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Unprompted: The Politics of Parables



We’ve endured one of the dumbest presidential campaigns in history and the words “amazing” and “incredible” were spoken exactly four million, seven hundred and eighty thousand times.

One candidate informed us that he had an Ivy League education and knew lots of good words. His exact words were, “I’ve got the best words.” If that be true, it’s interesting that he never used them.

He kept saying how amazing and incredible he was and how he would do amazing incredible things for our country. I think one of his words was “great.” He said things would be great if he won. It was an amazing campaign, but not quite incredible. Incredible means literally it can’t be believed. Come to think of it ... that may be true. I don’t believe it. Tell me it didn’t happen!

Other than the triteness of the language, what else marked this election? Well for one thing, the propensity of the candidates to lie most every time they opened their mouths. Hillary Clinton told lots of lies, but most of them were routine, boring lies that didn’t capture our imagination. Donald Trump, on the other hand, didn’t waste time. If a lie was to be told he wanted to make sure it was a whopper. Trump knew and saw things nobody else knew or saw.

It might be said that if you tell a lie often enough people will believe it, at the very least the people who want to believe it will believe it. Had Trump swore the moon was made of green cheese, many of his followers would know that it’s true. Some of them never believed the story about spacemen going to the moon anyway. I do not jest. I had a neighbor a few years ago tell me with no doubt that the moon-landing story was just that — a story, a made-up event the government used to distract us from more important things.

Clinton spent most of her time telling more routine lies, such as all that email trash we got so tired of hearing. But by this time most of us knew that no matter how we voted we were going to have a practiced liar as our next president. The candidates who wasted their campaigns telling the truth had been dismissed earlier.

In defense of lying, let’s try to rationalize what we’ve been hearing. In the Bible, for those of you who don’t know, there are something called parables. Parables are stories that may or may not be literally true, it doesn’t matter. Their value is in the messages they convey. In a parable, a certain woman sitting by a well or a man perched in an olive tree does or says something that has enduring value. We don’t really care about the well or the olive tree. We appreciate what people did or said, and not whether they existed.

Today we’re fortunate to have many caring citizens who take on the role of the Good Samaritan. He’s the guy who went beyond the call of duty to help a destitute man he found by the side of the road. Anyway, it’s known as the parable of the Good Samaritan and has influenced the behavior of people for more than 2,000 years. Whether the story is true is beside the point — its message endures.

Now don’t imagine Clinton or Trump telling parables. That would be too deep for either of them. But in the competition for who can tell the biggest lie, Trump won. He told the most colorful lies. He created a massive Muslim demonstration in New Jersey when the Twin Towers fell, and nobody except him saw it. But thousands of his followers loved the story and held it dear to their hearts throughout the campaign. The message was that Muslims are awful, and if it takes a made-up story to convey that message, I guess you could call it a parable.

It’s vaguely possible that Trump knew what he was doing, don’t ya think? S

Gene Cox is an author and inventor, who retired from a 35-year career as a television anchor in Richmond. Connect with him at letters@styleweekly.com, or on Twitter at genecoxrva.


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