The Virtue of Truth & Honesty in a Post-Fact Presidency

Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the POTUS, tells Chuck Todd that Sean Spicer didn’t offer lies — calls them “alternative facts”​ instead.
“When the issue is one of Truth and Justice, there can be no differentiating between small problems and great ones. For the general viewpoints on human behaviour are indivisible. People who fail to regard the truth seriously in small matters, cannot be trusted in matters that are great.”
Einstein, 1955

I consider myself to be a pretty truthful person. As far as millennials go, I’m your textbook PBS kid. I grew up eating General Quaker Oats cereal to the moral filled stories from Arthur, Between the Lions, and the Adventures from the Book of Virtues (yes, the cartoon with the Aslan-like Bison who taught the different values of being a decent human being). I eventually made my way over to eating pop tarts and watching shows that continued to stress the importance of being a decent human being like Hey Arnold, Proud Family, Lizzie McGuire, and, YES, even Rocket Power. I could keep naming TV shows from the peak of the 90s/early 00’s that had morals at the end of all of their shenanigans, but I think you get my point.

Time after time again the importance of telling the truth was stressed throughout my childhood and education. Lying was a nonstarter in my parent’s household. My college prep high school had a student moral code and a student honor code. In college, I studied public relations where the importance of always telling the truth could not have been stressed enough. Whether someone was in crisis or if they were just doing their job, if they weren’t honest — things did work out well for them. Honesty has been stressed so much in my life that, sometimes, I get in trouble for being too honest. But even then, people still appreciate it over me beating around the bush and not getting to the point.

After years and years of being taught the virtue of always telling the truth, I would hope one would understand why I, a 24-year old two years out of college, am baffled that I can sit here and watch a man constantly lie and deny his way into the White House. And why I’m troubled that the Press Secretary of this elected man continues to push numbers and statements that can easily be disproven with a simple Google search. And why I am angered that even the counselor to this elected, dishonorable man would excuse these lies as “alternative facts.”

Honesty isn’t some cutesy buzzword that came out of hiding in 2016 because the media decided they had a hidden-agenda against the newly elected POTUS. Facts are not a brand new feature in the world that’s trending on Facebook and Twitter. Likewise, telling the truth is not some whimsical partisan personal choice that the leaders of our country can opt in or out of.

Honesty derives from the word honor, meaning adherence to what is right or a conventional standard of conduct. It’s the very core of every characteristic that makes someone a virtually good person.

You need to be honest to be respectable.

You need to be honest to be responsible.

You need to be honest to be compassionate.

You need to be honest to be self-disciplined.

You need to be honest to be trustworthy.

You need to be honest to be someone of integrity.

You need to be honest to be a good leader.

This weekend, people shirked the fact that Trump lied about his inauguration attendance. I understand the need to ignore it — there are bigger things going on in the world, and the number of inauguration participants sounds like a pissing contest. And for what? After all, after two years of campaigning and winning the election, we all know that the President of the United States is not an honest man.

But where do we draw the line?

It’s easy to point out the little things. For example, he said he did not mock a disabled journalist even though it was caught on screen. He did. He lied about promising to release his tax returns once he was elected. He hasn’t and said he won’t. He lied about seeing “thousands” of New Jersey Muslims celebrating 9/11. There weren’t.

But what about the things that are harder to catch? He has consistently repeated that “inner city” crime has reached record highs. It hasn’t. Yesterday his press secretary stated that taxpayer money funds abortion overseas. They don’t. Yesterday he repeated that he didn’t win the popular vote because millions of undocumented immigrants illegally voted against him. They didn’t.

These are things people have to fact check to get the right numbers and facts. And perhaps people like me, who went to a high school that taught academic research and writing, and later went to college to continue writing things based on reputable sources, will fact check all the things he says. But when it comes down to it, there are far more people who are willing to take the things that the leader of the free world says at face value. And normally, this would be okay. But when we have such a dishonest leader, it’s not.

My high school has an honor oath that we were required to write at the top of every test we took:

I have chosen to act honorably, not because someone is watching, but because I value my character and our community of trust.

Putting aside the fact that Trump’s character becomes more and more questionable every day, it is extremely important to understand that every time he lies, he betrays the community of trust that many Americans struggle to hold on to. When the man charged with leading our country lies like he has over and over again, even when several people called him out on it, we can assume one of two things: he either cannot help himself or he is doing this intentionally.

If he is doing it because he can’t help himself, it means that he is compulsively ignorant. This is particularly troubling as we’re in the height of the digital age of sharing information. We’ve surpassed the point where lmgtfy.com was useful and is now considered condescending. If the leader of our country can’t be bothered to check himself on basic information, let alone the convoluted information that he is now privy to as the President of the United States, then he can not care about the wellbeing of our people, and can only be concerned about himself. This is dangerous and threatens the integrity and security of our country.

If he is intentionally lying to us, then it means that he is purposely misleading our country and taking advantage of those people who cannot, do not, or choose not to hold him accountable, allowing him to push his own agenda. This is equally, if not more, dangerous in regard to our country’s security and integrity.

For the good of our country, neither of these possibilities can be ignored.

For the good of our country, this dishonest man can not be ignored.

So where do we go from here? To be the President of the United States or any leader of our country, one needs to be held accountable for the words and actions that they commit. We must be diligent and vigilant and never give way to complacency with incompetency. If we hope to hold our elected leader accountable when he has surrounded himself by selfish senators, representatives, and billionaires, while repeatedly condemning the press’s coverage of his presidency, we need be informed, educated, and persistent.

Read plenty and often. An educated and aware citizen does not rely on one source alone. They find multiple sources to back up and supplement the information they are consuming, and then sources that counter it. Does one source say something different than your other sources do? Why is that? Question everything. Know how to spot the difference between a reputable source and an unreputable source. Chances are that if your source is wildly different than that of other sources, something’s wrong, and it’s not the majority. Know how to spot the difference between a left-leaning journalism source and a right-leaning journalism source, and to what extent. There is a difference between The Huffington Post’s coverage of the Mexico Policy and NPR’s, just as there is a difference between Breitbart and The Wall Street Journal’s reaction to Conway’s allegations about “alternative facts.”. Even The New York Times and The Washington Post wrote their headlines about Trump’s repeated lie about voter fraud differently.

Develop your own opinion. Do not fall for the glitz and glam of over-sensationalization and click-bait journalism — you’re better than this. Reading a headline and scrolling through the comments has never been an acceptable form of catching up on the news. Today it is even more prudent that we actively seek out information in the wake of “fake news.” If you’re wary of the news that you’re receiving — be it liberal, conservative, or moderate — watch the events that they cover or acquire the transcript. Take advantage of Facebook Live streaming and The Washington Post’s and NPR’s annotated transcripts.

Know that there’s always more information. Talk to people on both sides who are affected by the actions taken by our country. Why do they feel the way that they do? Pay particular attention to the people who feel particularly conflicted in our polarized world. Understand things are never black or white. Listen to understand, and not to respond. You will not always leave the conversation in agreement. Do not fall into squabbles and insults. It’s a conversation, not a battle. Take what you learn and apply it to the information that you’ve already learned.

Use Google. If you see numbers or claims, don’t take them at face value. Check them yourself. You have a tiny computer in your pocket. There’s hardly any excuse for ignorance.

And above all else, call your senators, representatives and congresspeople. Hold them accountable for everything. Never forget that we don’t live in a democracy. We live in a democratic republic where facts, honesty and accountability matter more than ever. If we completely disregard the virtue of truth and honesty, especially when our country is more polarized than it has been in decades, we risk losing more than a political debate. Everything that our country has ever worked for is at stake.

Pride is political.

Honesty is nonpartisan.

Forget this, and we risk losing our country’s honor.