“Honest Graft,” “Truthful Hyperbole…..”

…it’s all in the saying.

A story. Once upon a time there lived a politician in New York City. He was responsible for a ward, or district, for his political organization. That organization was called “Tammany Hall.” It was one of the most infamous political machines of the early 1900’s, which had plenty of’em. This man’s name was George Washington Plunkett. “And,” as Lily Tomlin’s Ruth Ann would say, “that’s the truth!”

Mr. Plunkett had an original take on the subject of graft (payoffs), the subject that political machines were all about. He felt that there was a distinction to be made on the subject. That distinction was between “honest graft” and “dishonest graft.” And if I can borrow Ruth Ann one more time, “…that’s the truth.”

You see George decried dishonest graft, but he felt the honest kind was A-ok.  So how did he parse this out? Let’s take poor people and coal deliveries. Now poor folks in the winter would freeze to death if they couldn’t get cold delivered or couldn’t afford to pay for it. For Tammany Hall to add a premium on coal delivery in the winter, when obviously it could command the most dear of costs, would be dishonest. That would add to the suffering of the downtrodden. So in his ward George wouldn’t allow any premiums or surcharges on coal. That would be dishonest because the graft would hurt people. in fact, for those really in need he’d see to it that they got some coal for free.

But what about the company’s that wanted to deliver the coal? They were makin’ money by the ton. They were ripping off the mine companies on the hauling fees, the overtime, anything they could think of. But if they couldn’t get a contract to deliver the coal in a neighborhood what good was the rip-off of the coal companies? They had to dump the coal, literally, to make money. So, George figures taking a piece of the hauler’s action… now that was ok. That was “honest graft” because it didn’t hurt anyone.

Now you may dispute the logic. All I can do is tell you to take it up with GWP, but alas he’s left us long ago.

But why bring this up? Because of something called “truthful hyperbole.” The phrase’s origin itself is in doubt. We are not sure if Mr. Trump coined it or his biographer coined it trying to look for a kinder way of saying something was a purposeful lie. Anyway, we have come to learn that when negotiating a deal Mr. Trump uses what is called “truthful hyperbole.” “Yes, I have a fleet of trucks on my  Atlantic City Casino property, come see for yourself.” And sure enough, he did. The issue was what they were doing there, which was nothing. They were just parked for show, to give the appearance that work was being done. He hadn’t gotten around to paying them to actually do anything but the investor bit, told his folks, “yeah Trump got lots of tummel (action) goin’ on over in AC.”

Now according to Politifacts and a lot of folks who do business with Mr. Trump, there’s a lot, maybe an excessive amount, of “truthful hyperbole” being used.

Me? Well I guess I’d have to use Mr. Plunkett’s yardstick for a measuring. I can see it either way. Applying the coal analogy maybe it’s honest graft because the folks putting in the money have plenty of it and will write the losses off on their taxes. But I’m wondering if “Truthful Hyperbole” was a tool to be used on the leader of an ally or the like how it would be taken, or what it would be called. Is it just all in the saying?

I pine for Mr. Plunkett. I am at a loss for an answer.


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