On Monday we celebrate Presidents Day, a holiday that commemorates all of our presidents, past and present. The federal government rolled out this all-purpose Monday holiday in 1971 to provide another three-day weekend for the workforce. Regardless, it is still Washington whom I think of most on this day, even though his actual birthday isn't until Feb. 22.
Washington has remained a towering figure in history, and not just because he was 6-foot-2 when most men were 5-foot-6 or under. He was a man of remarkable bravery, having fought honorably in two wars. At the Battle of Monongahela, he had two horses shot out from under him and four musket balls pass through his coat. He was also humble and had to be lured from retirement to become our first president. And he was renowned for his honesty and truthfulness — so much so that the legend of the cherry tree is still shared with school children. Supposedly, when Washington's father discovered a damaged cherry tree, the 6-year-old George declared, "I cannot tell a lie … I did cut it with my hatchet."
That was then; this is now. One of our current president's biggest faults is lying. This habit appears to be pathological, and fact checkers have had a full-time job just keeping up with his falsehoods. Sure, all presidents have lied at some time or another. I remember how upset I was when Dwight Eisenhower admitted we'd lied about the U-2 spy plane that was shot down by the Russians. Ike's White House first told the world that it was a weather plane that had strayed off course.
George W. Bush lied about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction, and dragged us into a war that still roils the Middle East. And yes, there was President Barack Obama's distortion regarding the Affordable Care Act when he said, "If you like the plan you have, you can keep it."
Regardless, our current president can't seem to tell the truth in any matters, from the mundane to the momentous. Since Donald Trump's election, he has told a litany of lies. Some of them have been about very inconsequential things, like the attendance at his inauguration, and some have been critical, like his claim that 3 million to 5 million people voted illegally, thus skewing the popular vote.
Trump has also boasted, ''We have the all-time record in the history of Time magazine. … I've been on it (the cover) for 15 times this year.'' The actual number is 11, and Nixon holds the all-time record at 55.
On Jan. 23, Trump crowed, ''I'm a very big person when it comes to the environment. I have received awards on the environment." No evidence has been found of his winning any environmental awards.
Obama gave his farewell speech in Chicago on Jan. 10. Trump said on Jan. 25 that ''When President Obama was there (Chicago) two weeks ago making a speech ... two people were shot and killed … .'' No one was shot and killed in Chicago on that date.
On Jan. 26, Trump announced, "Here in Philadelphia, the murder rate has been … terribly increasing." In Philly, murders have declined significantly from 397 in 2007 to 277 in 2016.
On Feb. 6, Trump blamed the media for covering up news of terrorist attacks, stating that the "very dishonest press doesn't want to report it." That's ridiculous on the face of it. What media outlet wouldn't cover a terrorist attack, especially on U.S. soil?
I have come to the conclusion that, in most cases, Trump doesn't think he's lying. He really believes everything he says; he believes it as soon as the thought, no matter how errant or ridiculous, pops into his head. That's because he's convinced he's never wrong, and this trait reveals a very serious personality disorder with roots in narcissism and delusions of self-importance.
We are only four weeks into Trump's presidency, and history is being written with smoke and mirrors. His fallacious public statements both stroke his ego and frighten voters into supporting his brand of authoritarianism.
What lesson does this teach our children? Will they care about the importance of good character as they do with George Washington, or will they become cynical and inured to the lies and hypocrisy of elected officials? More importantly, how can we rely on Trump's self-serving babbling when that red phone rings at 3 a.m.?
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Frank Batavick writes from Westminster. His column appears Fridays. Email him at email@example.com.