Diogenes, it’s said, carried a lamp by day as he walked the streets of Athens. Asked why, he said he was looking for an honest man.
Is this a perennial quest, to remain forever unfulfilled?
Because we simply don’t know who to believe or who to trust?
And thus we trust what we want to trust, believe who we want to believe?
Well, I’m not happy with that.
The truth isn’t an easy thing to pin down. But lies, it seems are even harder to name.
In my last post I mentioned ‘operative’ and ‘inoperative’ statements. An innovative categorising of accurate and (let’s be kind) inaccurate by Richard Nixon’s press spokesman, Ron Ziegler.
Does that wilful dissimulation remind you of anything?
Alternative facts, perhaps, from Trump team member, Kellyanne Conway?
The new team in the White House has developed a remarkable hallmark style. As spin goes, it’s in a league of its own.
And where does all this creativity with the truth leave us?
We have access to more information than humans have ever had at their fingertips – but truth has become a soap bubble.
Try and grab it – ping! It vanishes.
But it’s plainly nothing new in modern politics. Or even ancient politics. Witness Diogenes.
And, frankly, I realise now that in taking this semi-analytical, semi-historical path, I’ve taken on too much.
Watched too much, read too much, thought too much. Therefore…
I’m going to say a few things, make a few suggestions for further watching and reading, then exit gracefully (if it’s not too late) from this pit I’ve dug for myself.
I hate giving up, but, frankly, none of your lives will be changed by my thoughts on a world-scale conundrum – and I really ought to be writing something else.
So, for what it’s worth, here are the bare-bones thoughts.
There are parallels between Trump and his election campaign and Nixon and his. This has already been pointed out by one or two people who have rather bigger audiences and more research facilities at their disposal than do I.
There are also big differences. Chiefly, Nixon was expected to win, Trump wasn’t. So you could argue Trump’s campaign had more reason to – perhaps – get outside help in stymying the Democrats than did Nixon.
Both men have/had press spokespeople who are extremely inventive with the ‘truth’.
Ziegler, Nixon’s spokesman, was, according to the man himself and also other people, duped.
Perhaps Sean ‘Spicy’ Spicer is likewise being duped?
One of the things that hammered the nail in the Nixon presidency’s coffin was the firing of Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox.
But Nixon thought he, as President, could do anything.
Here’s part of his interview with David Frost:
Would you say that there are certain situations … where the president can decide that it’s in the best interests of the nation, and do something illegal?
Well, when the president does it, that means it is not illegal
There are those who say Trump believes he can do anything. He’s apparently one of them. This is what he said during his campaign:
‘I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters’
I suppose he didn’t say he wouldn’t be arrested but…
People in Trump’s team seem to keep stumbling over the truth.
Did the new Attorney General Jeff Sessions meet the Russian ambassador? Did he lie? Weasel words abound, but he’s not the first, not the last – and it doesn’t look good.
Here’s what the Guardian newspaper had to say:
Sessions has faced growing pressure from both Republicans and Democrats amid claims that he “lied under oath” after about twice speaking with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the United States, during the presidential campaign, in apparent contradiction to his testimony to Congress.
In the latest (as I write) episode of the Russian did-they-didn’t-they saga, Trump’s man Spicy has said, when asked if there would be a Special Prosecutor appointed to investigate this mess:
‘Special Prosecutor for what?’
There are other examples of Special Prosecutors bringing down Presidents. Could this be Trump’s nemesis waiting in the wings?
Looking back to Nixon once more, the big smoking gun was those tapes. The ones he himself had secretly had made of his conversations in the Oval Office.
And – germane to today’s political climate – the Republicans voted for them to be subpoenaed. They put country, not party, first.
The whole truth, despite the subpoena, will always be missing. Eighteen and a half minutes of the critical tape had been wiped.
But through dogged reporting of the early days of the scandal, a President had been brought to the point he had to resign.
I’m not going to go into ‘defense’ spending increases and the military industrial complex and employment … and where all that might be leading.
It’s time to shut up and reach a conclusion.
Here we go.
How do we find it? Well …
The scandal that was Watergate began thanks to the Washington Post.
Last week the Post broke the news that Sessions had met the Russian ambassador.
And here’s a final quote for you, from the Post’s former Executive Editor, Ben Bradlee:
in my experience, the truth does emerge. It takes forever sometimes, but it does emerge. And … any relaxation by the press will be extremely costly to democracy.
There is no perfect source of truth.
And proving a lie can take a lifetime.
But real, reputable newspapers with a long pedigree, which employ real journalists, trained, paid and with instincts honed by dealing with inveterate liars, some of them politicians, have a chance. A better chance than people like me.
Newspapers have their biases. Don’t we all?
But if you know what they are, you can take those into account.
I have paid for subscriptions to two newspapers.
They are not perfect.
But they try.
And the strapline of one of them is the title:
Democracy dies in darkness
bizarre, as I finished this see what the Washington Post reported:
All the President’s Men
I suggest you order the book (has more detail than the film) from your local bookshop and if you want the film in Britain get it here (blu ray and DVD and collectable cards!) not form Amazon:
All the President’s Men Revisited
The Fog of War