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The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Robert Brescia 
September 6, 2016

“There ain’t nothin’ more powerful than the odor of mendacity!” – quote from Harvey “Big Daddy” Pollitt in the 1958 Tennessee William’s production, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

rbOne of the most destructive phenomena in our American society today is mendacity – or lying if you prefer. It’s a behavior that belies who we are as individuals and it’s so harmful because it degrades and eventually destroys trust. Political commentator Glenn Beck says that his dad had at least one big house rule when he was growing up – tell the truth. Even when it was hard to do so, Beck family members told the truth to each other. By so doing, you could count on each one to the fullest measure.

Truth-telling is excellent for American households. It’s also a superlative characteristic for public servants. When lying is done by those representing organizations, it can totally destroy trust in that organization. This includes our government, Olympic athletes and heads of nonprofit governmental organizations.

Governmental Lying

Recently, the U.S. government made some type of deal with Iran to retrieve Americans that were being held captive there. Citing a 1979 Iran / U.S. agreement, the president insisted that an unmarked plane carrying $400 million in cash delivered to the Iranians was primarily used to satisfy a 37-year-old debt from the 1979 agreement. When the plane landed in Tehran, the money was handed over to the Iranian officials and the U.S. hostages were released. Later, the U.S. State Department confirmed publicly that this was ransom money to get the Americans released. The money came from a “Pentagon Trust Fund.”

Ever since Watergate, we have come to understand that lying to the American people has material consequences. It also has collateral consequences such as destruction of trust in government and elected officeholders. It can also affect American image throughout the world.

Governmental lying has a “snowball rolling downhill” effect. It starts small and contained, then become enormous in its scope and deleterious effects. The public betrayal of trust is something that is almost impossible to come back from for an elected politician. Our duty as Americans is to call out the lying wherever it is and to hold those accountable who lie to us. It’s mandatory to do so if we are to hold the Republic together and our great nation. 

Individual American Lying

During the 2016 Olympics, U.S. swimmer Ryan Lochte apparently went on a drinking binge with some of his teammates, destroyed private property and then concocted a lie about the affair. He told Rio De Janeiro Police that he was robbed at gunpoint. The truth was that security guards confronted the group after Lochte had broken down the gas station bathroom door. As an American, Lochte significantly degraded our national image through his lie, just to avoid being prosecuted for breaking a door at a gas station.

Sports writer Mike Vaccaro said Mr. Lochte had “lived down to all the worst stereotypes about Americans abroad. The ‘Ugly American’ is alive and well in 2016 thanks to this dope.” Two major corporations have dropped their sponsorship of Mr. Lochte.

Olympians are given extensive briefings about suitable conduct while competing abroad and they know the type of behavior that is acceptable. In like fashion, you can ask any military service member who has been deployed abroad – they have had the same briefings and training.

Those of us who travel abroad, professionally or casually, have an additional responsibility to safeguard and strengthen our American image and identity. Here is a quote from President Ronald Reagan, answering a question about Americanism from British journalist David Frost in 1968:

“I think Americans are kind of like puppy dogs. They love everybody and they can’t understand why everybody doesn’t love them, so when they go visiting some other country, they want to walk up, knock on the door, and stick out their hand and say, “Hello, I’m Joe Smith from Arkansas.”

The Way Forward in the New Americanism

We need to elect those politicians on the right and the left who have shown themselves to be truthful. Great, but how can we know that? We can examine past consistent patterns of behavior and match those to what the politician is now saying. That should give us a pretty good idea about the propensity of that politician to tell the truth especially when it matters. See what the person has said and done during times of crisis and pressure. Did he or she take shortcuts, avoid the truth or engage in partial truth-telling? Did that politician use rhetoric to slant the story in a particular way so as to create the wrong impression?

Truth-telling is a core value of the New Americanism. We don’t condone lying and we respect public servants who tell the truth no matter the circumstance or consequence. What a great country we will have when more Americans are on board with the truth.

AuthorBob Brescia serves as the executive director of the John Ben Shepperd Public Leadership Institute, Odessa, Texas. His new book (Oct. 14 release) is Destination Greatness – Creating a New Americanism. Bob has a doctoral degree with distinction in executive leadership from The George Washington University. He also serves as chairman of the board of Basin Public Broadcasting Service – West Texas public television. Please contact him at [email protected] or Twitter: @Robert_Brescia.

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One Response to Mendacity

  1. John Pearson Reply

    September 10, 2016 at 12:51 pm

    Don’t believe the State Department has characterized this deal as “paying ransom.” It was the other way around. We didn’t pay Iran until the hostages were released. Here’s how the incident was described in Politico on August 19th: “The top spokesman for the State Department offered no apologies Friday after it confirmed that the United States conditioned the release of $400 million cash to Iran on the departure of American prisoners held in Tehran, arguing that it would have been “foolish and imprudent” to pay the money without getting them out of the country.” If the U.S. owed Iran the money in the first place, how can it be ransom? Politifact said on August 24, “the majority of experts said the ransom label was inaccurate.”

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