Mark Twain attributed the phrase “lies, damned lies, and statistics” to British prime minister Benjamin Disraeli. However, historians have not found a record of this from Disraeli. Regardless of the source, Twain was not a fan of statistics or liars, and I wonder what he would say today regarding the outstanding liars of our time.
First in class, I think, would have to go to Russian President Vladimir Putin. His lie to the people of Russia about his “special military operation” in Ukraine stands alone in terms of scale and consequences. Not many politicians could try and get away with invading another country, bombing it back to the stone age, and then refusing to call it an invasion or war, and jail anyone who begs to differ.
There seems to be a positive relationship between authoritarian politicians and the willingness to lie with impunity. Putin takes the cake for his lies about his actions in Ukraine that have killed thousands of innocent people. There is a special place in hell for him and those who provide him with any support.
Putin invaded Ukraine because he is threatened by democracy. It reminded Vladimir Kara-Murza, who sits in a Russian jail for challenging Putin’s actions in Ukraine, of the Soviet Union’s invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 after Czechoslovakia flirted with democracy. Kara-Murza recently said that when Putin went to war with Ukraine, he also went to war against the truth.
Many Republicans in America also seem to be at war with the truth and have joined Russia in blaming America and President Joe Biden for the war in Ukraine. That’s all part of the Republican Party’s recent infatuation with Putin and other world authoritarians.
This brings us to the Big Lie that former President Donald Trump won the 2020 presidential election. Like Putin’s lie, the truth is available for all to see while the liar pretends otherwise. Cassidy Hutchinson, a White House aide, testified before the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol that the former president admitted that he lost the election, but did not want Americans to know he lost. She stated that he asked then White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows to “figure it out” to prevent the results from “embarrassing” him. Hutchinson also stated that Meadows told her that Trump frequently mentioned that he knew he lost the election, but that “he wants to keep fighting.”
Others have stated that this was Trump’s plan all along. Steve Bannon, for example, told associates during a meeting on Oct. 31, 2020, days before the election, that Trump would declare victory regardless of the outcome.
Sometimes, when politicians lie, it can be deadly. While president, Trump played down the seriousness of COVID-19 and Republicans pushed back against vaccines and masks. The results have been documented in a study completed in Florida and Ohio by Yale University researchers. They looked at COVID death rates between 2018 and 2021 and reported that “average excess death rates were 76% higher among Republicans than Democrats in the two states studied.” The researchers found that the primary variable related to the deaths was vaccination rates, which continue to be significantly lower among Republicans.
To be a Republican candidate for office today and receive Trump’s endorsement, you need to be able to lie well. Stating that Trump won the 2020 election is just the entrance fee. But when it comes to lying about easily available information, Trump’s candidate for a U.S. Senate seat in Georgia, Herschel Walker, gives Putin and Trump competition for the liar of the year award.
Walker has admitted to a history of domestic violence against a former wife before he declared his candidacy. The police reports on those incidents have been available for years. For other statements, however, he seems oddly unaware of how easily his words are proved false. For example, he claimed to be a former FBI agent. False. Also, Walker said that he was the valedictorian of his graduating class at the University of Georgia. He did not graduate from college. The list goes on.
Walker lied to his own campaign staff when confronted with a report that he had an undisclosed 10-year-old son with a previous girlfriend. He denied the existence of his own son, until his campaign manager, Scott Paradise, according to reporting from the Daily Beast, showed him documents proving Walker was lying. When asked if he had any other undisclosed children that his campaign staff should know about, Walker lied again. Then, reporters found that Walker had two additional children, a boy, and a girl, from two other women.
Lying has become a big business. Alex Jones has made millions off his podcasts proclaiming, against all the available evidence, that the murders of 20 children and six teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary were staged. His statements have encouraged listeners to harass the victims’ families. Jones was recently held responsible by a jury and ordered to pay nearly $1 billion in damages to the families.
Jones will be punished for the consequences of his lies. The jury is still out for Putin, Trump, and Walker.
Tom Zirpoli is the Laurence J. Adams Distinguished Chair in Special Education Emeritus at McDaniel College. He writes from Westminster. His column appears on Wednesdays. Email him at email@example.com.