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John Wilson of Hampden is a retired attorney.
Yes, it’s been said that truth is in the eye of the beholder, but are we all free to behold as we choose?
Michael Beschloss, presidential historian, recently told NBC News: “I have never seen a president in American history who has lied so continuously and so outrageously as Donald Trump, period.” The Washington Post says, since in office, the President has made more than 30,000 false or misleading statements.
I’ve been asked “Don’t you think he’s just putting that stuff out?” The law has a term for this: ” Puffery,” defined as exaggerated or false praise which no reasonable person would take literally. The courts say it’s OK to use this type of language to promote products.
Maybe the president’s business background has predisposed him to declare that he knows more about the Bible, taxes, drones, technology, infrastructure, trade, etc. than anyone else, that he knows more about ISIS than the generals do, and recently that the construction of the wall with Mexico during his presidency is one of the largest infrastructure projects in the history of our country. The list goes on.
But where businesses get into trouble, guilty of false advertising, is when they make false or misleading representations of fact that are likely to confuse and/or deceive the general public. Contained within those more than 30,000 falsehoods are more than a few that exceed the bounds of puffery. Take for instance, the false claim that a valid election was fraudulent.
So, if not the president, then what about those who we have sent off to Capitol Hill to represent us? Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, calling to task his fellow legislators for challenging the results of the Electoral College, on Jan. 6, declared that it was the job of leaders to tell the citizenry the truth. In his words: “The best way we can show respect for the voters who are upset is by telling the truth.”
We should have a president who understands the importance of telling the truth. We should have elected leaders who understand the danger of telling and promulgating lies. But there is, as they say, a “third rail” and that third rail is us. In his speech on the Senate floor on Jan. 6, Sen. Angus King said this: “If people believe something that isn’t true it’s our obligation to tell them no, it isn’t.”
Doesn’t that advice apply to each and every one of us, not just our elected officials? The absence of President Trump from the White House won’t put an end to the disinformation.
So, in the future I’ll give you your puffery, you can give me mine. Your president can be the smartest, mine can be the wisest. But when either of us wander off into false advertising; it’s time to be held accountable.
We need to tell and be told, “No, that is not true.” If the truth you behold is unsupported by fact, then it’s time for me to speak up. If you insist on holding your untruth, then I need to do my best to see that you also feel its weight. Not an easy job, but a necessary one.
I saw on our television screen a man carrying a banner through the Capitol with the words “A republic, if you can keep it.” I suspect that what was happening at the time is not exactly what Benjamin Franklin had in mind when he spoke them. More likely, I think, it might have been a charge to inform ourselves and in so doing our fellow citizens.
To be effective in this endeavor, we must be ready to do the hard work of first finding the truth for ourselves and then to speak that truth to our families, friends, and neighbors. How likely are we to be heard? I don’t know.
Ultimately, we can’t rely upon our elected officials to keep this republic for us. It is a burden we each must shoulder.