In Lies We Trust
To cave or not to cave?
That is the question that political constituents must consider when analyzing the duties of Washington’s policy-makers. In lieu of the U.S. Supreme Court’s deliberation on an Ohio case that espouses banning campaign lies, analysts are pondering the appearance of futuristic “ministries of truth”–specific branches of the government devoted to ensuring that politicians not only protect our inalienable rights, but also adhere by truthfulness in the process. While this potential legalization of censorship does not indicate the the nation’s regression to an Orwellian dystopia of surveillance (#1984), it is certainly alarming for strict constructionists who view the First Amendment as a sacred commandment. While improprieties such as Watergate and the Lewinsky Scandal–during which Nixon asserted he was not a “crook” and Clinton swore he did not have “sexual relations” (#bluedress)–justify the implementation of an honesty clause for politicians—-the use of lies as a necessary means of protecting the nation’s interests conflate the lines between morality and safety. Should it be legal for politicians to lie? If so, who approves the employment of deceit? Utilizing history as a vehicle to examine the evolution of politics as a game of deceit and subterfuge suggests that citizens return to the insular cave from Plato’s allegory at our own peril.
Veracity is as idiosyncratically American as apple pie. Parables of George Washington glorify our country’s first leader as the humble cherry tree slayer who was incapable of concocting a lie. Our sixteenth President was known as more than the Great Emancipator who saved our divided house (#HonestAbe). The first university founded in the United States, Harvard College, adopted the motto of Veritas in 1636. The pursuit of truth reflects in our stars and stripes–in the hollow ring of a cracked bell proclaiming independence from a presumptuous island. But when did our pure colonial politics transition into the name-disparaging, mud-slinging campaigns that now typify our polarized arena?
The advent of industrialization and the rise of the cities in the late 19th century ushered in the Gilded Age (#shoutouttoTwain)–a period of massive wealth juxtaposed with immense poverty, opportune politicians scavenging for votes, and a progressive desire to occupy–not Wall street (#99percent)–but local legislatures with reform. As exemplified by Boss Tweed’s ascension in Tammany Hall, political machines became a primary source of local power; with this newfound influence came a simultaneous reliance upon fraud and duplicity to garner the votes of naive immigrants. Cartoonist Thomas Nast’s revealing caricature of Tweed’s manipulation in Harper’s Weekly allowed illiterate voters to ascertain political corruption. Lies thus emerged as natural facets of politics- unfortunate yet inherent byproducts of individuals vying for control of the gilded crown (#kingofthecastle).
The rise of muckrakers such as Nast –socially-conscious Americans audacious enough to underscore heinous truths through the written and visual mediums–served as a public form of checks and balances that ensured the private sector’s maintenance of our Lockean social contract. Trust-buster Teddy Roosevelt’s speech regarding the necessity of scraping filth off the political floor attests to the interrelationship between the federal government and investigative reporters, who exemplify Jeffersonian civic virtue by removing gilded glitter. While Roosevelt’s passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act in response to Upton Sinclair’s revelation of industrial mendacity (#welcometothejungle) underscores the positive ramifications of exposes, the leaking of the Pentagon Papers decades later upholds the validity of national security protocols. Kennedy and Johnson’s genuine belief that withholding information about America’s involvement in the Vietnam War from the general public was essential is both presumptuous and indicative of ambiguous allocation of responsibilities.
Who has the authority to enforce the truth? Must citizens rely on the Snowden’s of our age to endeavor on the risky pursuit of veritas? Must an elected committee approve of political lies? Is the American public capable of handling shrouded reality–the magnitude of NSA surveillance employed by the fed–the heinous Benghazi-like atrocities perpetuated by governmental neglect?
Acceding our innate liberty to know (#Socrates) our government’s operations for its protection is a breach in our societal fabric. Ignorance may provide temporary bliss; however, we must overcome our penchant for instant gratification by actualizing Jefferson’s ideal of civic virtue; individual acceptance of our responsibility to scrutinize governmental adherence to veritas ensures a strengthened public sector that is both cognizant of its politicians’ characters and capable of galvanizing reform. The government’s truth serum thus lies within each constituent’s internal light–illuminating the dark ignorance that once damned us as automatons in the cave and allowing us to move forward like John Gast’s iconic ghost of American Progress.
[Image Attribute: PixalBay]