Corruption and lies

This is not about Trump. Not directly, anyway.

I’ve been thinking about these two words — corruption and lies — because they’re beginning to seem omnipresent in our conversations. But what do they actually mean?

That’s an honest question. Taking corruption first, I’d always thought that within its meaning was a dishonorable exchange of funds, i.e., buying someone’s support. Recently, though, I’ve seen the word flung out by Trumpites against Democrats without a factual identification of the alleged corruption.

When I was a kid, reading probably above my pay grade, I’d often find my mom to ask the meaning of a word I didn’t know. “Look it up in the dictionary,” she’d say. And so I would. At the time it annoyed me somewhat. Why couldn’t she simply tell me the meaning? But I got used to looking things up in the dictionary.

So, let’s look up “corruption.”

Not really helpful: “1 dishonest or illegal behaviour (it’s a British dictionary); 2 the action of corrupting someone or something.”

But I find confirmation of my interpretation under “corrupt:” “1 willing to act dishonestly in return for money or person gain; 2 evil or very immoral.” Well, not number two — which seems to be the way the crazies are using it.

However, corruption is an illegal act, so I go to my Black’s Law Dictionary:

1. Depravity, perversion, or taint; an impairment of integrity, virtue, or moral principle; esp. the impairment of a public official’s duties by bribery. 2. The act of doing something with an intent to give some advantage inconsistent with official duty and the rights of others; a fiduciary’s or official’s use of a station or office to procure some benefit, either personally or for someone else, contrary to the rights of others.

OK, so the current use of “corruption” by crazies fits neatly into their wacko conspiracy belief that Trump is about to expose a Democratic cabal of Satanic child sex traffickers.

But 2. fits my understanding. And more than that, look at the last definition, the one I highlighted, because is it not the perfect description of what the current and corrupt Postmaster General is doing to the USPS?

As to the word “lie,” my concern is the demand critics of journalism — some of whom are journalists themselves, but overtly attached to a specific political point of view — have been making about important newspaper coverage of Trump and his handlers. (I started to call them “minions” until I realized Trump is the minion.)

Every couple of days I read someone insisting that the Times, for one, stop using words like “misinformation,” “falsehood,” “without factual evidence,” and the like.

Call it what it is! they insist: A LIE. And yes, it may well be a lie. But the word “lie” has a specific modifier: “A deliberately false statement.” And that adverb “deliberately” removes the word “lie” from a responsible newspaper reporter’s working vocabulary. Because it would mean a reporter must prove the conscious nature of someone’s lying statement every time he quotes the liar and labels it a lie.

Sure, you know Trump lies, I know it and anyone who’s had to listen to him over the past several years knows it: he’s a liar, an incessant liar. He’s also an ignoramus, stupid, mentally disintegrated and a whole heap of other awful characteristics, including thoroughly corrupt, no matter what definition you use. But PolitiFact, the terrific fact-checking service with the colorful and witty graphic Truth-o-Meter, does not call what Trump says a “lie.”

At the top of the PolitiFact page today is a Trump quote from a few days ago: “Our (COVID-19) numbers are better than almost all countries.” To you and me, this is a lie. But to PolitiFact’s Truth-o-Meter, this is called “False.” (The Truth-o-Meter runs from “True” — with a green light — to the extreme “Pants on Fire,” with a fierce blaze burning over the red light.)

To say Trump lied here, journalists and watchdogs would have to investigate whether Trump knew he was lying, or whether he believed what he said.

In the end — which is coming but I wish it were moving faster — it doesn’t matter whether the Times labels Trump a liar. To call his statements “false” is enough. We who read the Times can do the rest.

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