I can’t believe I am posing this question after a very harsh lesson I learned early in life. My mother was very kind and loving and an exemplary mother so looking back it’s hard to believe she dealt out this extreme punishment to one so young. But she wanted to make a point I would never forget. That if you lie I can never trust you. And as you grow older and want more freedom it will be yours if I can trust you to tell the truth. The punishment only lasted a half hour or so (I was locked out of our apartment) but it felt like eternity. There was plenty of love, kisses and hugs to wipe away my tears when the door finally opened, but it’s a lesson I will never ever forget.

So today I wonder what parents say to their children about lying when the president of our country has told over 12,000 or more lies since taking office. You can’t tell the famous tale about our first president, General George Washington, who never told a lie, one of the staples of childhood education. Then there is honest Abe. That’s an adjective you will not hear to describe Mr. Trump.

***

It’s also pretty basic morality. The Bible tells us over and over again do not bear false witness against thy neighbor. It’s in the Old Testament and the New. It’s pretty basic. Don’t lie. And if you are not afraid of crossing God, there is also a practical side. If you lie, people will not trust you. No one really trusts Donald Trump except perhaps that mythical base which will accept anything their leader says or does.

***

“Why the constant, often blatant lying? For one thing, it functioned as a means of fully dominating subordinates, who would have to cast aside all their integrity to repeat outrageous falsehoods and would then be bound to the leader by shame and complicity. “The great analysts of truth and language in politics,” writes Jacob T. Levy, McGill University political philosophy professor, including “George Orwell, Hannah Arendt, Vaclav Havel — can help us recognize this kind of lie for what it is ... . Saying something obviously untrue, and making your subordinates repeat it with a straight face in their own voice, is a particularly startling display of power over them. It’s something that was endemic to totalitarianism.”

Very scary. But we witness it every day from some members of Congress and the president’s staff, current and past.

***

Which brings us to the recent episode of hurricanes, Alabama and circles on a map enhanced by a Sharpie. At first it seemed so silly, so ridiculous, so not mentioning. But then Trump insisted he was right and (as above) humiliated federal agency heads to back up his lie. Hurricane Dorian, one of the worst to hit the Bahamas and parts of the United States, primarily Florida and the Carolinas, was not a joke. People were told to pay attention to updates on the trajectory of the storm and to prepare accordingly. The storm was never headed toward Alabama but the president insisted it was. Even after the National Weather Service had to tell nervous Alabama residents that the storm was NOT headed their way. Trump insisted it was. Dragged out his acting head of national security with a big chart showing the trajectory of the storm with a circle added by sharpie going right for Alabama. Trump would not admit he was wrong. He kept insisting he was right, keeping this a story long before it should have ended. But it is serious. Our president lies. We cannot trust him. Congress cannot trust him. Even his own party cannot trust him. Not to mention world leaders. When you lie you lose trust. And trust is pretty important.

***

The secretary of commerce has now threatened to fire top employees at the federal scientific agency responsible for weather forecasts. This is after the agency’s Birmingham office contradicted Trump’s claim that Hurricane Dorian might hit Alabama. And following the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration saying the weather service was wrong to say Alabama was not at risk.

Sue Lempert is the former mayor of San Mateo. Her column runs every Monday. She can be reached at sue@smdailyjournal.com.

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(9) comments

JME

Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.


Jorg

Yes, under certain circumstances, it is not only OK to lie, but very honorable. There are few things I admire my late father more for, than standing up to Gestapo in Nazi-occupied Norway to save a neighbor they wanted to execute, just to show who was in charge. Twelve prominent citizens of my hometown were selected for execution, 10 were shot, one disappeared without a trace, the twelfth was our neighbor in hiding. Several times during the night we had Gestapo on the door, and with a gun to his head, my Dad had to lie through his teach to protect the whereabouts of our neighbor. He survived the war and raised a family that ended up doing a lot of good for the country. Our neighbor, a prominent attorney, was given the job of defending top Nazis during the court proceedings, which led to death penalty for the worst of the worst. Imagine, lying with a Gestapo gun to your head?!


Christopher Conway

It is amazing all the chaos that Europe has caused the United States over the decades. Thanks Jorg for reminding us how many times we had to come to Europes rescue. Wonder if they appreciate us for that?


Jorg

Oh yes, Chris, for sure! Speaking for my own country, Norway, history in school is heavy on WWII and how the US helped liberate Europe! And as you probably know, Norway has always been a solid supporter of their ally, both via NATO and otherwise. No question about that, Chris! I remember that after the war ended, the Norwegian government was criticized for being too anti Communism!


Dirk van Ulden

Sue has suddenly discovered the Bible and must be subscribing to a moronic website that purports to tally Trump's 12,000 white lies. Sue, get a grip, not one of these so called lies have had a tangible impact on your or my quality of life. Where were you when your hero Obama told us with a straight face that under Obamacare one could keep his/her doctor, insurance plan, and the healthcare cost would go down saving a family at least $2,000 per year. That was only one of his many lies that were marginalized by the complicit media. And, those did and still do have a major, negative impact on our quality of life. Who is the liar now? A mother would probably not be very proud of a daughter who has selective memory.




Christopher Conway

Speaking of liars, what about if you like your doctor you can keep your doctor and that the average family would save $2,500 a year under ACA. That was the biggest lie of all time.


Cindy Cornell

Really? The biggest lie of all time? Bigger than "read my lips, no new taxes" or "they're rapists."


Christopher Conway

yep- much bigger than those. Plus, "they're rapists" is true


JME

"I cannot tell a lie, I did it with my little hatchet," said George Washington.


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