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Almost any debate about the problems facing the United States and its faltering government centers on truth – or the lack of it. Truth is an unneeded commodity in the political system that defines the American government. Even worse, truth may be a lost cause in American society.
Pollsters often ask Americans if they tell the truth. Assuming they are telling the truth in their answers (and that’s a big assumption), Americans admit lying as a natural course of life.
More than half admit lying on employment applications as well as cheating on their income taxes. Sixty-four percent of American men admit cheating on their wives while 53 percent of American women say they have slept around on their husbands.
Sports stars lie about their use of performance-enhancing drugs. Celebrities lie about trouble in their marriages and then announce divorces days later. Defense attorneys lie on behalf of their clients while prosecutors lie about whether or not they have the evidence to convict someone.
Journalists, the ones who are supposed to separate truth from fiction, lie in the name of fame and fortune. Jayson Blair conned The New York Times into publishing stories that he made up while sitting in his apartment. Stephan Glass nearly brought down The New Republic with his lies. An author conned Oprah Winfrey and her publisher into a book about a drug problem he didn’t have and it became a best-seller.
Our culture is built around spin, hype and make-believe. We too quickly buy into fantasy because it allows us to avoid the harshness of reality.
As a teenager I lied all the time to young girls in an attempt to get them into the back seat of my 1957 Ford and out of their clothes. During service to my country, Uncle Sam taught me to lie about who I was, where I was going and what I did in the name of truth, justice and the American Way. Even my family didn’t know the truth.
After my return to private life, I used my well-honed skills at deception to journalistic advantage, twisting the truth to gain access to forbidden data or coax information out of reluctant sources. It also came in handy to, once again, talk women into bed or, if the need arose, out of one.
Such abilities served me well in politics where truth is an unwelcome complication to the goals of power and success. If any morality got in the way, I quickly drowned it in a bottle — until a night several years ago when I walked into a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous and took the first of 12 steps to regain my life and sanity.
AA teaches you to face the truth about yourself and those around you. I began to see the damage that a culture of deception can inflict on society.
But George W. Bush, an admitted alcoholic, never went to AA, never took the pledge, and, I don’t believe, ever faced the demons of deception. His words, actions and deeds showcase a man still in denial, incapable of facing the Beast or admitting his own fallibility.
Bush is a product of a culture built on deception. So were many of his predecessors and, unfortunately, most likely will be those who follow him.
A society built on deceit cannot heal itself by changing the political party that controls government or the occupant of the White House until it takes a long, hard look inward and realizes the problem is more widespread than just our elected leaders.
Until we stop lying to ourselves and those around us we can never expect honesty in those who lead us. At this point, we don’t deserve it anyway.