Alex Beam

My truth, welcome to it

Former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz speaks Thursday, Jan. 31, 2019, at an event to promote his book, "From the Ground Up," in Seattle. Schultz has faced a rocky reception since he announced earlier in January that he's considering an independent presidential bid. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Ted S. Warren/AP
Former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz.

Howard Schultz’s presidential launch has turned into a Revile-a-thon. Critics are dismissing the self-made Starbucks founder as an egomaniacal Trump-enabling billionaire dilettante soiling the pristine professionalism of American politics (hah!), or worse.

With so much competition, I had to come up with my own reason for disdaining Schultz, and here it is: Announcing his independent campaign, Schultz proclaimed: “My hope is to share my truth, listen to yours, build trust, and” — stop right there.

I hate this modish, lazy, possessive adjective attached to the word “truth.” Just for starters, what is Howard Schultz’s “truth”? Law professor Paul Campos checked one fact in Schultz’s 1999 autobiography — his claim to have earned a college football scholarship — and found it contradicted in Schultz’s just-published campaign prop, “From the Ground Up: A Journey to Reimagine the Promise of America.” There Schultz writes that the football scholarship “never materialized.”


“This is literally the only thing I’ve ever checked out about this guy,” Campos writes, “and it turns out to be a lie.”

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Everybody mis-remembers. I’ve probably claimed to have played tight end for the Denver Broncos now and again. But where did this idiotic idea of bleating about “my truth” come from?

If you guessed Oprah Winfrey, well, there is some truth there. At last year’s Golden Globe ceremony, Oprah declared: “What I know for sure is that speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have.” Oprah has been singing this tune for a while. As Mark Oppenheimer wrote in The New York Times several years ago, her television show was a platform for all manner of mountebanks proclaiming phony “truths”:

“She hosted the self-help author Louise Hay, who once said Holocaust victims may have been paying for sins in a previous life. She championed the ‘medical intuitive’ Caroline Myss, who claims emotional distress causes cancer. She helped launch Rhonda Byrne, creator of the DVD and book ‘The Secret,’ who teaches that just thinking about wealth can make you rich.”

The businessman who actually succeeded in becoming president, Donald Trump, loves to share “his” truths with the American people. The intelligence agencies don’t know anything about Iran; “They are wrong!” Trump insists. “Build the wall, crime will fall.” The “truths” just keep on coming.


So the truth is a game — until it isn’t a game. There is a (so far, rather modest) outbreak of measles in the upper left-hand corner of our country. I thought we eradicated measles 20 years ago, I hear you say. That is correct, but prominent anti-vaccination proponents such as former Playboy model Jenny McCarthy used soapboxes such as “The Oprah Winfrey Show” to speak “their truths” about the purported link between the measles vaccine and autism.

“There is a very aggressive anti-vaccine lobby throughout the Pacific Northwest that has effectively driven up the rates of vaccine noncompliance, leaving scores of children vulnerable to the infection,” Baylor College medical professor Peter Hotez told NPR.

Speaking “your truth” is easy, and unassailable. Who is to say that your concatenation of pabulum, suppositions, and purportedly real events is right or wrong? Confronting the truth about yourself, about myself, about the world around us, is infinitely more challenging. That is why so few people do it.

Alex Beam’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @imalexbeamyrnot.