What is the Power of the Truth?

This piece ran in newspapers in late May, 2022.


Being my father’s son, I grew up convinced that truth is powerful. I grew up believing that

  • When abundant evidence proves something, people will accept the incontrovertible truth.
  • When logic compels a valid conclusion, people will give up their false beliefs.
  • When people see things with their own eyes, they will believe what has been shown.

So when, in 2005, I saw America descending into a moral and spiritual crisis, being played out in the political realm, I called for a “Prophetic Social Movement.” By “prophetic,” I meant that we in this time were called to speak “moral truth” to “immoral power.” (Like the prophets of old from Jeremiah to John the Baptist.)

The truth was hidden, I thought, and needed to be uncovered so that people would see the wolf beneath the sheep’s clothing:

Only by selling their false image of righteousness to good, conservative Americans, [I wrote,] could these [destructive] forces gain power. But that which depends on moral lies can be defeated with moral truth.

Six years later – when, at the age of 65, I unexpectedly felt called to run for Congress in 2012, I explained that “the Lie is so often defeating the Truth that now Truth-telling needs its champions.”

Running as a Democrat in a lopsidedly Republican district, I chose as my campaign slogan, “Truth. For a change.”

In the highlight of my campaign — a speech that went viral — I declared the essential political task to be to show “the good, decent conservative people of our district – and our country — that the force that they’re supporting is not the friend of their own deep values.”

But I discovered more barriers to that truth-telling than I expected. I’d expected I’d be able to get a hearing from those Republican voters, and was surprised how completely they simply tuned me out, and gave the Republican incumbent, Bob Goodlatte, his usual margin of victory, regardless of how his opponent called him out on his consistent deception of the people who repeatedly sent him to Congress.

Nonetheless I continued to believe that if “the good, decent conservatives” of America could see the truth, they’d be moved in the direction that the truth demanded.

But it turned out that even seeing isn’t necessarily believing.

Where the deceptions of the Republican Party in 2012 could be cloaked in plausibly normal politics, there came a man whom I described in 2015 as “the same wolf but without the sheep’s clothing.”

The truth – being no longer hidden — no longer needed me or anyone else, I expected, to lay that truth bare.

But it turned out I’d been wrong in believing that those “good and decent people” would defend “their own deep values” when the truth was on such blatant display.

The most dramatic demonstration of how weak the truth had become came with the 2020 election:

  • Logic should tell people that a man who’d claimed the election was rigged when he thought he’d lose in 2016 would lie again four years later when he actually did lose.
  • Evidence – from over 60 cases heard by judges from both parties – showed that there was no truth whatever in the claims about the election being stolen.
  • And right before everyone’s eyes, any American could see it was this leader – Trump, the first loser in an American presidential election to refuse to admit defeat – who was trying to steal the election.

Yet three-fourths of Republican voters proclaimed their belief in that blatant Big Lie. (And soon the Republican Party made that Lie its dogma.)

Clearly, the power of the truth was not what I’d believed. The truth does not so readily hold sway over the minds of human beings.

Nonetheless, the truth clearly has some kind of power. That can be seen in how deeply those who are committed to lies seem to fear the truth.

That leader who advanced the Big Lie is apparently terrified of the truth that, in 2020, he was a “loser.”

And his followers so fear the truth that they’ve compelled their party to punish anyone – like Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger – who have shown the integrity to pursue the truth.

And when tapes emerge showing that the top Republican in the House, whose ambition is to become Speaker, spoke the truth about what the Insurrection signified, and has lied about it ever since, it became clear that if the Party were to punish him it would not be for lying but for ever having spoken the forbidden truth.

The Party of the Lie has shown this fear of the truth also in its campaign to prevent America’s children from learning the truth about racial injustice in America’s history, or about the reality that not everyone is alike in their sexuality.

The truth has an inescapable power because reality is the only thing we’ve got. Reality cannot be wished away. If we refuse to face it, it will bite us from behind.

During GW Bush’s presidency, an arrogant aide to the President famously derided the “reality-based” community, arrogantly claimed “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality.” 

The wreckage that group left behind – from botched war to financial collapse – demonstrated  that the wage of denying the truth is brokenness.

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