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Daryl Austin: Trump’s presidency can change legacy of lies | TribLIVE.com
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Daryl Austin: Trump’s presidency can change legacy of lies

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Whether it’s President Clinton’s emphatic proclamation “I did not have sexual relations with that woman” or President Nixon’s Watergate defense “I am not a crook,” the lesson is the same: Politicians lie.

The sad reality is that voters expect no better.

Since 1976, Gallup has been polling Americans to rank various professions from least to most ethical. Nurses are nearly always perceived as the most honest. Politicians are consistently ranked on the opposite end of the spectrum as the most dishonest. That means members of Congress are generally perceived as more unethical than car salesmen and telemarketers to most Americans. It’s worth noting that politicians were ranked lowest on this list decades before Donald Trump entered the political arena.

Yet it’s President Trump who has ignited the greatest outrage over dishonesty in politics. To be sure, the sheer number of Trump’s reported lies are dizzying enough, but a liar is still a liar whether he lies seven times a day or once a week.

What it comes down to is that Americans either want honest politicians or we do not. One thing’s for certain: We’ve done a terrible job demanding that of our presidents so far.

During President Lyndon B. Johnson’s time in office, there were a myriad of falsehoods and cover-ups surrounding Vietnam, but lies also colored much more.

And if infidelity equals a lack of integrity, then I’d argue that John F. Kennedy may have been one of the most dishonest presidents to have lived at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. His numerous affairs are fair game when assessing his character because, as historian Doris Kearns Goodwin put it: “Someone who refuses to deal honestly with his private life may well distort the reality he confronts in public office.”

One prominent JFK biography provides details of six affairs that Kennedy juggled while he was married to Jackie and serving as our nation’s president. Among the mistresses were three White House secretaries (one was Jackie’s press secretary) and a 19-year-old college sophomore and White House intern. There were also many Hollywood stars and starlets and call girls who were paid by Dave Powers, known as “the court jester and facilitator of Kennedy’s indulgences.”

JFK’s most shameful lie, though, concerned the Bay of Pigs fiasco when the president promised there was “no military intervention in Cuba.” The incident cost lives and resulted in a breakdown of trust and communication with Cuba’s Castro and Russia’s Khrushchev — events which eventually led to the Cuban Missile Crisis.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt also struggled to maintain integrity, both in his personal life and in politics. He and his administrations went to great lengths to hide the extent of his health problems from voters during his New York gubernatorial and subsequent presidential campaigns. Another lie came out repeatedly when he was trying to win a third term in the White House: “I have said this before, but I shall say it again and again and again: Your boys are not going to be sent into any foreign wars.” His words made for good campaign policy as he was running as a peace candidate, but FDR was lying. Even as he made such assurances, he knew war with Germany and Japan was likely inevitable and he and Winston Churchill were secretly planning accordingly. It’s worth mentioning as well that, like Kennedy, FDR also had an affair with his wife’s secretary; and that according to his biographer it was FDR’s mistress, not his wife, who was “the last face FDR saw before he died.”

LBJ, JFK, and FDR are considered three of our most popular presidents, but every modern president has failed the truth test in one form or another.

This begs the question: If lying isn’t something our nation is willing to tolerate from our commander in chief, why do we keep electing liars? It’s not as if Trump’s slippery reputation surfaced only after he won the election. Still, 30 out of 50 states elected him notwithstanding that knowledge.

And yet, the fallout of the 2016 election may be the very catalyst needed to change the status quo. It’s ironic that the first non-politician to live in the White House is also the first president whose lies the public can’t stomach. In the age of Trump, every word, deed, and Tweet are examined under a microscope. Journalists and news anchors alike scrutinize every deception, Congress is holding public hearings on national TV, and even talk show hosts have made politics the center of their nightly programming like never before.

Whether you love or hate Trump, you can’t dispute that his being president has awakened something in Americans of every age and background like our country hasn’t seen in a long, long time . More people than ever before are debating what works, what doesn’t work and what needs to change — including frequent discussions about the need for more transparency and integrity in modern politics.

While I lament that outrage over dishonesty in politics was relatively muted in previous administrations, I celebrate the fact that we’re finally having this conversation.

Freelance journalist Daryl Austin is a father of four and small business owner in Orem, Utah.

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