Truth and trust on trial

June 30, 2022

By Jacquelyn D. Heath
Special to The Milwaukee Times

As a nation and as a society, we in the United States of America like to think of ourselves and by extension, those we choose as leaders and representatives, as honest and reliable in all dealings.

Upon engaging in public service, a military commitment or giving legal testimony, for example, we ask people to swear or affirm, usually invoking the name of God, that what they say or do will be based on truth and that they can be trusted. Imagine what would happen if someone willfully breached that pledge; both truth and trust are placed on trial.

In the last 50 years we have been able to experience a breach of national trust at the highest level – namely, the U.S. presidency – during the Watergate scandal. We experienced first-hand what the use of illegal, unfair activities and lies could do to destroy national norms and rewrite our national narrative.

To recap, the Watergate scandal was a series of events that began in June 1972 with what seemed to be a burglary at the Democratic Party National Committee offices housed in the Watergate office complex in Washington, DC. The burglary turned out to be just one event in an elaborate plan to ensure the re-election of Richard Nixon to a second term as president in the November 1972 election. Nixon was re-elected but after a 2-year-long congressional investigation by a special prosecutor, Nixon resigned from office in disgrace when faced with possible impeachment for his role in the scheme. In addition, several close presidential aides and the U.S. Attorney General appointed by Nixon were convicted of illegal activity related to the scheme and served time in prison.

Fast forward to the 2020 presidential election and it became “déjà-vu all over again.” This time around, the scheme based on lies involved an incumbent president who was defeated in his bid for a second term. Instead of preparing for a graceful exit from office and a peaceful transition of power, the defeated president instituted a multi-level pressure campaign toward municipal, state and federal election officials and government agencies – including the FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice — to overturn the election results and declare himself the winner, regardless of the actual election results, and therefore ignoring the will of the people.

Possibly the most damning evidence of the lengths to which the defeated president went to hold onto power was a recording of him speaking with a state election official, encouraging the official to “…just say there was fraud found in the vote count… and we’ll do the rest…”

So far, we as a nation have been able to stave off “the rest” because enough people continue to hold the truth and public trust to be sacred and inviolable. We must vow to work together to ensure that this basic feature of democracy – the ability and will to trust in the truth – never changes.

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