The Honest Abe Pledge
After four days in Cleveland during which I have been touched, impressed, and moved in some surprising ways, including by several convention speakers and by the good-heartedness of many Republicans I have met, I feel compelled to write this article.
On Tuesday, I spoke at the Purple Tent, which Stuart Muszynski created as a forum to find unifying common ground between Republicans and Democrats. After that day, I felt more hopeful than ever before that we can bridge our differences and work together to create lasting solutions for a new-and-improved America.
After spending time with Republicans such as Michael Steele, Grover Norquist, and Bill Shireman, I came away feeling that even though our political differences may be substantial, we can meet with civility, respect, and curiosity and make real progress. I have, in recent months, also begun a friendship with Rich Tafel, founder of the Log Cabin Republicans, and just hosted an excellent online dialogue with Michael Ostrolenk, founder of the Liberty Coalition.
All of that is to say that I have dissolved a lot of residual negativity about Republicans and have felt impressed by the intelligence, principles, and commitment of many that I have met and engaged with recently.
While this bridge-building with Republicans is still in an early phase for me, a transpartisan progressive, I feel a bit nervous to write what I am going to write. I do not want it to cause a rift in the collaborative spirit that is growing. In fact, I hope that it deepens it because it addresses a shared problem.
Each day, I grow more convinced that the path to real greatness for America lies in seeing conservative and progressive values as complementary to each other. Right and left are like the two wings of our cherished American eagle, both required for us to soar.
But that collaboration of left and right is in grave danger because of the lies that are creating a hall of mirrors of attack, misunderstanding, demonization, and fear.
And the most important lie is that Donald Trump is a truthteller when in fact he has been the biggest liar in recent years on the political stage.
I say that not as a partisan statement but as a result of 50 fact-checked speeches by Politifact that analyzed 20 politicians on the national stage since 2007, which you can see graphically depicted here.
Trump comes through with the lowest rating for “truthiness” of all 20, with a mere 11 percent rating vs. 51 percent for Hillary.
Trump has cast aspersions on others with names such as “Lyin’ Ted” and “Crooked Hillary” to distract from his own lying and exaggeration. As Ted Cruz stated, this tendency to blame others for what he is doing himself is “straight out of a psychology textbook.”
Recent statements of Trump’s ghostwriter Tony Schwartz make it clear that Trump considered lying simply part of getting the best business deals and becoming a success. The New Yorker article that chronicles the details is something everyone should read. Tony concluded, “lying is second nature to him.”
Trump’s lack of commitment to telling the truth simply must be addressed not only for the good America, but for the good of the Republican Party, which will otherwise face a real corrosion in the American people’s faith in its moral compass.
Trump must be held fully accountable to the truth, just as Hillary (and other Democrats) must be held accountable to the truth.
However, it doesn’t serve to say they are equivalent because the truth is that Trump actually has the habit of lying much more often and more egregiously, as the Politifact stats show.
During his final night speech, Trump explicitly promised to convention-goers that “There will be no lies. We will honor the American people with the truth and nothing else.”
While that sounds good, he later said about Hillary, for example, “They have total control over every single thing she does.” Imagine someone saying that in a courtroom and how the cross-examination would address it (or the judge). It is a clear lie in order to paint Hillary in a certain way.
Earlier in the week, the campaign continued to insist that there was no plagiarism in Melania’s speech even though there clearly was. After a staffer at last confessed, there was no apology. Indeed, there is a tendency to double down on exaggerations and lies.
Slowly but surely, we have all begun to accept and perhaps tolerate that this as the state of affairs but it ultimately undermines our trust in ALL politics and particularly in our political parties, which start to put winning ahead of truthtelling to the American people.
So I come away with a big question: will Republicans (and not just the media) hold Trump to be a man of his word and require that he be trustworthy with the truth?
The party built on the noble service of Honest Abe simply cannot afford to ignore the fact that Donald Trump has been rated as the most egregious liar out of 20 major recent politicians by Politifact.
This cannot be an inconvenient truth covered up with more hatred of Hillary and more finger-pointing at her misdeeds. That stance has no integrity.
To have legitimacy in confronting Hillary over her own lies, there must be moral integrity in the accuser, which requires a deeper level of honesty. Otherwise the accusations are simply attempts to deceive voters rather than a call for us to embody our deepest principles as Americans.
And yes, that is true for the Democrats as well. I fully support the same standards for truthfulness being applied to Hillary.
If Donald Trump’s loose relationship with the truth is not addressed internally, it will create long-term damage the Republican Party and also set a dangerous precedent for future political candidates.
I say that even while recognizing that Trump does have many positive qualities that came to the foreground through speeches from his family and friends like Tom Barrack. I did witness and acknowledge the good that people see in him.
To hold Trump accountable to telling the truth is the courageous path, one walked by Abraham Lincoln. It is a path that demonstrates moral righteousness rather than simply preaching it.
It is not only the job of the media to monitor Donald Trump and ensure that he is telling the truth. It is actually and most fundamentally the job of Republicans who want to ensure the rule of law, the integrity of our system, and the protection of our democracy.
Honesty is the most basic requirement for democracy to be successful. Honesty is not a left or right value. It is an American value and it is at the core of who we are.
If our political leaders put other agendas before speaking honestly with us, it erodes our confidence in the system and undermines our participation. It weakens America like a kind of systemic poison.
It, in fact, contributes to law-breaking and disorder as people who feel deceived are more likely to create chaos. When it comes to the job of President, lies can get us into wars, leading to massive loss of life and resources.
In many ways, a propensity to lie is the single most dangerous trait in a President.
If we are to increase law and order in America, as Trump champions, it has to begin with a fearless, profound, and deep commitment to the full truth and nothing but the truth.
The exaggerations and distortions need to end and the past lies need to be addressed honestly. We cannot entrust the highest level of American power — with its capacity to end the human race — to someone who will lie brazenly and repeatedly to the American people.
Lying by politicians may actually be the single best threat to our liberty because if we cannot trust the truthfulness of what our leaders are telling us, then we cannot make wise decisions about how to vote.
Simply put, we need to now restore the trust of the American voter by making it clear that politicians must speak the truth.
As I thought about all this while in bed after the final night, it occurred to me that what we really need to do is have an Honest Abe Pledge, which can be a tranpartisan rallying call.
Abraham Lincoln makes the short list of most admired Presidents on both the right and left and is considered our most honest politician in history.
It could go like this:
“Based on my deep respect for our American democracy and the need for wisdom, integrity, and trust to be a bedrock of our political process, I commit to speak the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth in a respectful manner when participating in politics. I also agree to hold others who have taken the pledge accountable, including those from my own party.”
Getting our candidates, representatives AND fellow citizens to sign and enact that pledge would be a game changer and clean up what has become a toxic stew of lies, distortions, and exaggerations.
That is a reform that BOTH parties should be able to sign onto, a unifying pledge that can help to shift the deep suspicion American have of our political leaders, parties, and process.
Because Trump ranks at the lowest rung of politicians and the Party of Honest Abe has now backed him as its candidate, the Republican Party cannot afford to “lead from behind” on this issue.
It is time to stand up and commit to the honesty that is required for wise decision-making and demonstrate the leadership that calls the Democratic Party to do the same. There is nothing more important for American citizens to know than the full truth in order to preserve our precious democracy.