Truth, civility and independence

My mother was very strong about my doing well in school and living up to my potential. Two things were important to her and she repeated them endlessly. One was to ‘be a lady,’ and that meant conduct yourself civilly, don’ t let emotions like anger or envy get in your way. And the other was to be independent, which was an unusual message for mothers of that time to be giving their daughters.” – Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s talk at Stanford University on living a meaningful life, February 6, 2017.

I recall a friend encouraging her adult child to stand up for what she believes in. After the dialogue, she concluded with: “Don’t settle for crumbs in your life, or that would be your meal.” Her sharing made a profound impact on me. How much have we settled and forego reaching for our dreams?

What did she mean by ‘crumbs?’ Did she mean to aspire for top drawer assignments? Would that mean ignoring your values like ethics, integrity, honesty? Or standing up to what you care about, including your values, until your efforts pay off to reward you a whole pie?

Primacy of truth
Take for example 36-year-old Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who has been the White House press secretary since 2017. The press pool regards her as the personification of falsehoods and lies. She conceivably has a whole pie given her access to power, the 45th president.

But, what happens after her tenure is over at the White House? Politico even made a partial listing of her lies, on April 27, 2018, though they tried to deodorize her lies as “misadventures”:

• August 2, 2017: Said Trump didn’t lie when he claimed the Mexican president called to praise his immigration policies, or when he said leaders from the Boy Scouts of America called to praise a speech he gave at the National Scout Jamboree. (Neither call had occurred.)

• November 1, 2017: Said immigrants entering the United States on diversity visas aren’t vetted. (They are.)

• November 2, 2017: Denied that Trump called the U.S. justice system “a joke.” (Hours earlier, Trump said of the justice system, “What we have right now, it’s a joke and it’s a laughingstock.”)

• February 20, 2018: Said, “The president hasn’t said that Russia didn’t meddle.” (He has.)

• March 27, 2018: Said there has been a citizenship question “included in every census since 1965, with the exception of 2010, when it was removed.” (No citizenship question has appeared on the full census form since 1950.)

Politico on June 26, 2018 described her as a valuable staffer for her ability to take the press pool into an alternative path with a perceived calm and unflappable demeanor and even more so, after the pool raises a controversial remark, she manages to take the oxygen out of the controversy by leading them someplace else.

In other words, she creates diversionary tactics and keeps repeating her scripted message, until the pool gives up. Because she repeats her diversionary script with a calm demeanor perceived as “unflappable,” she is regarded as invaluable and has been press secretary since 2017.

Some of you may recall the incident with CNN’s Jim Acosta, who was accused of placing his hands on a young intern and because of that accusation, the White House pulled his press pass?

Except, the claim to support pulling the press pass was a fabrication. The alleged altercation was captured by major television channels and replayed for the public who weighed in on social media that it was an overreach by the White House as well as a First Amendment breach. CNN filed a lawsuit and the court ruled in favor of CNN, which allowed Acosta’s press pass to be returned. He continues to be part of the press pool.

Intersection of civility with truth

On June 2018, Red Hen Restaurant’s owner and employees found Sarah Sanders’ presence at her restaurant untenable, as she defends  “unethical and inhumane Trump policies,” especially towards immigrants.

The restaurant stood for honesty, compassion and cooperation while they perceived Sanders to be the embodiment of opposite values.

Can we say the Red Hen was justified when they asked her to leave? Was there enough ‘just cause’ to remove the press secretary and her group of eight? Sanders soon after asked for secret service temporary protection.

But what about Acosta? Was pulling his press pass an arbitrary and capricious move on the part of the White House? Do these two incidents illustrate the lack of civility?

In a restaurant, one is presumed welcome and if open for business, one can order and eat inside. In the same vein, the restaurant owner of Red Hen can also refuse service to anyone.

Then Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, now House Speaker, weighed in on this controversy and called for civility for all parties.

I too agree with Madame Pelosi. After all, not even Sanders expected to be denied restaurant service at the present time; maybe if we were in the 1930s, when racist and offensive signs like, “No Filipinos and dogs allowed,” were posted at hotel lobbies?

Or because one is Japanese American, when nearly 150,000 were arbitrarily removed from their houses, workplaces, businesses and placed in horse stalls and makeshift wood shacks to live in, from 1942 to 1946, based on a falsified military memo presuming these American citizens as threats to the national security?

Or banned from entering the U.S. just because one is a Muslim, with this ban imposed by the 45th president and later, upheld by the US Supreme Court, 5-4, as Adam Liptak and Michael D. Shear reported in the New York Times on June 26, 2018?

I ask, how should we proceed then to have civility in our public discourse when we cannot even look up to the White House occupants to speak the truth with integrity?

Of course, Politico also described Sanders as helpful in logistics and quite approachable, outside of the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room.

Independence to do right or wrong
Recently, the FBI indicted 50 wealthy people, including Hollywood celebrities Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman, after William Singer admitted to a massive college cheating scam, including bribes up to $6.5 million to get the wealthy people’s children into elite colleges, like Yale, Stanford, Georgetown, USC, as ABC News reported on March 13.

“According to U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling, William Singer, owner of Key Worldwide Foundation and Edge College and Career Network, allegedly accepted bribes totaling $25 million from these parents from 2011 to 2018. Singer pleaded guilty on charges of racketeering, conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy, conspiracy to defraud the United States and obstruction of justice,” ABC News continued.

Some students who alleged sports experiences had not even played a single game of soccer and simply created Facebook pages to show they were. I wonder if their parents had pangs of conscience?

Or were they merely subscribing to a culture of privileges with no regard to consequences? Or were they so privileged to stack the odds in favor of their children? Did these parents mistrust their children not to have the inner motivation and discipline to accomplish this on their own?

Like anything in life, we are faced with choices. If with wealth, rich students have more independence to pursue their interests while in college, unlike working students who hold down two to three jobs just to afford tuition and their daily living expenses.

And if the rich children have fewer survival challenges to deal with, can they perhaps be the model students that can inspire by helping other students?

As Ruth Bader Ginsburg said during a talk about a meaningful life at Stanford University on February 6, 2017, “If you want to be a true professional, you will do something outside yourself. Something to repair tears in your community. Something to make life a little better for people less fortunate than you.”

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Prosy Abarquez-Delacruz, J.D. writes a weekly column for Asian Journal, called “Rhizomes.” She has been writing for AJ Press for 10 years. She also contributes to Balikbayan Magazine. Her training and experiences are in science, food technology, law and community volunteerism for 4 decades. She holds a B.S. degree from the University of the Philippines, a law degree from Whittier College School of Law in California and a certificate on 21st Century Leadership from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. She has been a participant in NVM Writing Workshops taught by Prof. Peter Bacho for 4 years and Prof. Russell Leong. She has travelled to France, Holland, Belgium, Japan, Costa Rica, Mexico and over 22 national parks in the US, in her pursuit of love for nature and the arts.

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