Columnist Gloria DiFulvio: Americans have ability to effect change


Published: 03-29-2017 10:33 PM

In Aesop’s fable, “The Boy who Cried Wolf,” a shepherd boy repeatedly tricks villagers into believing a wolf is attacking their sheep. Alarmed, villagers run to the boy’s aid only to find he had made up the story.

Everyone wants to believe the boy because it is his job to protect the sheep. But there is a breaking point, and when a wolf finally appears, there is no one left who believes the young shepherd, costing the villagers their sheep and the shepherd boy his life.

We, the American people, are living inside this fable and must remain vigilant because we have much more at stake than sheep.

On March 4, the president tweeted, “Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!” After implicating the former president in criminal misconduct, three similar tweets followed. 

At the March 20 congressional hearings, FBI Director James Comey was asked about the president’s claims of wiretapping. Comey’s response, “I have no information that supports those tweets.” The director also stated that the Department of Justice had asked him to share that they have no information to support those tweets.

The White House went further, stating Obama may not have done this himself. He may have engaged a foreign ally, implicating the British Government Communications Headquarters in wiretapping. The British rebuked this statement. When asked, Admiral Michael Rogers, head of the National Security Agency, responded, “…I’ve seen nothing on the NSA side that we engaged in any such activity nor that anyone ever asked us to engage in such activity.”

That there was anyone left to believe these tweets after the president’s repeated lies is astonishing. He has lied throughout his campaign, during his transition, and from his first day in office. He campaigned on building a border wall telling his supporters the Mexicans would pay for it. “Believe me,” he said, despite the Mexican president's repeated statements to the contrary.

He told the American people he would have won the popular vote against Hillary Clinton if it weren’t for the three to four million people who voted illegally. There is no evidence of fraudulent voting. Trump told Americans we have the highest crime rate in 47 years. This, despite FBI data showing crime at a 45-year low.

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Are these lies distractions? Or are they precursors to stricter voter suppression laws and increased law enforcement efforts? Whatever Trump’s intent, each statement results in the media, Congress, and the American people spending ample time running to the village to ensure that the sheep remain in the fields. They point to evidence that there couldn’t have been a wolf while the boy laughs at their response. The villagers tire of his lies.

The president has cried wolf too many times to remain credible. If there is a real threat to the country, who among us would believe him?

This moment in history is beyond party politics. We have a sitting president actively lying to mislead the American people, weaken our relationships with allies, and threaten our democracy. Additionally, Comey confirmed that our president is under an active investigation for possible collusion with a foreign power to interfere in our election. 

While Aesop’s fable warned most of us about the dangers of lying, it failed to provide us with the more important lesson. In the face of a lying shepherd, what could the villagers have done to save their sheep?

Congress can and must act to restrict the power of the president, but to date, the Republican-controlled House and the Senate have failed to take any action to do so. Therefore, it is up to the American people. If the villagers recognized their collective power, the outcome would have been different.

We must envision the world we want to live in and recognize our own ability to bring about change. Whether through protest, phones calls or visits to elected officials, or some other community action, we must not become complacent. We must demand actions such as an independent investigation into the president’s ties to Russia, the release of his tax returns, and compliance with the norms and ethics of the presidency including not profiting from his elected position).

We've seen glimpses of how our actions can make a difference — at the airports after the Muslim ban and on Friday with the demise of the terrible alternative health care bill. This is just the beginning.

It is up to the American people to do better than the villagers. Our democracy depends on us.

Gloria DiFulvio, of Hadley, is a faculty member in the Public Health Sciences Program at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She also is co-leader of Valley Action Group, a group in Western Massachusetts which has formed in response to our current state of democracy and concerns for civil rights.