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Column: The biggest of the big lies

Does truth have any place in American politics? In American society?

It’s unsettling to even pose those questions. We know what the answer should be. We all (at least those of a certain age) remember the fable of George Washington and the cherry tree, with young George’s admission of guilt to his angry dad: “Father, I cannot tell a lie…”

But in these modern and more worldly times, that quaint notion seems oddly out of place.

The latest, high-profile example was the revelation that just-elected New York Republican Congressman George Santos had fabricated nearly his entire resume. Democrats are seeing red at that one, demanding that Santos be ousted from the Congress.

Many Republicans tend to agree – after all, voters deserve to know the truth about the people they vote for – although some find it hard to take the Democrats’ outrage seriously, given that party’s well-known tolerance of political deceit in their own ranks. Examples abound: Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who jump started her academic and political career with a specious claim to Native American heritage; Sena. Richard Blumenthal who falsely bragged of service in Vietnam; and newly elected Sen. Josh Fetterman, who carefully shielded his post-stroke mental disability until nearly all of Pennsylvania’s mail-in votes had been cast.

And let’s not forget President Joe Biden, who routinely embellishes his own background. Tops in his law school class? Nope, near the bottom. Arrested for protesting for civil rights? Never happened, here or in South Africa.

On the GOP side, there’s Donald Trump, crowned by Democrats and social media as the most prolific political liar in American political history (a ridiculous exaggeration, but one fueled by his incessant bluster and bragging). And in the court of public opinion, Trump stands convicted of the all-time “Big Lie”, his claim that he won the 2020 election.

Of course, politicians who play fast and loose with the truth are nothing new. The popular line that you can tell politicians are lying “when they move their lips” has been around for a century. We, the electorate, should do better – and we can start with Santos.

Santos should not be allowed to stay in office, not because his position poses a threat to the nation (he’s just one of 435 voting members of Congress), but simply because his deceitful behavior is repugnant, wholly inconsistent with what we expect – even if regularly disappointed – of Congressional representatives.

And when you get right down to it, Trump’s big lie is not a lie at all. Skepticism about election results (call it “denial”) is as old as elections themselves; and the utter implausibility that journeyman politician Joe Biden could pull in 12 million more votes than Barack Obama in his prime should cause anyone to be skeptical.

It was Trump’s post-election behavior – particularly his unwillingness to call off the rioting that he’d inspired – that demonstrate his unfitness to serve another term as President. But neither his denial of the election results nor the riot it triggered did irreparable harm to the nation. Surely, we did not “almost lose our democracy” that day.

In this age of high-tech communications, rather than angst about Santos or even Trump, our much larger concern should be the deluge of bulk-delivered misinformation that influences public opinion, actions and votes. We live in a world awash with carefully constructed, legally defensible and very convincing messaging – much of it misleading.

That concern is amplified by the evidence of collusion between Big Tech and our own government in controlling that messaging, as revealed in chilling detail by recently released Twitter records.

Worried about democracy? When our government influences our votes by misleading us about matters of great importance, democracy is indeed jeopardized.

By definition, a lie is the conscious intent to deceive. A lie can be a false assertion, or a wink or a nod, or dismissive silence. In my view, the biggest of big lies – the insidious ones that threaten democracy and our nation – are the truths withheld from the American public.

Tops in that category is the revelation of Biden’s possible complicity in big money influence-peddling schemes with foreign nations.

Did we elect a president who has been paid millions (whether directly or through his immediate family) by Communist China? We cringe at the thought. But there is credible evidence that that is exactly what has been happening – evidence that was deliberately suppressed before the 2020 election.

We owe it to the nation to get to the bottom of it – and we owe it to Biden and his family to exonerate him if we find that it’s a false charge. Neither our nation nor our democratic processes are served by obediently looking the other way.