When all of the votes are counted (and all the courts done ruling), half of the nation will believe that a liar has been elected as the next president of the United States. When truth becomes the casualty of political rhetoric, trust in the people and institutions of government is the ultimate victim.
“The issue of truth has a far deeper moral and political seriousness than it receives now,” argues Christian sociologist Os Guinness in his book Time for Truth. While there are morally permissible lies, Guinness shows, “it is another thing still to see lying only as a minor problem, a ‘utility sin’ in the sense that boasting is lying in the service of pride, slander is lying in the service of envy, and so on. . . . It becomes pernicious when people go from there to trivialize lying as a form of social and semantic gamesmanship of no consequence.”
Successful political rhetoric has become the ability to speak persuasively without telling the truth and responding earnestly without answering the question, rather than the ability to tell the truth persuasively and answer a question directly and compellingly.
One biographer wrote of John F. Kennedy’s manipulation as a master of “using candor in lieu of truth.” People would walk away “thinking they’ve been told the truth. But, in fact, they’ve really been told nothing of true importance. The small and candid moments set up the big lie.
Because this manipulation is an art form in modern society and we have so severely trivialized truth, Guinness’s charge is pointed and sobering:
“The discipline of living in truth is urgent today because modern life reduces community and accountability to its thinnest, thereby tempting us to live in a shadow world of anonymity and nonresponsibility where all cats are gray. In such a world, becoming people of truth is the deepest secret of integrity and the highest form of taking responsibility for ourselves and our own lives.”