Extending the Big Lie to Our Children - Word&Way

Extending the Big Lie to Our Children

America, for all its pompous declarations about the Founding Fathers, has fallen far from the legendary tale of young George Washington damaging his father’s cherry tree with his new hatchet and saying, “I cannot tell a lie … I did cut it with my hatchet.” The metaphor has stuck with us our entire history. We teach our children not to tell lies.

Rodney Kennedy

Children absorb words as the literary sponges they were created to be. They hear everything but are poor interpreters of what they hear. They hear, absorb, and take in all the lies of Donald Trump, but they have no filters. Parents recognize that Trump violates the values they try to teach their children: be kind, don’t lie, treat everyone with respect, don’t be a bully — Trump does the opposite of almost all of the values we teach young kids.

Our children are growing up in the Age of the Big Lie accompanied by thousands of “little lies.” Washington’s “I cannot tell a lie” has been replaced with a different truism: “All politicians lie.” For instance, although Trump was the lying-est liar in the 2016 campaign, none of the candidates were 100% honest. Even the least deceitful candidates in the presidential campaign, regardless of party, lied about 25% of the time. As voters, Americans have long accepted that politicians lie as part of the democratic bargain. Presumably, this is because candidates feel like they have to pander to voters, and maybe even mislead voters in the process, in order to get elected.

But even among politicians, Trump’s lying is unusual. Trump’s difference: he is shameless. His followers are also shameless. They don’t care about Trump’s lies. Jesus said of the Pharisees, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition!” Trump and his followers have a fine way of telling lies to keep winning.

Calling Donald J. Trump a liar and proving he is a liar does not seem to result in any direct consequences or noticeable changes in his behavior. Trump lies, his advisors and spokespeople reiterate the lie, and when confronted with contrary evidence they defend the lie. If anything, his lies become more audacious as he keeps getting away with lying.

His lies prove that he can get away with anything. He is not shamed by his lies. He doesn’t lose support when he lies. Saying that he is a serial liar seems to increase his support. Trump has pulled off a rhetorical feat of making the lie appear as the truth. This is a piece of magic that rivals Houdini. His followers accept that his lies are in the service of a greater good. He is telling the truth; everyone else is lying about Trump being a liar.

This represents a sea change in American values. Previously, even those who practiced lying for a living would keep it quiet and in the shadows. The acceptance of lying as a legitimate political strategy has become an addictive drug for our culture. The culture of lying has addictive qualities that rival fentanyl. For instance, George Santos managed to win an election to the U. S. Congress on the wings of multiple lies. His entire resume was a web of lies. And he managed to remain in Congress for almost an entire term because he was protected by fellow legislators who didn’t see lying as a reason for expulsion.

George Washington’s mythical story of truth-telling inspired a nation’s youth to honest living; Donald Trump’s malevolent lies endanger democracy. That has become painfully obvious as the 2024 presidential election begins in earnest. Kids grew up knowing that lying was bad. And now lying is accepted as good politics. Lying works so more people lie.

Three big lies dominate the speeches of Donald Trump: 1) The election was stolen from him. 2) January 6 was a “tour” of the capitol. 3) The Democrats are attempting to destroy Trump with “fake” charges.

Trump practices the politics of the lie — lies so blatant that we believe they must be true as otherwise they are so absurd. Senators, representatives, and governors — persons previously expected to tell the truth and be good role models for children – now repeat the big and little lies of Trump. The Trump minions are his Red Bull — they give his lies wings. They also are Trump’s conduit for spreading his lies across the land as a plague of lying locusts.

For example, Wyoming Sen. Cynthia Lummis adds an additional layer of lies to the barrel of lies Trump has told. Senator Lummis seems to believe that Trump has done nothing wrong. The charges he faces are trumped up in her eyes. “It just looks so fake, so contrived that people are disgusted with it,” Lummis told HuffPost. Lummis makes Trump believers more entrenched in the lies; she converts fellow Wyoming voters to embrace the lies.

Parson Weems’ Fable / painting by Grant Wood (1939)

Trump’s lies and the defense of his lies by his supporters don’t change the lies into truth. For example, the 2020 election was not stolen. The results of the election were certified in every state and by the U. S. Congress. 57 courts heard the alleged evidence of a stolen election and found no such evidence.

January 6, 2021, was not fake. I witnessed the event. The people who died were real. The fear faced by members of our government was real. People died. Trump’s vicious, violent speech was real. There was nothing fake about January 6, 2021.

The verdict against Trump and Trump University was not contrived. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco approved a $25 million settlement on Tuesday with students who said they were duped by Donald Trump and his now-defunct Trump University, which promised to teach them the “secrets of success” in the real estate industry.

The verdict against Trump vs. Jean Carroll was not fake. A federal jury in New York City found former President Donald Trump liable for battery and defamation in the lawsuit brought by writer E. Jean Carroll, who says he raped her in a Manhattan department store in the mid-1990s. In the first civil trial, Carroll won a $10 million judgment. In the second trial, the jury awarded her $83 million.

The case against Trump in Georgia was not fake. The telephone call was real. The president was asking for the votes to be found to help him win Georgia.

The case against Trump in New York was not fake. He has already been found guilty. The judge will determine the total amount of fines and damages Trump will have to pay.

Trump faces four indictments and 91 charges that are not related to any political shenanigans by the Democrats. No “witch hunt” is taking place. Trump’s own actions have resulted in these charges and indictments. The lies and the indictments increase at a dizzying pace.

Still, some of our elected leaders are participating in raising a nation of liars. Senator Lummis is but one example of a political leader, participating in an alternate universe where the truth is exchanged for a lie. “They exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.”

Maybe it’s too late to save us from the lies, but my concern is for our children and grandchildren. I want them to grow up trusting democracy, believing truth, and not telling lies. Creating a culture of lies will have a lasting impact on the next generation of Americans. The children of today are learning that lying works, sells, pays, and wins. Donald Trump, having served as our president, our example-in-chief, has not set a good example for our children.

America does better with Washington’s mythical, “I cannot tell a lie” than we are doing with Trump’s serial lies. And that’s the truth.


Rodney Kennedy has his M.Div. from New Orleans Theological Seminary and his Ph.D. in Rhetoric from Louisiana State University. The pastor of 7 Southern Baptist churches over the course of 20 years, he pastored the First Baptist Church of Dayton, Ohio – which is an American Baptist Church – for 13 years. He is currently professor of homiletics at Palmer Theological Seminary, and interim pastor of Emmanuel Friedens Federated Church, Schenectady, New York. His seventh book – Good and Evil in the Garden of Democracy – is now out from Wipf and Stock (Cascades).