“. . .the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market, and that truth is the only ground upon which their wishes safely can be carried out.”
Oliver Wendell Holmes.
Short run, or long run, popular beliefs seem to come and go. An idea that gains traction in one generation is frequently cast off with time and fresher understanding. The quality that sustains ideas must rest upon a moral high ground; an affirming principle.
Hear me out.
On April 12, 1861, the opening shots of Civil War thundered over Charleston Harbor. The South Carolina legislature had already voted to secede from the Union, and President Lincoln cautioned their action. Assuring Southerners he had no intention of interfering in state matters (slavery), Lincoln warned that rebellion was his business, and that fateful step rested solely in Southern hands. The President kept his word.
However, once shots were fired on Fort Sumter, the Union rapidly mobilized.
His policy had been a sound one. The Union prepared to defend the Constitution as South Carolina’s aggression had provoked righteous outrage.
A century later President Lyndon Johnson attempted to orchestrate a similar scenario in Southeast Asia. In August of 1964, the American people were told North Vietnamese torpedo boats had fired upon two American destroyers in the Gulf of Tonkin. There was no real evidence of the incident, apart from heavy weather and the distracting fog of war. From that event the United States began feeding ground troops to hold the line against Communism. Officially dated from 1959 until 1975, the Vietnam War expended 58,000 young men, and countless Vietnamese nationals.
Today Vietnam is a Communist country. Johnson’s gung-ho attempt backfired because his policy had been built on a lie.
Likewise, George W Bush squandered world-wide goodwill after the attack on 911. With America in mourning from the terrorist assault on our soil, this president redirected righteous ire to the nation of Iraq. Afghanistan, where the actual culprits were hiding out, came later.
In the end, nothing of value came from that lie, except uncorking anarchy in Iraq.
This last January another massive presidential lie duped hundreds into thinking an election had been stolen. No proof of the deception existed, because nothing sneaky happened. To the contrary, abundant truth refuted the the claim.
A self-absorbed swindler convinced hundreds of followers to act upon his interests. Citizens mobilized themselves and attacked our nation’s Capitol. No proof, no moral high ground, no affirmation of our democratic system, just puppets exploited by a very sick man.
Mr Lincoln understood the power of truth.