Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Of Stealing Language and of Lying

I have a confession to make.  I often...well...I borrow language for my sermons.  

I have to speak, every week, for 15 to 20 minutes.  That's been true for over a decade, meaning I have well over 500 texts written out.  I also speak on a three year cycle, as the texts of the Bible recur in the list of recommended readings used by my denomination.

Meaning, I've preached on them before.  So one of the things I do every week, frankly, is go back to see what I've said before.  If it's no longer relevant, I don't use it.  But if it's got thoughts in it I can use again, I'll cut and paste those thoughts into my sermon, layering those thoughts over with a couple of changed words here and there.

Meaning, I do "borrow" language.  And sure, those are actually *my* words that I'm borrowing.  But they're not original to that moment.

So on some levels, I can appreciate the peculiar spectacle from the Republican Convention, where the candidate's wife--a model, not familiar with public speaking--borrowed words that were not technically hers to express herself.

The challenge I have, honestly, lies not in her borrowing of words.  That a political neophyte would make a callow mistake is not an issue for me.

What troubles me lies in the lies told by the campaign afterwards.

Here, a straight up gobsmackingly obvious self-evident instance of lifting a paragraph from another work.  You just can't miss it.  And yet, after faintly hinting at first that yes, well, maybe they did borrow some language from Michelle Obama, the Trump system did what it always does: double down.

So we get the official response from the Trump campaign: "No, that wasn't copied.  You'd be crazy to think so.  And this whole thing is Hillary Clinton's fault."

They didn't even try to parse their way around it, to do the Clintonian semantic shuffle.  "Well, that depends what you mean by 'plagiarism.'"  They bluntly denied that it had even happened.

But this was an instance of "borrowing" so flagrant that no sentient being could miss it.  This isn't just a random similarity.  It isn't just a shared generic sentiment.  It is not those things.

It's a lightly re-written paragraph, a straight up cut and paste.  I do that, with my own words, on a regular basis.  I know what that looks like.  That is what it was, as sure as the sun is in the sky, as sure as the earth is under our feet.

Those who argue otherwise are lying.  What the Trump people and the RNC have done is straight up, cover your butt, we never do anything wrong lying.

It's just so brazen, so flagrant.  It's your four year old walking across the kitchen to the cookie jar, reaching in, and stuffing one into their face.  Then, with the crumbs tumbling out of their mouth, denying the thing that so clearly just happened.  "Cookie?  Are you crazy?  I'm not eating a cookie.  That you even think that is my sister's fault."

In that, it's emblematic of the entirety of the Trump campaign.  Here, a public figure whose political rise was founded on a lie about a standing president, who trucks in conspiracy theories and rabble-rousing falsehood.

His followers, either out of self-interest or delusion, have no issue with this.  Truth is no longer a meaningful category in Trump's party.

As for myself?  I lay this out, as a fundamental principle, from the ground of the American Presbyterian tradition that Trump so flagrantly never valued:

Godliness is founded on truth. A test of truth is its power to promote holiness according to our Saviour’s rule, “By their fruits ye shall know them” (Matthew 7:20). No opinion can be more pernicious or more absurd than that which brings truth and falsehood upon the same level.
On the contrary, there is an inseparable connection between faith and practice, truth and duty. Otherwise it would be of no consequence either to discover truth or to embrace it.
It speaks not well of us, that this no longer seems to matter.