of mean tweets — stand up for the values of this country and not slink away into retirement, but stand up and speak the truth. I find it frustrating to be here answering questions about things that are far less important than the values that this country is built upon.”
And then for the rest of the day and into Tuesday, Comey’s statements were reprised in video and print throughout news media.
A lie a day keeps the truth away
It’s pretty much like that every day in the news world, where conscientious reporters try valiantly to report the mendacity, the damage it’s doing to our nation and the piercing outrage it inflicts on honorable people who know what they’re talking about.
The figurative Cassandras of the moment are forthright, top-tier Americans who warn of looming catastrophe for our democracy, while other citizens either don’t believe them or are too apathetic to care. Those who warn of existential dangers include 40 high-profile former U.S. senators (who recently jointly signed a letter of dire warning to the nation), an impressively large number of retired generals and CIA and FBI directors, and patriotic government officials with decades of honorable, nonpartisan public service. Nonetheless, pundits — and the liars themselves — must remind us ad nauseum, that “lying to the American people is not a crime.”
Amend the Constitution
But it need not be a permanent reality. After all, we have amended the U.S. Constitution 20 times in the history of our republic to, for instance, give women the vote, grant slaves citizenship and its rights, and enshrine religious freedom throughout the land.
Why not amend it to protect the American people from government officials who baldly lie to them for nefarious reasons (here’s how amendments are made). The dangers of these lies was made particularly apparent today, as the president’s fired National Security Advisor and a retired U.S. Army lieutenant general was lambasted by the judge at his sentencing hearing for “arguably selling out the country” in his official actions. He plead guilty to lying to the FBI about his interactions with Russians during Donald Trump’s election campaign, and also failing to register as a foreign agent despite representing the interests of Turkish government, and of lying about that, too.
And he appears to be just the tip of the iceberg of corruption, illegality and official malpractice chained to this administration. And quite possibly, treason. Although he walked it back later, the judge at today’s Flynn hearing, initially asked a government prosecutor if he believed Flynn’s actions rose to the level of treason, but the lawyer demurred.
Tweak the Oath of Office, too
While we’re changing the constitution to deter official lying, we should likewise change the wording of the presidential oath of office constitutionally prescribed in Article 2, Section 1. It shouldn’t be too difficult to add this bit (in italic below):
“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, and that I will honestly and accurately represent and inform the people of the United States.”
Considering the damage currently being done to the nation’s stability and global reputation by unrestricted official lying and unwarranted, false attacks on essential American institutions, certainly holding our government to a higher standard of veracity must be an urgent need.
Just continuing to say “liar, liar pants on fire” ain’t cutting it anymore. Rome is starting to burn.
We need a solution more effective than a proverbial garden hose.
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