Good Lies, Bad Lies

Good Lies, Bad Lies

Mark Twain knew a liar when he saw one—every time he looked in the mirror. Huck Finn could conjure a respectable “stretcher” at breakfast, telling the Widow Douglas that he’d be trotting off to school right after he finished his flapjacks. We are all liars, Twain averred, and I confess that I am in no position to contradict him. What about you?

A phrase often attributed to the author, which he likely never uttered or wrote, goes like this: “A lie will fly around the world while the truth is getting its boots on.”

If the attribution is false, the sentiment rings true.

We are enduring a prevarication pandemic of late. Pettifoggers for perfidious pols are telling us that lies are nothing more or less than good old fashioned made-in-America free speech, our great gift to global governance.

Don’t send serial liars to jail, they plead, send them to the White House—or the Kremlin.

Lies run the gamut from the Big Lie to the silent flimflam to benign fictions. An example of that last salubrious sham is when an acquaintance of mine insisted, “Dave, you’re looking well,” as I leaned on my cane and engaged his hand with my wrinkled, emaciated mitt.

America has devolved from the home of self-evident truths to the land of felonious falsehoods. The epitome of the Big Lie emanates daily from our previous president, who insists he won the 2020 election even though there is not a shred of evidence to back up his claim. More than 50 lawsuits came to that conclusion as did virtually all of his top advisors well before the battle royal of January 6, 2021—from then Attorney General William Barr on down through the ranks. It just wasn’t so. Period. End of sentence. Move on, Mr. President. You lost. Man up and admit it. Follow George Washington and all of your predecessors who transferred power peacefully before you. Otherwise, Mogadishu here we come.

Here's an example of a silent lie—a Big Silent Lie at that: it took Ron DeSantis more than two and a half years to concede that the former president, and his current rival for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, did indeed lose the 2020 election. Joe Biden is the legitimate President of the United States, Ron has decided after 32 months of dutiful deliberation.

More noteworthy than that tardy epiphany is that many of his GOP colleagues remain silent on this no-brainer to this day, and not a few evince ongoing and animated agreement with their Prevaricator-in-Chief, POTUS 45.

The result of all this lying and spineless silence is anything but benign. A remarkable 69 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents believe that Joe Biden is an illegitimate president, that he lost the 2020 election, according to a July CNN poll.

You can’t fool all Republicans all of the time, but clearly you can fool most of them.

We have devolved a long way from George Washington, who reportedly boasted that he could not tell a lie. That cherry tree yarn is probably apocryphal, but let it go. It’s a good lie and in the vicinity of the truth.

So, if lie we must, we could do well to follow the guidelines set forth 141 years ago by Mr. Twain, who knew as much about the practice as any person alive or dead: “Lying is universal—we all do it; we all must do it. Therefore, the wise thing is for us diligently to train ourselves to lie thoughtfully, judiciously; to lie with a good object, and not an evil one; to lie for others’ advantage, and not our own; to lie healingly, charitably, humanely, not cruelly, hurtfully, maliciously…Then shall we be great and good and beautiful, and worthy dwellers in a world where even benign Nature habitually lies, except when she promises execrable weather.”