(CNN) By John Avlon
In a season of campaign schwag, a baseball cap caught my eye. Beneath an American flag were the words “Make Lying Wrong Again.”John AvlonIt framed the stakes of the election in a simple way. Does lying matter anymore?
Honesty has always been considered a keystone of character. Even children know lying is wrong. This is clearly communicated in our faith traditions as well. For example, the Bible warns against some form of lying at least 116 times. It’s right there in the 10 commandments — “Thou shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” and echoed from the Old Testament (“A righteous man hateth lying…” Proverbs 13:5) to the New Testament (“Do not lie to one another…’ Colossians 3:9-10).
Whether lying matters is, of course, not an idle question. A core component of President Donald Trump’s coalition is evangelical Christians — people who have righteously railed against a lack of character and ethics in the White House in the past and advocated for a return to family values. This presumably does not include lying. But the fact is that conservative Christian voters supported Donald Trump in 2016 at a higher rate than they did George W. Bush, a born-again Christian whose faith shaped his “compassionate conservative” politics.
Few would use the same phrase to describe Trump, who commands evangelical respect, even though the respect is not necessarily returned in private. He does not seem preoccupied with questions of Christian ethics in action and there is no evidence that he feels a particular fidelity to the truth.
Let me say it more plainly: it is not biased to describe Trump as a liar. It is a matter of objective and demonstrable fact. The Washington Post has catalogued more than 22,000 false or misleading claims over the course of his time in office — and those are just the ones that he’s uttered in public. And he has lied as much as 50 times a day during the final stretch of this campaign. “The depths of his dishonesty is just astounding to me,” Trump’s former chief of staff, Marine Gen. John Kelly has told friends, “The dishonesty, the transactional nature of every relationship, though it’s more pathetic than anything else. He is the most flawed person I have ever met in my life.”
Historians generally agree that character is the most important quality for a president. There’s a reason that our greatest president’s nickname is Honest Abe. But in Donald Trump’s Washington, lying has become normalized. Perhaps the most recent and stark sign of it was in the abandonment of alleged principle to push forward the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court.