By Pamela Uschuk
As a grad student in Russian Literature at Central Michigan University, I chose to write a thesis on Solzhenitzyn’s concept of truth. Because of my Belarus familial roots, I was fascinated by the wealth of great literature that had come out of a society with such a long tradition of cruelty and oppression. After all, most of my Belarus family were killed or sent to the camps under Stalin. Because we had only sketchy details of what happened, I wanted to learn all I could. I immersed myself in Alexander Solzhenitzyn’s novels, set in the Soviet Union, which gave the reader a close look at the way a society can be controlled by fear and lies. Stalin and his iron-fisted control of the U.S.S.R. fascinated Solzhenitzyn. Solzhenitzyn, himself, had been imprisoned, beaten, starved and nearly killed by the Russian brutal prison system. It must have been satisfying to portray the paranoid tyrant Stalin, afraid to sleep at night, locked inside the Kremlin against his enemies, his brute anger fueled by his narcissism as well as his psychotic insecurities.
The past four years, how could I avoid a connection between Joseph Stalin and Vladamir Putin and Donald Trump. Of course, Stalin holds the record for death and destruction of enemies, but these three tyrants have so much in common. All of them created in their countries an atmosphere of fear based on lies, suspicion and prejudice. All of them use violence, secret police and the military (and, in Putin’s case, poison) to get rid of enemies and enforce tyranny. Expensively-dressed thugs, Trump and Putin rely on repression and systematic lies to keep their populaces under control. They are anti-intellectual, anti-art, anti-education. Narcissists at core, these dictators preen their egos shamelessly and fly into a vengeful fury when crossed. All of them are bullies. All of them have lined their pockets during their tenures, and all of them consider themselves above the law, if not THE law.
Donald Trump’s lies run from small twists of truth (Joe Biden is weak) to epic lies (Black Lives Matter is a terrorist organization) that verge on the irrational. That he lies is easy to corroborate, just do a fact check on any of his speeches. The question is, why do his supporters, who are by no means stupid, believe them? And, why do the Republicans in Congress blindly support his destructive, inhumane policies?
The biggest question of all is will Donald Trump’s lies win him a second term? Since I am no prognosticator, I can’t predict this. But, it is undeniable that 30-39% of our population believe lies like “Climate Change is a hoax” or like Trump’s naieve pronouncement defying all science, “the Virus will simply go away, like magic, one day it will go away” or Trump’s truly self-agrrandizing and delusional generalization, “No President in the history of the world has been as successful as me.” Or how about, “I will make Mexico pay for the border wall. Make no mistake about it. Mexico is paying for the wall.”
According to Trumpian reality, Donald is simply the best human who has ever lived on the face of the earth, “even greater,” according to him, “than Abraham Lincoln.” He has told the Nobel Committee that he deserves the Nobel Peace Prize.
And, yet, it’s also true, he publically mocked a reporter with disabilities, he pardoned his corrupt criminal friends from prison sentences levied by the courts, he ordered the confiscation of Indigenous lands and National Monuments be opened to oil and gas exploration by companies that he and his family members hold stock in. He has forbidden emails from private citizens to the White House. Thousands of refugee parents and children have been separated and incarcerated in cages, a whole system of inhumane camps have sprung up along the Mexico-U.S. border. He has gutted the Evironmental Protection Agency and all but gutted the Clean Air And Clean Water Acts. He wants to do away with the Endangered Species Act. He is out to destroy the U.S. Postal Service to interfere with the election. With his inflammatory rhetoric, his bullying and repressive policies, he has encouraged hatred, racism, homophobia, xenophobia and sexism. Violent White Supremist groups are thriving. Donald Trump held back crucial information about Covid19 from hospitals and the public so the nation was not prepared when the virus hit the U.S. He withheld ventilators and PPE for first responders, for doctors and nurses from states who “didn’t like me.” The list goes on and on.
It is not surprising to me that Donald Trump and Vladamir Putin are friends. Donald Trump admires this dictator’s absolute power and his lies. Russian elections are a fraud. Putin always wins. Russian journalists, opposition party leaders end up dead. The culture of lies that Solzhenitzyn exposed in his prose and nonfiction prevails today in Russia as it prevailed in the Soviet Union. The president has learned a lot from his friend.
There is no doubt in my mind that the Russians influenced the 2016 U.S. Presidential elections. It is only to Putin’s advantage to do this. Russians have the same advanced technology we do and they do not hesitate to use it for nefarious purposes. Putin can easily manipulate Trump who idolizes him.
All these things have a direct bearing on the 2020 presidential election. Even though I am an Independent voter, and, even though I loathe making telephone calls to strangers, I have volunteered to make calls for the Democratic Party in Arizona urging people to vote early. For the first time in its history, Arizona could be a swing state. Will our country fall even further into the tar pit of lies and corruption under Donald Trump? Will our democracy survive? Voting is one weapon we have to fight this administration build on fear and lies. I have no illusion that my vote can stop lies. But, I will cast my vote, as I very much hope you will, to undo some of the destruction wrought in the past four years, to oust a pathological liar from office.
Black Earth Institute Fellow
Author of Crazy Love, American Book Award, Poetry
Editor, Truth to Power: Writers Respond to the Rhetoric of Hate and Fear