Daryl Austin: Trump’s presidency can change legacy of lies
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. Politicians are consistently ranked as the most dishonest. It’s worth noting that politicians were ranked lowest decades before Donald Trump entered the political arena.
Yet it’s President Trump who has ignited the greatest outrage over dishonesty in politics.
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.
John F. Kennedy may have been one of the most dishonest presidents. 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.”
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. 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, 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.
LBJ, JFK, and FDR are three of our most popular presidents, but every modern president has failed the truth test.
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.
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.
Whether you love or hate Trump, you can’t dispute that his being president has awakened something in Americans of every age and background . 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.