The stunning developments of the past week leave us with this truth: You never know what’s behind the curtains until someone breaks rank and opens them.
The first thing you learn as a young reporter is that you are going to write a story that is full of lies. You won’t do it on purpose. Most reporters I’ve known want only to get the facts and write them in an understandable and readable way. Some of us began and a few of us remain idealistic; we think reporting the news is a public service, and an essential element of a democratic form of government.
But you’ll be writing lies in no time because you don’t begin with all the answers. You have to mix in with the people who work behind the curtains as well as those who perform out in front of them. The performance for the benefit of the press and public. Some of those people lie, either on purpose or because they don’t know the difference. Sooner or later the novice reporter – and even the savvy veteran, on occasion – will be taken in by the story and pass it along, only finding out later that it was not the truth.
Or at least not the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
The very definition of truth has changed in my lifetime. It used to be the facts, plain and simple. Black and white. Like math, only one answer to the tally of numerical facts.
Nuance is the inevitable byproduct of thinking. Thinking can lead to planning, or it can morph into plotting, and there is a lot more plotting going on in the world today than planning. A plan has to be based on facts, but a plot can be adjusted as you go, because the outcome has already been chosen, and the only objective now is to win the game.
Politics attracts plotters, posing as planners. Plotters take a look around and see how much money is in the wind, and under the table. Planners want to fix problems, but plotters want to win the right to be in charge of appearing to solve the problems.
Modern American politics is the sport of kingmakers, and would-be princes and princesses of power plays. Wannabe stars.
I’ve watched small-town storefront lawyers wind up running for or being appointed to lucrative and powerful political positions. Developers and land brokers and bank directors get comfortable in positions where inside information is like a hole card in high stakes games of chance. Housewives developing a taste for powers of office like a drunk taking to rotgut.
Politics attracts a fair share of idealists, too — not as many as journalism, but some – who want to contribute to positive change of that which should be changed, and preservation of that which should be cherished.
Every person running for political office for the first time is unqualified for the office they seek. Some will qualify on the job, others will succeed or fail on the job, but find success in the political arena.
Popularity becomes more important than competence, or integrity, or even honesty. If you bring home the proverbial bacon, the family who loves you will not question who lost a pig.
People who love politics are not necessarily evil, but it makes things easier if the question isn’t examined. It’s about winning an election.
The testimony of an aide inside the Trump White House opened the curtains this past week. Others are coming forth and letting the light shine into the darker corners of political scheming, and it is informative, if not world changing.
Some worlds will change. Families of those damaged by the deeds of opportunists and bullies suffer consequences, and perhaps underlings to those who stage the dark games of political power will be sacrificed on the alters of public populism, but traditions are traditions.
Not all traditions are honorable, they’re just sold that way.
Dean Minnich has been a lifelong journalist, writer, and spent two terms as a county commissioner.