For most of my life as a common man, I have lived with one reality: I will never understand how the world works. I will never understand the complexity of power, money, and human motivation. I don’t know why people do strange, crazy and insane things. Only occasionally do we get the answer to the question of why things are the way they are.
What I do know is this: the line between a lie, a half-truth, and the real truth might be blurry, but it’s still a line not worth crossing, especially in a time of dire emergency. Words have consequences. And if you are one of the many millions who watched the HBO show “Chernobyl,” you know what happens when lies become the narrative. Innocents pay the price — a big price.
Time and time again, we see our elected leaders, our legislators and those whose job it is to keep society’s internal clock humming, come up with words that are as hollow as a foundation devoured by termites. The tsunami caused a nuclear disaster, and the leaders of Japan dithered, offering only words. A large part of a proud nation was laid to waste, and many geological ecosystems were destroyed. Lives, many lives, were lost.
And now, as we are caught in a global pandemic when the truth is the most important (and perhaps the only) real human currency, we are playing with lies, lies, and even more, lies. And it starts at the very top — from the office that is supposed to be a beacon of hope, calm and strength.
For almost two months I have seen nothing but nonsense. And now, the country is shutting down — but for the wrong reasons. We are all a little scared, not because we are fearful, but because we are fumbling in the dark. To quote the writer Rudyard Kipling, “We’re all islands shouting lies to each other across seas of misunderstanding.”
Every tweet that enhances false information is going to cause real trouble for a real person somewhere. Every time a politician — no matter what their political affiliation — says to go out and have dinner, or to go drink beer at your favorite bar, they are helping shape a false narrative. For them, it might be just words said to look good on Fox or on MSNBC, but eventually, someone will pay with their life. Maybe more than just someone.
Every time a politician encourages you to go out and not worry, all they are really telling you to do is to put others at risk. I am not a lawyer, but in the moral court of humanity, that should qualify as aiding and abetting. Why say anything except to urge caution? Everyone knows that we are not equipped to handle the crisis. How could someone encourage reckless behavior with lies that are, at best, political opportunism?
And that is why I wonder how a president can do a slalom with facts and truth in a time like this. What really matters now — all that matters — is facts, truth, and nothing but the truth. Because lies cost lives.
March 15, 2020. San Francisco