“Trust but verify” is the translation of a Russian proverb. Former President Ronald Reagan popularized it, in 1984-1987, during the talks with the Soviet Union about the nuclear arms race. It is concerning enough that we need to be ever vigilant in our efforts as we revisit this important tenet of our national security policy concerning nuclear weapons and nonproliferation. However, it is even more ironic that this little proverb finds its origins in Russian culture. It might be but a minor or insignificant coincidence altogether, if not for the major role Russia and Russian espionage is now playing in our national discourse.
Americans are grappling with “truth telling” in the highest corridors of government, in our journalism and free press, and within the halls of justice itself. When one places ones hand on the Bible and swears to tell “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth”, does that actually mean what it says, or is there room for a “do-over”? Does one get to “clarify” the answer when all is said and done? Should one get to come back and adjust the so-called “truth” as one has already told it, or should one be held accountable to the “truth” as it was already told? Many would say it depends. It depends on the context. It depends on the situation. It depends on who is asking and who is telling. When one swears an oath, should one be trusted completely? Should the promises made in the moment they are promised be trusted, and the one who is making the promise and swearing to an oath on a holy book be held to account for the promises made and the oath to which they swore? Or, must we always trust, but also verify, for the veracity of the one who is making the promise is not always consistent and can (given new information) be adjusted with time or circumstance? Back in the day, that would be called not keeping your word, or not telling the truth, or to be blunt about it, it would be called lying.
Have we actually come to the point where a simple oath can no longer be trusted? It appears so. Because in the current political climate, no matter how many times actual false statements are made and verified as false in the most public and blatant ways possible, false statements continue to be made over and over again. Ultimately, it becomes so tiresome to callout the statements, stories or statistical data as false or factually flawed, that the LIES soon become TRUE and the TRUTH becomes LIES as if we are functioning in an “alternate universe.” Just like “Alice in Wonderland”, the entire world seems topsy-turvy. The “truth that you know” becomes the “actual truth” and it is that un-fortunate truth that is based
solely on hearsay, fringe and false media, opinion and conjecture, and not vetted through multiple sourcing, research-based analytics and actual science-based knowledge that goes on to live another day as the “new” truth.
It is upon this backdrop that the current slew of evolving truths are gaining traction. Now you can LIE under oath and then once evidence is found that you have in fact lied by not disclosing, “the whole truth and nothing but the truth”, you may now be excused from your original telling of the truth under oath by simply saying the following: “I didn’t fully understand the context of the question when asked.” Or, you can also simply say, “I don’t recall or didn’t recall.” Any of those responses clearly disposes of any sworn oaths an individual may have taken in the process of telling the truth they wanted to tell, instead of the actual truth that should have been told.
So when actual truth is uncovered and “looks different” and “smells different” than the so-called truth as it has been told and duly sworn to, “trust but verify” becomes extremely important indeed, because there’s a whole lot of LYING going on these days!