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The Importance of Telling the Truth, and the Difference Between Truth and Lies: We need someone we can trust to lead us and neither Donald J. Trump (nor a Clinton neither) is that person.

2018-06-06

There has been a lot of lying going on.  My formative years were indeed informed by the consistent lies of the Johnson administration (I was too young to study the lies of the Kennedy or Eisenhower administrations, but in history books I studied the lies of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt administration), as eventually exposed by the Pentagon Papers.  For the less well-informed, the Pentagon Papers were revealed and published by Daniel Ellsberg, who is apparently still alive at 87 years of age.

Ellsberg was a military analyst who was employed by the RAND (Research and Development) Corporation in the 1960s and early ’70s.  He contributed to an analysis of top-secret documents (which analysis became known as the Pentagon Papers, 7000 pages long ) relating to the war in Vietnam that was scornful of the usual assessment of that war (quoted from Wikipedia):

It was no more a “civil war” after 1955 or 1960 than it had been during the U.S.-supported French attempt at colonial reconquest. A war in which one side was entirely equipped and paid by a foreign power – which dictated the nature of the local regime in its own interest – was not a civil war. To say that we had “interfered” in what is “really a civil war,” as most American academic writers and even liberal critics of the war do to this day, simply screened a more painful reality and was as much a myth as the earlier official one of “aggression from the North.” In terms of the UN Charter and of our own avowed ideals, it was a war of foreign aggression, American aggression.

By 1969, Ellsberg had concluded that our conduct of the war in Vietnam was morally wrong, and he began attending anti-war public events while still employed at RAND.  In August 1969, after listening to a speech by a man who was about to report to prison for resisting the draft, he became convinced that something had to be done to counter the massive lies that were being told by the government about the war.  He secretly made several photocopies of the analysis in late 1969 and then spent a year trying to persuade anti-war Senators to release the Papers into the Congressional record (because a sitting Senator could not be prosecuted for anything he said or revealed on the floor of the Senate).  He eventually revealed the Papers to a New York Times correspondent, and on June 13, 1971, the Times began to publish excerpts from them.

The Times was prevented from publishing further by a court order engineered by John Mitchell (Nixon’s Attorney General), and at the end of June, Senator Mike Gravel entered 4,100 pages of the Papers into the Congressional Record.  The Washington Post and sixteen other newspapers then published the rest of the Papers.  The FBI had been pursuing Ellsberg for two weeks after the first appearance of an excerpt in the Times.  Eventually, the Times won the right to publish the Papers from the Supreme Court, but in the meantime, the other papers had to carry the ball.

Nixon’s secret White House taping system captured him discussing the New York Times piece on the afternoon of June 14, 1971 (Wikipedia again):

[HR Haldeman speaking] Rumsfeld was making this point this morning… To the ordinary guy, all this is a bunch of gobbledygook. But out of the gobbledygook comes a very clear thing…. You can’t trust the government; you can’t believe what they say; and you can’t rely on their judgment; and the – the implicit infallibility of presidents, which has been an accepted thing in America, is badly hurt by this, because It shows that people do things the president wants to do even though it’s wrong, and the president can be wrong.

The publication of the Pentagon Papers prompted Nixon to begin an independent espionage operation through private parties (as opposed to the CIA or FBI) against Ellsberg, the Democratic Party, and the anti-war organizations most prominent at the time.  This led directly to the break-in at Democratic Party headquarters in the Watergate hotel, a year after the Papers were published, that eventually unravelled Nixon’s schemes.

Since the Franklin Delano Roosevelt administration, the American public had become reliant on the good faith of the Presidency and devoted to his person.  Although he had been known to lie on occasion, the vast majority of Americans trusted him implicitly to protect their best interests.  The Pentagon Papers revealed that the president had been lying to them and steering them wrongly about a matter of tremendous importance to them, the reasons for and the conduct of the war in Vietnam.

By the time I went to college in 1970, I knew that the government was lying to me from books and materials I had read that were independent evaluations of the situation in Vietnam.  The Tet offensive in February 1968 had made it obvious that General Westmoreland, in charge of the Army in Vietnam, had lied and was continuing to lie through his teeth about what was going on there.  So I did not expect anything different from government.  The revelations of Watergate, around the time that I graduated from college, in the summer of 1974, simply confirmed that Nixon had been caught scheming, lying, and covering up, and lying about that too.

Since then, I and many other Americans have simply assumed that the government lies to people to achieve their purposes.  Reagan’s administration merely confirmed that assumption for me, while it seemed to have dispelled the suspicions of many Americans.  The Clinton administration, while it came with some relief from the heavy-handed tactics of Reagan, did nothing to disabuse me of the notion.  The attempted impeachment of Clinton showed that he could be induced to lie about even trivial things.

Then the presidential elections in 2000 showed me that even the Supreme Court could be bought off.  The fact that GW Bush was lying about the “weapons of mass destruction” in the hands of Saddam Hussein came as no surprise to me.  His motivation in lying, that is to sway American public opinion so that he could engineer regime change in Iraq through invasion, was more weighty than Clinton’s motive, but less reasonable.

The election of Barack Obama in 2008 made a slight difference: I began to believe that some current-day presidents could be sincere and at least try to be truthful and try to work for the best interests of the most needy among us.  Obama was the most “truthy” of presidents: he tried hard to tell the truth, or to keep his mouth shut when he couldn’t– as in the drone program to assassinate Arab jihadists.  All that came to a crashing halt on the first Tuesday in November, 2016.

I am relating all of this ancient history to make a point: we need someone we can trust to lead us.  Donald J. Trump is not that person.

(Postscript: obviously we can’t trust Bill Clinton despite his policy and economic successes; his wife was badly damaged by not having divorced him after he was impeached and the Republican obsession with hating her afterwards– if sexual morality is your criterion for trust, then you’ll have to look elsewhere.  Perhaps Ellen deGeneres?)

(The photo of the Trumps and the Clintons at a happier time– Trump’s last wedding– was published by people.com and quora.org and is attributed to Maring Photography/Getty/Contour)

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