Cathy Wilcox Sydney Morning Herald Jan 2020
On December 16, 2019, the Washington Post’s on-going logging of Donald Trump’s false and misleading statements since becoming US president listed 15,413 of these across his 1,055 days in office: an average of 32 a day.
Trump has been busier selling his rancid pork pies to the world than a one one-legged man in an arse-kicking contest, all the while braying about other people’s “fake news”.
This week, the Guardian’s Greg Jericho tweeted about Bridget McKenzie’s “they were all eligible” response to the revelations of the humongous pre-election pork-barrelling of community sporting development grants that “The biggest thing conservatives around the world have taken from Trump is to never admit error even in the face of total evidence. And then to keep doing what you were doing.”
To which I replied “The legacy of this new normal obdurate political denial & lying for a generation of kids growing up witnessing the opposite of what mum, dad & teachers have always said about lying may be tragic for the basic civilised principle of honesty.”
I’ve helped raise three children and now have two grandkids, 7 and 9. My wife is a retired primary school teacher, with 40 years in front of classes of kids. Our dinner table and pillow talk has often seen long dissections of some outrageous lies that children tell – some highly amusing and others utterly flabbergasting – often in the face of in-your-face evidence that they can’t seem to take on board.
Across these years I’ve been fascinated at the evolution of children’s moral development. Our 9 year old is currently in a full embrace of altruism. She’s busked with her ukulele and set up table in the front of her house to sell unwanted books and toys to help raise money for fire victims. Bless her.
But it wasn’t long ago that she would clock her younger brother when she thought we weren’t looking and then strenuously deny it when it had been in full sight. With our kids, loose change around the house went missing occasionally, and homework had not been set that night when it had been. All very normal when you are a small child.
Jean Piaget’s classic The Moral Judgement of the Child (1932) described the normal moral development in children, with all the implications for when and how we should understand that a child fully understands notions of right and wrong. A 2008 review of studies into children’s lying concluded:
“These studies have shown that children show rudimentary conceptual and moral understanding of lying around 3 years of age but take more than a decade to reach maturity (e.g., being able to consider intention when categorizing a statement as a lie and evaluate its moral values.)”
So from this, if we are generous, we might conclude that Trumpian liars probably never made it into their teens and have the moral development of small children trapped in their adult bodies.
When you are an adult, foundational values on which all institutions and codes of conduct are built have honesty at their core. We have all known sad and pathetic adults who regularly lie. The law calls it perjury when it happens under oath. False declarations carry severe legal penalties in every area of finance, licensing, professional standards and the rest. Thou shalt not bear false witness, says the eighth commandment.
It would only be a psychopathic parent who would try to teach their infant children to lie and reward them for doing so. Yet each day the man in one of the world’s most venerated offices, role-models deception to the world. Many have made the point that if Obama or any president before him had misled the nation even once like Trump does every day, he would have been politically lynched.
Lying and misleading parliament has always been unpardonable in nations adhering to Westminster standards of honesty, integrity and concern for public trust in democracy. Under Trump’s example, abetted by slavering Republican politicians who line up beside him and are predicted to wave him through his impeachment, all this may disappear.
Trump has debased the office of the US President in almost uncountable ways.
The deafening silence of (most) global religious leadership to Trump and his ilk’s bottom-feeding ethical standards is shameful. The silence of nearly all of his Republican elected politicians is frightening.
45% of Americans today support Trump. These people presumably would say in ignorance or as mesmerised cultists tend to do, that they do not believe he lies and misleads. But many would say they don’t care if he does. Ethically corrupt politicians around the world are watching this cataclysmic collapse of ordinary standards of honesty and taking their chances.
All who fear this ethical collapse need to speak out at every opportunity and on every occasion that our elected officials behave dishonestly. Civilisation will depend on it.