The truth bothers me. It always has. Not because I don’t like it, but because of the implied obligations. The truth will out and the truth will set you free and a million other clichés all express the idea that truth is a sort of unstoppable elemental force that, once revealed, will drive away the darkness and force us all onto the path of light.
In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. Factually, truth has only ever been valued as meaningfully less than a privileged person’s slightest inconvenience.
I learned this as a Black person the very time a white person tried to argue with me about race.
Honestly, truth is an odd thing. It’s evergreen. Every time you get a hold of it, it’s new and fresh. Even the ugly ones can be beautiful in their clarity. But like so many beautiful things, truth is fragile. If it is adjusted or calibrated or tampered with in any way at all, it immediately ceases to exist, replaced by hubris or manipulation or some other part of your less-than-best self.
Americans hate the truth, but we love being right. That sounds like a difficult proposition, but it’s actually not. Valuing privilege over truth is really all it takes. And it’s really all we do. Our previous president put that idea on global display as loudly, proudly and frequently as possible. We collectively came to understand that very same thing about the Republican Party as a whole and, at this point, it’s expected behavior.
Another thing about the truth is that it can be a gift from an opponent. Once they’ve tampered with it, it’s yours to hold. You can shine it high, inspire, rally the people! In fact, if the opponent’s tampering is egregious enough, truth itself can be the sole uniting cause. But, if you unite people under the sole cause of truth, you are then bound only by honesty.
During a recent episode of Pod Save America, the hosts—former director of speechwriting for President Obama Jon Favreau and former senior obama advisor Dan Pfeiffer—were discussing Biden’s first year in office. Favreau asked Pfeiffer, “What do you think the president, White House, Democrats in congress could’ve done differently over the last year?” The question had that positive-spin tone that, while necessary for morale during the previous presidency, has made the show sound increasingly like state radio during this administration.
Pfeiffer answered, “I think the biggest mistake that everyone made over the last year—politically—is expectations management.” A confusing response. He went on to clarify that, as Democrats, “We have continually made promises we cannot keep and sort of knew we were unlikely to keep.” Pfeiffer then spoke about the fact that as Democrats were telling the public about all the necessary, dire, and emergency changes they would make with their $6-trillion Build Back Better, they had already agreed months earlier to never ever, ever, ever actually follow through with it.
Expectations management? That’s not what an extended campaign of lying to the public is called where I’m from. And now the Republicans, a group bound by nothing but simple hate and a primal, destructive relationship to anything resembling validity has a hold of the truth anyway. The party of traitors and racists now gets to be right. They will be speaking in complete honesty when they tell you that the Democrats lied to you.
And now what value does the truth even have? The same as before, really.
That’s why the truth bothers me. We think of it like a goal for society, like an achievement we eventually, collectively unlock. Biden’s win over the previous president was meant to be a victory for truth. We all joined forces to defeat the Liar in Chief returning to our natural state of honesty and freedom across the realm. The problem is that there is an ever-growing divide between citizens and leaders in this country and we’ve never had particularly honest leaders. And we’ve never really been all that free.
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