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The horrors of an honest America


Do you believe her? Nope. 

clinton3Can she be trusted?  Nope.  That is how a majority of Americans responds to questions about Hillary Clinton's honesty and trustworthiness.  And it' s not a close-run thing.  There was a poll done in August by NBC News that reported that among Democrats — Democrats! — only 12 per cent believed she was honest and trustworthy.  Which leaves 88 per cent of that portion of the electorate most likely to vote for her believing she lacks those qualities.

Perhaps the only other major American politician in the last 60 years to approach these kind of "negatives" — as our pollsters disharmoniously characterize such findings — would be the shifty, bedraggled Richard Nixon, "Tricky Dick" as an adoring press baptized him.  I'm not really sure even poor Nixon, after being howled out of office over Watergate, and stomped on by every editorialist in North America for two years, would rival Hillary Clinton's inverted standing on honesty and trust today.

Now if we can allow that "honesty and trustworthiness" have some association, however vague and tenuous, with morality, and further allow that morality should equally have some association, however tenuous and vague, with holding the highest office of the United States of America, then we may if not conclude, then at least presume, that Clinton has a real problem.

But of course she does not.  It is a good thing for her that telling the truth and holding the trust of the people one hopes to govern belong to that great category of quite outmoded and quaintly irrelevant elements of character that no longer apply to those who seek high office.

Politics has moved on immeasurably from the early days of the American experiment, when truth telling ("I cannot tell a lie, I cut down the cherry tree," the urchin George Washington) was a touchstone that welded a leader to the people.  It has moved on from the rustic and infantile era, when politicians offered their "character," their uprightness, honestly, and fidelity to right practice, as essential constituents of true leadership.

Americans have long since jettisoned the awkward and straight-spined approaches, when candidates like the wretched Abraham Lincoln — who suffered the deplorable sobriquet of "Honest Abe" — put forth their "virtue" as an element of recommendation to the citizenry; and a citizenry, equally unenlightened, "looked up" to people who never lied, would not even twist the truth, and thought of "honour" as something worthy of regard.  This was politics in its nursery days, callow and untaught.

Most likely, a race between versions of Martin Luther King and Mother Teresa?  And who could live with that?

The Lincoln strain in American — indeed most Western — politics, has, very thankfully, been allowed to wither and die, and happily consigned to history's crowded basket of futile experiments and idealistic vanities.  Indeed, one may look at modern politics as one huge and fully successful refutation of this man Lincoln's ludicrous assertion that "You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time." Fooling them, outright lying to them ("You can keep your doctor"), fabulating recklessly ("I was under sniper fire in Bosnia"), shameless denial ("I did not have sex …" ') has proved to be infinitely more productive, and certainly more fascinating.

The modern politician, untrusted and dishonest, rejects the Lincoln model, is willing, instead, to see "truth" as it really is, an impediment to ambition, a handicap in debate and an obstacle to any worthy candidate's biography.  What cannot be "spun" should never be uttered.  What "really happened" is what they choose it to be.

The disease of the Lincolnian approach was shown when he declared, "I am a firm believer in the people.  If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis.  The great point is to bring them the real facts."

Where would American politics be today if, wounded by principle, politicians tethered themselves to such outlandish propositions?  Most likely, a race between versions of Martin Luther King and Mother Teresa?  And who could live with that?

How could the modern politicos explain themselves, if, deprived of the inexhaustible waters from the well of lies and evasion, they had to — sheer folly — fall back on the dumb truth?  American politics would petrify, the great comedy of our time would fall silent.  Bill would confess that he did have sex.  Hillary would admit she had to hide her emails.  Obamacare would have had to sell itself on the merits.

And where would that leave the U. S.?  Well, if truth telling and character were to make a comeback, ludicrous candidacies such as that of Donald Trump would be laughed off the map even before they began, and Americans today would not be choking on choice between pure, naked, selfish ambition and the buffoonish ejecta of reality television.

And Lord knows, that is a projection too frightening to contemplate.



murphy Rex Murphy, "The horrors of an honest America." National Post (October 8, 2016).

Reprinted with permission of the National Post.

The Author

Murphysmmurphy Rex Murphy was host of CBC Radio One's Cross-Country Checkup, a nation wide call-in show, for 21 years before stepping down in September 2015. Murphy is a frequent presence on the various branches of the CBC. He has regular commentary segments entitled "Point of View" on The National, the CBC's flagship nightly news program.  See Rex's TV commentaries. In addition, he writes book reviews, commentaries, and a weekly column for the National Post. He is the author of Canada and Other Matters of Opinion and Points of View.

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