In the second half of my freshman year at Yale, I took a psychology class that was very interesting. During the course, an examination was given, but there was a problem. An article appeared in a school newspaper stating that the examinations for the course had inadvertently been incinerated and stating that the exam could be retaken in a specific place at a specific time. This would be the only opportunity to retake the exam.
Students including yours truly dutifully showed up prepared to display their brilliance. To the astonishment of everyone, the questions on the exam were different from the ones on the original exam and were extraordinarily difficult. Each question contained an element of familiarity which made students believe that they should know the answers, but no one could solve the problems.
One by one, students begin to leave the unsupervised exam room with the exam booklets in tow with the intention of looking up the answers and reporting that they had not seen the notice in the bogus school newspaper about the makeup exam. Eventually there was only one student left struggling in vain to master the situation. That one student was me.
Suddenly the silence was interrupted by the entrance of the professor and a photographer to take the picture of the most honest student in the class. I was asked some questions and awarded a $10 bill. The whole episode was a hoax and part of an experiment. Interestingly, earlier that day, I had prayed asking God to provide some money, because I was 100% flat broke. Not only were my immediate financial problems resolved, but I emerged with my self-esteem and integrity intact, plus the professor became familiar with me, which was helpful.
This incident was originally reported in one of my books, and during my presidential campaign when I became a front runner, some media outlets claimed that it was a pure fabrication because they could find no proof.
I believe that the truth matters. Eventually, a BuzzFeed writer discovered an article that was more than 40 years old which described the episode. Evidence was found to verify many of the things the media assassination squad tried to cast doubt upon. This only fortifies my belief that truth matters and eventually those who uphold integrity will be justified.
Some will say, you were stupid and naïve or other mean things, because the concept of honesty and integrity rings hollow for them and they derive their false self-esteem by denigrating others. History reveals that there was a time when there was a strong sense of right and wrong in America. It was a time when strong values dictated our actions and our relationships with others. Unfortunately, those who revel in disparaging America take every opportunity to remind us of slavery, Japanese internment camps, Indian reservations, segregation and others human imperfections, which can create shame and lack of patriotism.
It might be worthwhile to engage in more conversations about the positive aspects of our nation which, like every nation inhabited by people, is and will forever be imperfect. Ours is a nation founded on Judeo-Christian values. It provided unprecedented freedom and opportunities for its citizens. Before the ascension of America, the world was a very terrifying place with tens of millions of people being slaughtered and sovereign nations being plundered by evil dictators. If the powerful influence of our nation were to suddenly disappear, it is virtually guaranteed that the degree of peace now seen, which is far from ideal, would greatly deteriorate.
Our influence in the world is being challenged because we can no longer claim to be a beacon of justice and integrity. Many people in our country are perfectly comfortable with leaders who blatantly lie about many things and a “justice” system that embraces a double standard. History verifies that when wrong is ignored or tolerated, it only multiplies. We cannot expect to achieve a just society by ignoring or making excuses for dishonesty and injustice. Citing previous wrong behaviors by others or highlighting imperfections of others in no way will mitigate the deleterious effects of accommodating dishonesty.
In 1831, Alexis de Tocqueville, the French observer, frequented American churches, towns and villages as he searched for the secrets of our unimaginable success as a fledgling nation. In the end he concluded, “America is great because she is good. If America ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.” The vestiges of decency still reside in the fabric of America, even as political correctness and secularism attempt to fundamentally change us.
There are many examples in the junkyard of history of nations that accept corruption and dishonesty as normal. America is the child of all the other nations. Can we learn from their tragic mistakes or will we continue inexorably down the path of self-destruction and partisan politics? We do have a choice.