The biblical commandment against bearing false witness grows ever more unfashionable in certain political circles, where dark personal lies and libels about your neighbors are spread — to the benefit of bullies and demagogues.
Political persuaders have always trimmed and twisted the truth, yet everywhere you look, this practice mutates into weaponizing filthy lies. Nobody calls it a plot because these deeds are done in plain sight.
It is done because it works — for a while. Even the most obvious fictions can go viral if they're vicious and marketable enough. Falsehoods win attention — with clicks, eyeballs, word-of-mouth, TV and radio platforms — and galvanize audiences.
Some activists seek to taint the collective and individual reputations of educators — with the canard that kids are indoctrinated about race and "groomed" to become gay or trans. Long Island heard samples of this in Tuesday’s school district elections.
Spreading the extremist notion that teachers belong to a corrupt cabal is the moral equivalent of claiming all cops are racists and killers, all businessmen are tax leeches, all clergy hypocritical. Yet each of these slurs can find limited political success with a target audience.
Nothing stops parents concerned about what their kids are learning in school from teaching and preaching the commandments at home. “Thou shalt not bear false witness” has plenty of backup material to send to your kid’s IPhone if you wish.
“Where there are lies there is no love; there can be no love,” Pope Francis said in a 2018 sermon on this eighth commandment. Jews who study Torah know the rule from Exodus and Deuteronomy. Protestant ministers proclaim the commandment. Shunning words of falsehood is directed in the Quran.
None of this universal ethic mattered to elected reactionaries who, for example, recently smeared senators who voted for a Supreme Court nominee as “pro-pedophile.” Whether it was because Ketanji Brown Jackson is Black or nominated by a Democrat, there was nothing to support the claim. It will remind some people of left-wing campus exhibitionists absurdly slurring moderate liberals and conservatives as fascists.
Trampling truth is a feature, not a bug, of nasty political strategies.
It's even too late for clichés about ignorance causing hate. Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik — a Harvard grad — blamed “the usual pedo-grifters” for the baby formula shortage. Then her office did a little wordplay and said she only meant children were the victims — even though the QAnon quacks use “pedo” as a regular verbal weapon. This is getting old.
The elite of Stefanik's party likes to bear false witness against Dr. Anthony Fauci over medical research, philanthropist George Soros over immigration, and Bill Gates over vaccines. Sure, they’re all big public figures open to criticism. But any valid critique gets obscured when the aim is to defame.
Someone breaking the eighth commandment can even lead someone else to violate that other commandment, "Thou shalt not kill." This was the case in last week’s racial massacre in Buffalo.
Didn't the Jan. 6 Capitol riot have its roots in a president and his clique bearing false witness against honest election officials?
Sometimes our political problems stem from the simple moral choices of the practitioners. In this case, ancient wisdom can alleviate the bane of our governance. The first step is to drop the false accusations.
Columnist Dan Janison's opinions are his own.