“On Saturday morning I was sitting in the kitchen with my wife, Ann, who was stirring her Cream of Wheat, when out of nowhere she surprised me with a question: “Is not lying one of the Ten Commandments?”
I had to stop and think for a second myself, before answering: “Yes, thou shalt not bear false witness.”
The fact that the two of us even momentarily struggled over that question is, for me, the worst legacy of the Trump presidency.
You remember the old joke? Moses comes down from Mount Sinai and tells the children of Israel: “Children, I have good news and bad news. The good news is that I bargained him down to 10. The bad news is that adultery is still in.”
Well, I’ve got bad news and worse news: We’re now down to nine.
Yes, this was a historic four years — even one of the Ten Commandments got erased. Lying has been normalized at a scale we’ve never seen before. Hence Ann’s question.
I am not sure how we reverse it, but we’d better — and fast.
People who do not share truths can’t defeat a pandemic, can’t defend the Constitution and can’t turn the page after a bad leader. The war for truth is now the war to preserve our democracy.
It is impossible to maintain a free society when leaders and news purveyors feel at liberty to spread lies without sanction. Without truth there is no agreed-upon path forward, and without trust there is no way to go down that path together.
But our hole now is so deep, because the only commandment President Trump did believe in was the Eleventh: “Thou shalt not get caught.”
Lately, though, Trump and many around him stopped believing even in that — they don’t seem to care about being caught.”
“. . . . Lies don’t work unless they’re believed, and nearly half the American public has proved remarkably gullible,” my former Times colleague David K. Shipler, who served in our Moscow bureau during the Cold War, said to me. “I think of each of us as having our own alarm — and it’s as if half of their batteries have died. Lots of Trump’s lies, and his retweets of conspiracy fabrications, are obviously absurd. Why have so many people believed them? I’m not sure it’s fully understood.”
That is why it’s vital that every reputable news organization — especially television, Facebook and Twitter — adopt what I call the Trump Rule. If any official utters an obvious falsehood or fact-free allegation, the interview should be immediately terminated, just as many networks did with Trump’s lie-infested, postelection, news conference last week. If critics scream “censorship,” just shout back “truth.”
This must become the new normal. Politicians need to be terrified every time they go on TV that the plug will be pulled on them if they lie.”