Chernobyl’s warning for America

HBO’s miniseries Chernobyl “made me think of Donald Trump,” said Bret Stephens. No, I’m not comparing his administration to “an openair nuclear reactor fire,” but there is one disturbing parallel: “the institutionalization of lies.” The 1986 catastrophe in what is now Ukraine revealed the Soviet Union’s relentless lying in the face of irrefutable evidence. As Chernobyl depicts in scene after scene, Communist Party officials immediately attempted a cover-up, first insisting the explosion never happened, then concealing who was to blame, how serious the nuclear fallout was, and how many died because of it. At the time, the official death toll was 31, thousands below credible estimates. The engineer Anatoly Dyatlov tells a scientist investigating the explosion, “Do you think the right question will get you the truth? There is no truth.” To Soviet officials, “every official lie is a noble one, and truth is whatever happens to serve the party at a particular moment.” In the U.S. today, we have “a president who will say anything” to a base “that will believe anything.” But “what happens when we have our own Chernobyl, or another 9/11,” and the credibility of the president becomes essential to our survival?