I am the father of an adorable/feisty four-year-old daughter named Grace, and my wife is pregnant with another girl due in the spring. Like most parents, I have thought long and hard about what kind of principles I should try to teach them prepare them for life. I was brought up believing, mostly because my mother drilled it into my DNA, that truth was the ultimate value. I thought that if you told the truth, while things wouldn’t always go right, in the end, everything would turn out okay. In short, I tried to live by the old credo that honesty was the best policy.
However, throughout my professional and personal life I learned that this premise is usually false, and sometimes catastrophically so. Still, like a gambler throwing good money after bad, I have continued to live based on this principle long after I had concluded that it was, at best, ineffective and, at times, simply soul-crushing.
What I haven’t been able to figure out is whether my mother gave me really bad advice for how to live, or if the rules of the game have just dramatically changed since the 1970s when my understanding of society began to form. Like with most confounding questions, the answer probably consists of a bit of both of these explanations, and probably a bit more.
Recently, I had two situations emerge with my daughter which took this issue out of the theoretical and put it into the practical for me. Both were rather cute, but also raised serious questions about how I would actually deal with real-life circumstances now that she is starting to be able to understand the world around her in significant ways.
The first occurred when I was heading from our home in California to Pennsylvania for a court hearing related to the “Penn State Scandal” which I have been investigating for years. Grace knows that Pennsylvania is where the “bad guys” in my crusade for justice live, and just before I left she earnestly handed me a “magic” rock complete with special words to say in order to fight the “bad guys” off.
When I returned from the trip, the subject of the “magic” rock came up and I played along, asking her what the talisman was supposed to do (because it hadn’t worked at all). Much to my shock she immediately gave up the story entirely, saying, almost mockingly, “Dad, the stone isn’t really magic. That was just a story.” Upon further inquiry, she revealed that the stone not only wasn’t “magic,” but that she had stolen it from a gift shop without our knowledge.
The second episode came just a few days ago when, suddenly realizing that Christmas season is fast approaching and correctly perceiving that she may not have behaved well enough this year to secure her place on Santa’s “good” list, she decided to make a desperate political play. She whispered in my ear so that her mother couldn’t hear (which told me a lot about who she thinks is the easier mark in our family) a stunning proposal to engage in a conspiracy. “Dad, how about if you lie to Santa and tell him to put me on the good list?” she suggested.
While trying to contain my laughter, I honestly didn’t know whether to be horrified, proud, or a little bit of both. The younger and more idealistic/naïve version of me would have surely scolded her for concocting such a devious plan. However, instead I told her that maybe a better strategy might be to actually BE good between now and the big day when Santa is set to arrive.
Part of my revised thinking was surely impacted by my fear that on her current pace she’s going to figure out the Santa scam far sooner than her mother would ever want her to. However, the principal reason for me taking a pass on scolding her was based in how I now see the world and where it is clearly going. A significant part of that view is founded on the fact that Donald Trump is now our president-elect (by the way, you can see Grace’s reaction to Trump’s win at about the fifteen minute mark of this recent entertaining interview I did).
Without trying to be melodramatic, or turn into a caricature of a liberal crying “what will we tell our children?!” after Trump’s win, I do see his victory as the death knell for truth as a significant value in our culture. Now, to be clear (and to poorly paraphrase Billy Joel), Trump’s election hardly started this fire of deceit, but it did reveal that the house of honesty has now officially been burned to the ground.
Quite simply, Trump is a pathological liar and con-artist. And yet, not only did that not prevent him from somehow winning the highest office in the land, it actually HELPED him attain it by allowing him to dupe millions of fervent supporters with self-serving fairytales, spun without even a hint of remorse or self-awareness.
And, as Trump moves (sort of) into the White House, this phenomenon shows no signs of stopping, or even slowing down. Just yesterday, Trump tweeted ridiculous and clearly absurd allegations that he would have won the popular tally if there hadn’t been “millions” of illegal votes cast. That is a complete lie for which there is zero evidence or logic. And yet his supporters loved it and there is no sign that this lie, like any of the hundreds of others he has told in the last year, will have any impact on his political standing.
Why? There three primary reasons I believe. The first is that lying (ironically, thanks in large part to the Clintons) is no longer remotely taboo in our society. In fact, it is often preferred. The second is that, in this era where feelings routinely “trump” intellect, people much prefer to hear what makes them feel good (which is usually a lie) than a truth which makes them feel bad. And thirdly, people (especially Republicans) no longer trust the mainstream media to be honest about what a lie is and what is truth, and technology now allows for everyone to create their own media bubble where only comforting “information” is ever allowed inside this “safe space.”
So how can I possibly reprimand my daughter when I look at what she did through the prism of how it would work in a post-Donald Trump world and I think, “damn, that kind of thinking is likely to work out quite well for her!”? Frankly, I can’t. There is no doubt in my mind that our president-elect would have smiled broadly, patted her on the back (or butt?), and complimented her survival skills if Grace was one of his children.
As much as it pains me to admit, it is now clear that in order to best prepare my children for life in this new “post-truth” era of America, they need to be educated that a well-executed lie will beat an unpopular truth every single time. So while I won’t tell her that the fix is in (so to better to keep her in line for a couple of weeks), I will indeed be lying to Santa that she belongs on the “good” list this year.
Thanks Donald Trump. You have taught me so very much and you aren’t even president yet. I just wish I had gotten clued into these rules about forty years ago. It’s too late for me now, but hopefully not for Grace.
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.