GASEOUS OLD PREVARICATOR—G.O.P. CARNAGE
MUELLER RESTORED MY BELIEF THAT TRUTH-TELLING, ON SOME LEVEL, STILL MATTERS
Morning Flight, Oil on Panel, 32" x 48", Richard J Van Wagoner, Courtesy of Van Wagoner Family Trust**
Drawing a distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic values, my mother often used this line on her children: “You’re not really sorry. You’re just sorry you got caught.” The art of the lie requires neither, or put another way, lying is the very art of valuelessness.
I have no intention of repeating the work of others by tracking the verifiably false statements Trump makes. I would never catch up. Statistically, about 83% of his statements are verifiable lies. I spoke with my brother Rob* the other day. He was down, more so than usual, even for the winter darkness in his Skagit Valley Washington. One cause of his deeper despair was that core values, what our parents taught us as children, what we learned in kindergarten, no longer seem to matter. Children are witnessing this carnage, Trump’s flagrant, obscene, incessant violence to truth. This dystopia of fundamental dishonesty and core valuelessness—how will it affect generations to come?
My parents' efforts to instill truth-telling in us was nothing extraordinary. They informed us that honesty, properly internalized, would be an end in itself, accompanied with positive extrinsic consequences, even when telling some truths would be difficult. I didn’t grow up skeptical or cynical. I trusted, and tend to trust, what people tell me. I want to give the benefit of the doubt. These principles were integral to my formative religious upbringing. Not without irony, one consequence of these more fully realized precepts was my inability to remain inside a religious organization that fails to accurately characterize and candidly tell its own truth, not least in regards to its historical deceptions. Eternal spin, the way god intended, I guess.
I have struggled from time to time with my own candor. I have been untruthful. I have lied. I have engaged in word-play, intending to deceive with language that is literally true. Given my upbringing and orientation, I knew when I was, and know when I am, dishonest; I knew and know the truth matters to those I attempt to deceive, that my untruths damage others’ ability to trust me going forward. I hated, and hate, the idea of not being—and not being considered—worthy of trust.
As a lawyer, I always advise clients—though with extra zeal if they choose not to remain silent—that they must tell only truth. There can be consequences in the legal setting, of course, to choosing not to remain silent. There can be consequences to not telling the truth, whether under oath, to the FBI or in discussions with one’s lawyer. I hate surprises. A lawyer usually doesn’t get a second chance with a judge or opposing counsel.
There seem to be relatively few adverse consequences to dishonesty in politics, however. Lying, in fact, advances one’s status among the masses hungry to have their biases confirmed and just pisses off everyone else. That’s clearly the way the game is played. But 83%? And so blatantly and verifiably false?
No question I was naïve and sheltered concerning the sheer volume of deception in the world. As a child and into my teens, I had access to three television channels. Our social media was a door bell and a rotary telephone which my parents insisted I answer, “Van Wagoner residence, Ricky speaking.” My high school, college and law school papers were finalized on typewriters. I got my news, limited as it was, from family dinner conversations, school, friends, the Ogden Standard Examiner and occasionally Walter Cronkite. My mother, a staunch Mormon and homemaker, was extremely well-read and conversant on an array of topics. My father, also LDS and in various lay leadership positions, was a visual artist and university professor. We were largely “in the world, but not of the world.” My father’s work at the university provided a very narrow window into a broader world where people, including some of his colleagues, smoked, drank alcohol and cursed. One of his colleagues was openly gay. Those issues, plus the life-drawing classes my father taught utilizing nude models (for which he was resoundingly chastised and threatened by students’ parents and ecclesiastical leaders) were among the most controversial topics during dinner conversations. I don’t remember discussing assassinations, Watergate or presidential pardons, although I’m sure we did. The Cold War was in full swing and we regularly climbed under our desks at school to hone our survival skills.
Given the inundation of misinformation and ever-presence of a US president who lies (even when most everyone can see the truth would help him), however, I just hope children and teens are paying little attention to him. Most important to the long-term integrity and credibility of the United States is that Mr. Trump be removed from office. Quickly. Otherwise, the effects of his ubiquitous dishonesty will devastate our future by devastating our upcoming generations. The art of the lie will be an internalized anti-value with widespread negative consequences. That is particularly true given the support Mr. Trump receives from the pulpit. So-called men of god must be marginalized and discredited by their associations and institutions for fully endorsing this evil. Unfortunately many of the other falsehoods children learn from the pulpit aren’t so readily verified.
*My brother the fiction writer and novelist, Robert Hodgson Van Wagoner, deserves considerable credit for offering both substantive and technical suggestions to lastamendment.com
**My daughter Angela Moore, a professional photographer, photographed nearly 500 pieces of my father's work. On behalf of the Van Wagoner Family Trust, she is in the process of compiling a collection of his art work. The photographs of my father's art reproduced in lastamendment.com are hers.