By Terry Manning
Our lives are being overrun by liars. What once would have been scandalous, career-ending demonstrations of dishonesty have now become commonplace shows of disrespect for the general public’s collective intelligence.
And to all of that I say, “Damn you, Bill Clinton.”
Now, I know the former president didn’t invent lying. Cain took care of that in the Book of Genesis, when he lied about killing his brother, Abel. When the Lord asked where Abel was, Cain threw up his hands and said, “What, am I my brother’s keeper?”
You have to admire the sheer audacity of someone who would lie to GOD, the omnipotent and omniscient Creator of all things. This wasn’t taking a ball-point pen from your chiropractor’s office. This was mankind’s first lie. But if you’re going to do something, go big or go home, right?
So when I watched Bill Clinton wag his finger and declare, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman,” all I could do was laugh. I explained to a younger friend, “relations” was a word old church folks used for sex, so Clinton might not have had intercourse with Monica Lewinsky, but he was basically admitting they did everything else.
Clinton lied like a lawyer, parsing words to find loopholes. He was a cutting-edge, state-of-the-art deceiver. And I say this with full confidence because I had been one.
In my teen years, like a lot of young people, I sorely underestimated the intelligence of most adults I encountered. I lied like a rug, about matters great and small. My father finally had enough, telling me, “Until you prove otherwise, I’m going not going to believe anything you say.” He was serious about that, too.
Was it cold out? What came in the mail? What had Mama left us to reheat for dinner? What shows were on TV that night? Who was that on the phone? Had the dogs been fed? Was there any juice in the fridge? Who won the ballgame? To every question, my father would first ask me and then turn to my younger brother for “the truth.”
It went on for weeks, and it cut deeply. It was hurtful and shameful. I ended up standing before him in tears, begging his forgiveness, pledging my truthfulness. There were topics I avoided in later years, lest I be forced to disclose damning information, but I never again stood in front of my father and told the kind of bold-faced lie I’d become an expert in telling.
So yeah, I know lies. I still kind of respect good ones. But these people in our public lives now? These politicians? They’re awful at it. They don’t even try! They do a thing on Monday, say another on Tuesday and by Thursday they deny everything they said or did. Even though there’s evidence anyone can see! Well, anyone who wants to see.
See, that’s where my worry starts. We have become so accustomed to public figures being liars it’s hardly considered a defect anymore. They overwhelm us with the quantity — and dare I say, banality — and our senses grow numb to their falsehoods. We allow them — and ourselves — to escape accountability with ready-made excuses: “It’s all fake news.” “He was just joking.” “She said she was sorry.” “Well, what about the time your guy said … ?”
And that’s the other part of it: We have tribalized truth. We overlook lies as long as it’s our champion telling them. We overlook them if they upset those other folks. We tell ourselves and others that God doesn’t require perfect people to do His will, as if that makes every exaggeration, every misrepresentation, every reversal, every flat-out lie some part of a divine plan.
In the wake of recent upheaval, these high-profile liars and their supplicants might do well to consider the fate of the first liar. God cursed Cain such that nothing he did after that prospered and he spent the rest of his life in exile.
So maybe we are our brothers’ keepers after all, and that means not telling them lies that destroy us all.
Terry E. Manning lives and works in Savannah, Ga. He is a Clemson graduate and worked for 20 years as a journalist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.