To Tell The Truth

Sitting by the pool during summer office hours, Dr. Sj handed me the book she was reading and told me, “read the introduction. You’re going to like this.” The book was “The Gatekeepers” by Chris Whipple. She was right. I liked it. I only got as far as the intro before Dr. SJ took it back from me, but the seed was planted.

The book is about the role of White House Chief of Staff. It’s an odd position, in that there is no law establishing the post, it’s not subject to senate confirmation and there’s no requirement that it exist. Jimmy Carter had no chief of staff at the beginning of his presidency. But the intro is about 15 of the 17 living Chiefs meeting Rahm Emanuel* before Obama was sworn in to give him some advice.

It was a very curious crew, ranging from Dick Cheney to Jim Baker. Yet, they put politics aside, save for a few cutting jokes, and focused on the job. Regardless of where they stood politically, they understood that a failed presidency meant harm to Americans. They were bigger than that, even if they completely disagreed with the political course.

The point of the introduction was twofold: first that a president who lacked a good Chief of Staff was likely to fail. Second, and more importantly, the job of Chief of Staff was to be the guy who told the president when he was wrong.

In the book, the point was made that most people in the WH want to curry favor with the president, They will be “yes men,” maybe even sycophants. What they will not do is call bullshit. Without someone to call bullshit, to challenge thinking, bad things happen. Lies get believed. Bad ideas go unquestioned. Bullshit reigns and a nation suffers.**

This was a valuable message, but one that goes far beyond the job of chief of staff.

There was never a time when it was a pleasant task to call bullshit. Most of us would be far happier if we only spoke of pleasant things. But then, bullshit happens and you have a choice of being the nice, happy person who stands mute or the mean person who says something. The former is where most people come out; they’re disinclined to put themselves in the line of fire and they don’t see it as their duty to be the one who has to say something.

It’s like the five Florida teens laughing at the drowning man. They had no duty to save him, so they didn’t. And the guy drowned. We can all wring our hands about their lack of humanity afterward, but the guy’s still dead because none of them was willing to do something, to put his own ass on the line.

Of course, the platitudinous response is that one can disagree without being disagreeable. Sometimes, yes. Sometimes, no. Sometimes, what’s at stake is far too serious to be tepid or wishy-washy, to offer moderated disagreement that fails to include the part where you say, “save the fucking drowning man,” or “stop killing black guys because they scare you.”

Other times, it’s because of a carefully constructed fantasy, backed up by a series of facile excuses that create an impenetrable circle of bullshit. There’s a lot of this going around these days, and it’s particularly appealing to the unduly emotional. They wear their bullshit like armor, protecting them from any disapproval that would harsh their delusion. And it’s been one of the most destructive things around lately.

I’ve been asked why I hate social justice so much, given my views toward criminal law and defendants. The answer is simple. It’s bullshit. But worse, the bullshit prevents us from fixing real problems based on real ideas and solutions. Indulgence in fantasy feelings is for children and fools. Real lives are harmed by cops killing people without reason, innocent people in prison, prosecution for contempt of cop, legal doctrine that enables cops to kill and walk away, search unlawfully and walk away, arrest and tune-up as payback for being mouthy and walk away.

Social justice won’t fix any of this. Lawyers who take the easy path of mindless emotions rather than hard thinking won’t fix any of this. Somebody has to be the one to call bullshit. Better yet, we should all learn from the chiefs of staff and have the balls to tell the president when he’s wrong. Do something worthwhile instead of whining about the misery of it all. Tell the truth. Nobody will thank you for it, but it needs to be done.

*Before being elected as mayor of Chicago, Emanuel served as President Barack Obama’s first Chief of Staff.

**And yes, the obverse is that a president has to be willing to listen to someone whose job it is to call bullshit. If the prez refuses to listen, then the chief of staff can’t do his job and the same harm ensues, Donald.

11 thoughts on “To Tell The Truth

  1. Ken Mackenzie

    It requires courage, moral courage. There’s a personal cost. We’re all wired to conform. Criminal defense work is an exercise in dissent, undercutting the official story. So CDLs are more practised at calling out bullshit and holding unpopular positions. A solo practitioner is answerable only to the court and the clients. It’s so much harder when there’s a disapproving boss, or a gang of deluded coworkers piling on. Appellate Squawk’s travails illustrate what the censorious orthodoxy does to heretics.

    1. SHG Post author

      Moral courage, like “justice,” is one of those vagaries that justifies whatever position you hold dear. Squawk’s travails have been on my mind a lot lately. How quickly all the fierce defenders of social justice will turn on their own and burn the heretic at the stake.

      1. Ken Mackenzie

        Moral courage is used as a label to signify approval, like “appropriate”, or “mature”, or “woke”. Yet I can’t think of a better word for the guts needed to become a pariah for the sake of honest principle.

        1. SHG Post author

          Your point was clear, but the labels are just as easily used to rationalize the lie as promote the truth. I wish I could some up with a better way to make the point, but I’m not up to the task.

  2. Richard Kopf


    Eric Hoffer, now sadly gone, was an American moral and social philosopher. Among many other endeavors, he analyzed the delusions inherent in mass movements. He found that those delusions are inherent in radical or reactionary movements.

    Serious SJWs (if there is such a thing) should read his classic, True Believer: Thoughts On The Nature Of Mass Movements (1951). In that book, Hoffer explains the psychology behind fanaticism.

    “Social justice won’t fix any of this,” you write. That is simple but exquisitely and exactly right.

    Social justice adherents have exactly the same slavish adherence to their dogma that neo-nazi types to theirs. That is, their contradictory dogmas are paramount to each group because their psychological schemas are mirror images of each other. They don’t care about the intellectual honesty that is necessary to truly fix social cancers–they care only for their delusions.

    All the best.


    1. SHG Post author

      We’re in a battle at the moment between the radical extremes, with the majority of people caught in the middle. We have our disagreements, but share more in common with each other than we do with the extremes. At the same time, as you point out, the extremes share more in common than they do with the middle, the only difference being which authoritarian dogma they prefer.

      Now, if only the middle would speak up and tell the extremes to STFU (I hope you’re familiar with that acronym, Judge) and get lost.

  3. Appellate Squawk

    Justice is a blindfolded person holding up a pair of scales she can’t see as an excuse to clobber somebody with a sword. Social justice is when a bunch of them get together.

  4. B. McLeod

    I suspect the person who tells the current president he is wrong will find the job even more of a temp job than all the others jobs in this administration.

  5. Frank Miceli

    I’m genuinely perplexed.

    This blog posting is a compelling, eloquent encomium to the imperative need for men and women of courage to challenge wrong thinking, wrong doing, wherever they find them. To take the unpopular position when called for, to dissent from the conventional wisdom. To “call bullshit.”

    But something odd crops up as the reader reads. Specific perpetrators of wrongdoing are mentioned, two and only two: a group of teens who laughed while they let a man drown, and cops. Cops must “stop killing black guys because they scare you.” Further, “Real lives are harmed by cops killing people without reason, innocent people in prison, prosecution for contempt of cop, legal doctrine that enables cops to kill and walk away, search unlawfully and walk away, arrest and tune-up as payback for being mouthy and walk away.”

    Are cops, then, responsible for all the ills that flesh is heir to? Surely the defense bar would acknowledge that most cops seem to do their jobs conscientiously, within the confines of the law. There is no convincing evidence to the contrary. So, taking this posting and earlier ones into account, I ask myself, “What is it that accounts for the apparent venomous animosity of CDL’s toward cops?”

    Is it a concern for Justice in the abstract? But defense lawyers insist they practice law, not Justice. Do they take offense at dealing with cops they see as stupid and malign? But defense lawyers deal daily with a clientele given to lies, most of whom are guilty. Is it because cops allegedly play the “reasonably scared cop” card to avoid jail or worse? But CDL’s routinely play whatever card works, the race card, say, to defend their clients–and properly so.

    Last week I went to a dinner where the main speaker was an acquaintance of mine, a retired U. S. Attorney. I asked him why CDL’s have such a dislike of cops. He didn’t hesitate: “Because they get regularly whupped by cops in court–that’s why.”

    Does that explain it?
    And should I fall on my sword now or later?

    1. SHG Post author

      Have you ever consider writing shorter comments? Brevity is the soul of wit, you know.

      If you ask a SJW why a liberal thinks they’re idiotic, they will tell you it’s because of privilege or prejudice. What else would you expect someone to say, that it’s because the bullshit they tell themselves to not feel like shit is a lie?

      Just like SJWs search for offense under every rock, cops take offense at every mention that doesn’t make them heroes. So what? They’re very sensitive? We already knew that from the dead bodies. It’s tiresome to explain the obvious over and over. It’s fine that you choose not to grasp distinctions. This is America and you’re allowed.

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