I rode in a taxi across town in DC to a meeting this past week and I knew I was in trouble the minute I got into the cab. “How are you today!” the driver exuberantly dared me as I slid in. His name and thick accent indicated an origin in or around India, but the cross hanging from his mirror meant that he was raised or arrived in the Christian minority.
“I am just fine, thank you,” I replied. “And how are you?”
“Thanks God and thanks Jesus!” he said. “I am healthy. I have a roof over my head. I have enough to eat. I have a job. That’s why I say thanks God and thanks Jesus!”
(The exclamation points are necessary, by the way. His enthusiasm, while not contagious, was undeniable.)
“Good for you,” I said.
“May I ask you a question, sir!”
I think I know what is coming next. Whether or not he saw that my head was covered, I figured I was going to be asked about my own personal faith. I was wrong.
“What do you think of President Trump?”
Now, I was in the back seat of a taxi weaving through DC traffic, conscious that the driver was looking not so much at the road as at me in his rear-view mirror. I did not want to begin a policy debate nor did I want to add to the anxiety he might be feeling. So I just said, “I have some issues.” I hoped for either “me, too” or “I hear that a lot.” Instead, his initial enthusiasm for his blessings went up a notch for the president, and he began rattling off all of the things he expected Mr. Trump was accomplishing. What could be my issues, he wanted to know.
“He is not honest,” I said. “He says things that are not true.”
Really, I looked for the least controversial objection I could think of. After all, I wanted to reach my destination safely. But the driver threw an unexpected curve.
“Name me one politician who tells the truth!” he said. I will admit I stammered for a minute – it was the kind of defense that is really an admission of guilt. But the fact is that I know quite a number of good and honest politicians on both sides of the aisle. They sometimes spin things in their own direction, but they do not make things up. So I named a few sitting senators and representatives. But then I added, “But the question is not whether other people lie. It is whether the president tells the truth. I believe that we ought to expect the President of the United States to be truthful.”
“He wants us to be strong and to enforce the law, and he will bring jobs back that have been lost! Do you object to that?”
“I didn’t say anything about jobs or security,” I said. “I said he isn’t honest.”
“Now you are going to tell me he shouldn’t be the president because of 30,00 votes, aren’t you? You think she should be president instead of him!”
I was taken aback again. “I didn’t say anything about votes,” I replied. “Donald Trump is the president. I said he isn’t honest.”
At that point I realized how the nature of political discourse – even with a guy in a taxi – had changed. I said to him that he was pulling a Kellyanne Conway on me – trying to pivot away from a legitimate criticism and bait me into an argument over something completely different.
I took my last shot. “You believe in God and Jesus, and you know that the reason to do the right thing in life is because it is the right thing, and that doing the right thing is independent of what anyone else is doing. That’s what I believe also as a Jew. I don’t care who else lies or what his goals are or whether the Electoral College ought to be reconsidered. It is reasonable to expect that the President of the United States would be a man of integrity, starting with being honest.”
At this point, we arrived at our destination. I silently thanked God. He vocally thanked both God and Jesus.
Kellyanne Conway does not get the credit she deserves for running a successful presidential campaign. In a race that was so much about breaking the glass ceiling, it has been widely overlooked that she wound up being the woman who broke it in this campaign.
But at least as far as my garrulous driver learned, her success included a special skill for changing the subject when matters of integrity were raised. It continues in her current position (and she is not the only one). It has been emulated by Democrats, too, much to my disappointment.
Don’t fall for it. Do the right thing because it is the right thing, and be honest in giving credit as well as offering critique.
And continue to expect that the naturalized citizen driving your cab and the person who holds the highest office in the land will tell the truth.