Putin’s power rises in an age of lies

The Dallas Morning News (TNS)
Ukrainian soldiers take positions in downtown Kyiv, Ukraine, Friday, Feb. 25, 2022. Russia pressed its invasion of Ukraine to the outskirts of the capital Friday after unleashing airstrikes on cities and military bases and sending in troops and tanks from three sides in an attack that could rewrite the global post-Cold War security order. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

It shouldn’t be a surprise to students of history the way authoritarians use lies and manipulation to gather power and justify terrible deeds that destroy human freedom and life.

Yet it is shocking when these cycles repeat historically, and here we are again, listening to a despotic strongman bent on reordering the world and twisting history and truth to do it.

Vladimir Putin has delivered his people and the world a torrent of lies and falsehoods around Ukraine’s history and his decision to invade.

There isn’t any attempt to hide the fact he’s lying. Part of the power is the ever-more brazen way he does it.

“Frankly, President Putin lies, and he’s done it before,” U.S. Charge d’Affaires Kristina Kvien told NPR this week.

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Our response to Putin’s lies is disgust. They are obvious and outrageous. But the Russian president, elected and reelected in a series of rigged farces called elections, doesn’t care about our reaction.

Still, there is something to learn. The question we might ask now, as a free people, is whether we are living in an age of lies, a time when the idea of objective truth and of hard, unassailable facts is itself destabilized.

Before the opening of the Beijing Winter Olympics, and throughout, the Chinese government warned athletes to avoid any statements of criticism about the regime. It got almost complete compliance despite its horrible record of human rights abuses and its dystopian response to COVID-19.

Meanwhile, the Chinese government paid social media companies, including America-based, Meta-owned Instagram and China-based TikTok, untold sums to present the public a prolonged stream of sanitized and cheery images from the games, which, despite it all, ended ribboned more in the agony and anxiety of athletes than the true spirit of sport.

In our own nation, we are all too aware of the rivening power of falsehoods spread through social media. A shocking number of political candidates who came before our Editorial Board this season were unwilling to publicly acknowledge the established fact, audited exhaustively, that Joe Biden won the 2020 presidential election and Donald Trump lost.

Democracies rely on truth, and honesty is a character trait we once prized in our leaders, from Honest Abe Lincoln to George Washington, who supposedly could not tell a lie.

What’s more, people accepted that there was such a thing as the truth, and sometimes you liked it, and sometimes you didn’t. But it was what it was.

Treating lies as equal to truth is a dangerous path. Accepting that truth is a relative thing can be just as dangerous. 

As a free people, we need to recognize that, and be willing not only to demand the truth but to accept the truth when the facts are credibly presented to us.

We are living in a time that tests Benjamin Franklin’s promise in his “Apology for Printers.” He wrote then that “when Truth and Error have fair Play, the former is always an overmatch for the latter.” These days, it seems, truth and error don’t have such fair play. For every truth broadcast or written, it seems a dozen or more lies attack it from every side.

The power of men like Putin increases on this false foundation of lies. But as loud and far-reaching as those lies might be, it is a shoddy and weak foundation that crumbles in time if people, here and there, let the light of truth come in. We just have to let it.

— From The Dallas Morning News (TNS).