George Washington. He’s the guy who chopped down the cherry tree then said, “I cannot tell a lie, I chopped down the damn tree.” That he did a no-no but didn’t weasel out of it made him a lot different than Donald and Hillary. My, how things have changed.
There was another president, Dwight Eisenhower, who’s known for something concrete, but he came up short in the end. For lack of something better to do, he started the Interstate Highway System. For the first time, Americans could drive across the county and not see anything. Left by the side of the road were thousands of little villages that lost their identity, and with that, their happiness.
Of course, Eisenhower also had worked on other projects — Kay Summersby, for one. His English driver became his lover during World War II. His wife, Mamie, was left by the side of the road, so to speak. But she maintained her dignity and we really didn’t know about the loss of his until many years later. After Eisenhower was dead, Summersby noted that she too was dying so she decided to spill the beans. But by then, nobody cared about Ike’s beans. We were halfway through the 1970s and the advent of anything goes was past.
Flying silently at 70,000 feet over the Soviet Union, pilot Francis Gary Powers of Pound, Virginia, took lots of nice pictures of military installations on the ground. As far as we know he was happy, especially glad to be out of Pound. Things were going well until the Russians shot him down. But Eisenhower denied everything, claiming the U-2 was a weather reconnaissance plane that strayed off course.
That was a big lie, of course, one of the first to make news. There would be many more to come. In the current presidential campaign lies are told every day. Hillary and Donald are very much alike in that neither can tell the truth. Anyway, the U-2 crashed and the Russians picked it apart like buzzards on the side of the road with a freshly killed rabbit.
We didn’t want Richard Nixon then because John Kennedy was way cooler. Television was in the game and seeing is believing. Lying became more commonplace, but also more difficult. It became a matter of who can do it better. We got Nixon later when our heads were turned. Then he told us he was not a crook, but that wasn’t exactly true either. His life already had been picked apart.
The war in Vietnam proved to the world just how stupid an enlightened society could be. No longer could we trust government. By then it was commonplace for our political leaders to lie to us. Right, Lyndon? Some things never change. Iraq was still to come. Did I mention that we never found weapons of mass destruction? That lie ruined a lot of things, including the reputation of Colin Powell.
While all this was happening, everything else began to happen all at once. Conventions broke down. Rules were broken. Digits were discovered, a technological revolution ensured, and emails became the stuff of invaded privacy.
The world has always been a dangerous place but now we know about it. Television, satellites, the Internet — evil no longer hides, it comes looking for us.
We are frightened by ISIS, a group that believes more in its creed than Southern Baptists believe in theirs. But this will pass, as do most bad ideas. ISIS claims to speak for God. But it isn’t alone. Our society is riddled with liars who say they speak for God. God has more spokesmen than even he can imagine.
But we must be optimistic because among us are some really smart people who tell the truth, and are too busy to make up crazy stories. They will show us the way if we will only shut up and listen. The first step to understanding is the realization that most of us are clueless.
I’m often clueless but have enough wisdom to know that. So this advice from average me: Avoid liars because they can and will deceive large groups of stupid people. It happens every day.
But remain hopeful. Sooner or later buzzards will pick them apart. S
Gene Cox is an author and inventor who recently retired from a 35-year career as a television anchor in Richmond. Connect with him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter at genecoxrva.