I wonder if today’s parents tell their children the little story about George Washington cutting down the cherry tree.
I’ll bet many of you remember the details. George, for some reason, attacked the tree with his little hatchet, and down it came.
When his parents started asking around the neighborhood who might have felled the tree, little George confessed and said, “Daddy, I cannot tell a lie. It was me.” (He hadn’t yet taken grammar in school.) “I cut down the tree with my little hatchet and I’m sorry.”
At this point, he turned on the tears and his Daddy probably said, “Well, son, you and your little hatchet are grounded for a week. Now go to your room!”
We are led to believe that young George never cut down another cherry tree and went on to become our first president.
Meanwhile, in 1912, first Lady Helen Taft and the wife of the Japanese ambassador planted the first two of 3,020 flowering cherry trees given to the nation’s capital from the city of Tokyo, Japan.
By now, you’re wondering why I am re-telling this story.
I do so because for me, and no doubt many of you, lying was almost a capital offense during childhood. At least my mother acted as if it were and punished us accordingly if she caught us in a lie.
That brings to mind recent news reports that labeled our current president as possibly the most untruthful president in history. According to Salon magazine, President Trump lied 1,628 times during the first 298 days of his administration. Various news media have cited chapter and verse of many of the falsehoods the president is said to have uttered. But keep in mind the president’s insistence that it’s all “fake news.”
Fairly or unfairly, politicians in general are thought to abuse the truth now and then. In times gone by, a candidate could get away with a little lying or exaggeration.
But the art of lying has been modified in recent years by an evasive tactic that enables someone to cover a lie without officially lying. I call it the Short Memory Syndrome.
Falsely responding to a question while under oath during an investigation by authorities can land someone behind bars.
But answering queries with “I don’t recall” enables someone to crawl under the lying wire, unless the investigator has hard evidence from other sources that prove the person in the dock is lying.
A prime example is Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ almost constant “I don’t recall” answers during the U.S. House Judiciary Committee’s questioning regarding his contacts with Russian officials during the 2016 election.
Keep in mind that Trump isn’t the only president accused of lying. Remember Bill Clinton’s “I never had sex with that woman” and Richard Nixon’s deceptions that forced his resignation.
Let’s put politics aside and go back to the old garden variety of lying.
During my youth, a neighbor was known for miles around for lying. It was said far and wide that he would rather climb a tree to tell a lie than stand on the ground and tell the truth.
During my early stages of puberty, he once told me that my world class case of facial acne was a disease imported from China and that there was no cure for it.
He had no idea of the anxiety I suffered every time I looked in a mirror and worried that no girl would ever look upon my face with favor as long as I lived.
Many, if not most, of you are familiar with the children’s story of Pinocchio, the wooden puppet that came to life. Every time Pinocchio told a lie, his nose grew longer.
After all the news reports, a la “fake news” if you like, TV viewers might check out the president’s nose. If the Pinocchio theory were applied and the fake news accusations are legit, the presidential nose would stretch from the White House to the Washington Monument and back.