Boris Johnson is a liar. Donald Trump is a liar; famous for lying. Vladimir Putin is a liar. Liars rule the world.
Johnson is one of those liars who lies even when it is not necessary to do so. He lies because lies gush from him like water from the cistern when you pull the chain. Fellow Etonian and one time Cabinet colleague Rory Stewart called Johnson ‘the most accomplished liar in public life.’
‘He [Johnson] has mastered the use of error, omission, exaggeration, diminution, equivocation and flat denial … He is equally adept at the ironic jest, the fib and the grand lie; the weasel word and the half-truth; the hyperbolic lie, the obvious lie, and the bullshit lie – which may inadvertently be true.’
Johnson’s greatest lie is that he is not a Brexiteer. He is a European. He adores European culture. He speaks languages. He painted up a bus carrying the false promise that Brexit would put an extra £350 million a week into the NHS. Not because he wanted to leave the European Union. But because he wanted to be Prime Minister. He wanted to score a ‘shy’ over his old rival David Cameron in the Eton Wall Game.
Johnson promised the people that they would take back control. Just another lie. The people have lost what little control they had: the freedom to study, start a business and live in Europe. Human rights and civil rights are being crushed in the new Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill that will restrict protest marches, set a start and finish time, set noise limits and routes. The kind of law Vladimir Putin has imposed in Russia.
It became blatantly obvious that liars rule the world when Donald Trump took office. The Washington Post fact checker team catalogued 492 suspect claims in the first 100 days of his presidency. By the end of his term, Trump had accumulated 30,573 lies – averaging 20 untruths a day.
Trump opened his four year term by falsely claiming that it did not rain during the inauguration and that the crowd was ‘The biggest ever. Bigger than Obama’s.’ White House adviser Kellyanne Conway told a press gathering on 22 January 2017 that this was not a deception, but an ‘alternative fact,’ a phrase that would come to describe Trump’s entire presidency.
For the next four years, the brisk turnover of aides serving Trump would have to lie and lie and lie to cover the lies and lies and lies told by their leader. This was amusing material for late night TV shows. Disastrous for democracy and the world.
Trump in his final weeks bombarded the American people with far-fetched conspiracy theories linked to QAnon that the election had been stolen by the ‘deep-state’ working against him and that rival candidate Joe Biden was connected to a paedophile ring running the Democratic Party.
The time bomb set by four years of bragging and lies erupted on 6 January 2020, when a mob of more than 2,000 Trump supporters, many armed and wrapped in flags, assaulted the Capitol Building in an attempt to overturn his election defeat by disrupting the joint session of Congress assembled to formalise President-elect Joe Biden’s victory.
The insurrection followed Trump’s Stop the Steal speech in which he said: ‘We fight like hell. And if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.’ Five people died in the attack and more than 500 agitators have been charged with various offences.
More than fifty lawsuits presented by Trump and his allies challenging the election results have been dismissed by state and federal judges, many Republicans. Still the US media continues to give the former president vast amounts of air space to peddle his false claim that the election was a big steal and Joe Biden is an illegitimate President.
Liars Rule the World at War
Trump made it clear that he admired Putin and respected the fact that he ‘had control over a country.’ It is not clear if Putin has the same feelings towards Donald Trump, but has borrowed his lying, hectoring style and the cry ‘fake news’ when presented with the truth.
Putin is a war criminal, a megalomaniac, the essence of the dictum coined by historian Lord Acton: Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely. After criminalising protest and alternative forms of media, the state-controlled television assures Russians the campaign in Ukraine is to protect Russian speakers facing genocide at the hands of Nazis, to prevent an attack with chemical weapons and to reclaim land that historically belongs to Russia.
Putin’s war is an imperial conquest coupled with personal ambition. He is destroying Ukraine in an attempt to revive the lost power of Soviet Russia and to rebalance his own warped view of history. He is not confronting Nazis. He is bombing schools, theatres, city blocks, fleeing refugees, mothers with children and unborn babies in the maternity hospital. Putin is not uniting Slavs. He is carving a divide that will take centuries to heal.
This is what liars and dictators do to maintain power: they divide.
Boris Johnson’s litany of lies promoting Brexit divided the British people (52/48) and divided Britain from Europe. Donald Trump divided the United States down the middle: those who believe his lies and those horrified by them.
In the wake of the Covid pandemic, with spiralling prices about to impoverish millions across the world and global warming threatening the very existence of Earth, if ever there was a time to discard the liars and mend divisions it is now.
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There is no contradiction between an ability to speak European languages and admire the best of continental European culture (obvs not mime or opera) and not wanting to form a federal union with the former states from which those languages and culture originate. On this, BJ, unusually, does not need to lie.
Regarding this characteristic of our great leader, and why he was elected despite it being widely known, see the recent Bagehot column https://www.economist.com/britain/2022/01/15/what-did-you-expect-from-boris-johnson:
“What did you expect from Boris Johnson?
The prime minister, in his own way, is Britain’s most honest politician …In politics, integrity is almost inevitably followed by hypocrisy. …Mr Johnson, by contrast … does not even pretend to be a family man, despite having a few of them [nor anything but a power-hungry cynic nor a loyal boss…]. A lack of integrity becomes a form of integrity. …Mr Johnson is not a boil that can be lanced, at which point Britain’s body politic will recover. British politics, its systems and culture, deteriorated to the point where an honest liar proved attractive. Mr Johnson benefited from chaos created by others.”
This argument may also partially explain the attraction of Trump.
On the wider point, a couple of years ago, I drew the attention of the author to the first paragraph of Il Principe, Ch XVIII (How Princes Should Keep Faith), in which Old Nick explains how “princes who hold their own word of little account and instead beguile men’s minds with shrewdness and cunning” have an advantage over the widely admired goody-goodies who stick to their word.
Whereas this cannot be said of Vlad the Invader, who consistently threatened to do what he was then allowed to do and succeeded largely due to his potential obstructors having stuffed their ears with gold. He may not have promised to limit the Russian news media to “a transparent tissue of odious lies” (P Cook) but that was clearly implicit in his programme.
Some points to consider and I will go now to the Bagehot column in the Economist.