Honesty is more than speaking the technical truth. This is an underpinning concept behind diplomacy. It is key to understanding some of the inherent failures in our legal system. It is a vital point of politics.
Honesty requires there be no attempt to hide the motive behind an action or statement. This is why someone swears in testimony to speak not just the truth, but the whole truth. Political circles today are filled with those relying on the simple difference between “the truth” and “the whole truth” to enact destructive goals. It is to our peril that we dismiss them as liars or embrace them as honest. The situation is more complex than that.
The difference between truth and honesty is most easily seen in the actions of Russia as they attempt to influence other countries via social media. Putin’s motives are fundamentally dishonest: he wishes to undermine and ultimately subjugate other countries, bringing their populations under the heel of Russia. To achieve this antagonistic goal, he is acting as if he is a friend and speaking the technical truth.
An American teenager was raped and killed by an illegal immigrant. A prominent politician once called gays and lesbians “animals”. White supremacists are funding a pro-Trump march. A Black Lives Matter activist killed a policeman. Fox news is biased. CNN is biased. The stories go on… because they’re real. Just this week, while “human trafficking” has shifted to the top of the public consciousness, we’re being fed stories about how a prominent Democrat lawyer was involved in it:
Texas Democrat Mark Benavides has been found guilty on six counts of human trafficking. The lawyer was exchanging sex for services as a court-appointed attorney. Investigators found a trove of 246 sex tapes documenting what made one juror pass out during the trial.GraniteGrok
And, of course, the information about Li Yang, the Tokyo Day Spas, Robert Kraft, President Trump and other prominent Republicans.
Both of these are the truth. They are not necessarily the whole truth.
Benavides’ actions were horrible. And he was a prominent Democrat. But the timing of the story breaking now – and it has been extensively shared across Republican social media and on some prominent national punditry shows – is highly questionable, as he was convicted in early April, 2018. Presenting it as a new story by linking to an undated ABC news story, which is what GraniteGrok did, is fundamentally dishonest. While I have no proof it had any outside help “going viral”, it is exactly the sort of story that is pushed as part of a misinformation campaign.
The actions of Li Yang, however, are topically and temporally relevant. It is very important to recognize that she did transfer ownership of the day spa used in the Kraft bust, however. It is possible that she happened to sell to a person she trusted but who was secretly involved in organized crime. The connections in play are potentially a door to deep corruption and even direct influence by China over many Republican politicians, however, and is worthy of extensive investigation.
This is a perfect microcosm of contemporary politics. Russia, in this case, has the motive to sow discord: it pushes both stories. The Republicans have the motive of trying to deflect attention from highly suspicious actions of their “team”, and therefore push the old Benavides story. The Democrats have the motive of trying to gain more political power by taking down their rivals, and push for investigation into the Li Yang connections.
All three groups are telling the truth, but only that part of the truth which benefits them. This is absolutely nothing new, but it is important that it be recognized. We do so with politicians. Nobody sane believes that every statement by even the most reflexive political liars like Trump, Clinton, Putin and Kim is false. We need to hold groups to a similar standard.
The contemporary split from the Republican party and all that accompanied it – the pollution of the term “conservative”, the shift from patriotism to nationalism, the factionalism and demonizing – is fueled in no small part by a devotion to honesty. Many of us who are former Republicans were as vocal as the current party members were about our allegiances. We learned, however, that our allegiance was not to the team but to the principles.
If we are to hold to those principles, we must do so with a firm grasp of our motives and the motives of others. It is not enough to want Trump gone. If that is our only goal, we leave the door wide open for the next fearmonger to step into his shoes. Our goal has to be a return to the bedrock principles – the fundamental Americanism – which most Americans share.
This goal will not be furthered by promoting groups who we know are at direct odds with that view. Whether they be Russia and its attempts to generate hate between us, “Occupy Democrats” and their attempts to push the country toward a Marxist utopia or “Occupy Democrats Logic” and their attempts to push the country toward an authoritarian one, we should be hesitant to join our voices to theirs merely because, in a moment of convenience for them, they are not lying.
Technical truth is too low a bar. For the country to regain its moorings, we need honesty.