Toward a Post-Lies Future

Fighting 'alternative facts' and 'post-truth' politics in the current political climate.

  • The responsibility for demanding truth in politics lies with journalists and consumers alike.
    Photo by Flickr/number7cloud
  • Glenn Kessler evaluated 64 percent of Trump's campaign statements with the "Four Pinocchios" rating: the worst rating in his "Fact Checker" column.
    Photo by Flickr/Iamsdawson
  • The mainstream media has traditionally served as mediator and fact-checker, but to do so, it requires the public's trust.
    Photo by Flickr/TAEDC

Donald Trump is our first post-truth president. And he may well be the first of many.

The Oxford Dictionaries website chose “post-truth” as its 2016 word of the year, in large part due to Trump’s success in the presidential election. It defined post-truth as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” (Incidentally, the 2015 word of the year wasn’t a word at all but the “face with tears of joy” emoji.)

Trump’s political methods ultimately rely on the appeal to emotions, such as fear and anxiety, and to personal beliefs over objective truth. Moreover, his victory was secured with blatant lies and misleading rhetoric, along with a doubling down on deceptions when called on them. Glenn Kessler’s highly reputable “Fact Checker” column in the Washington Post evaluated statements made by Trump during the campaign and assigned 64 percent of them with “Four Pinocchios” (the worst rating). By contrast, statements by other politicians get Four Pinocchios 10 to 20 percent of the time.

Trump’s deceit has only continued post-election. “In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally,” Trump tweeted on November 27, 2016, a claim he continued to support. “Serious voter fraud in Virginia, New Hampshire, and California,” Trump continued, “so why isn’t the media reporting on this? Serious bias — big problem!” Investigations found nothing to back up his claim, yet this didn’t stop the majority of Trump voters from believing him, as reflected in a survey of 1,011 Americans conducted by Qualtrics last December.

Trump’s subordinates have had no problem following his lead. Senior adviser Kellyanne Conway infamously presented the Trump administration’s false claims as “alternative facts” in a January 22, 2017, interview on NBC’s “Meet The Press.” She was defending the lies told by White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer regarding Trump’s inauguration ceremony. Spicer insisted that Trump drew “the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration,” despite the clear evidence of aerial photos showing that Barack Obama’s inauguration drew a significantly bigger crowd.

Some wonder if it’s worth focusing on such absurd claims when there are major policy changes afoot with the new administration. However, one must consider that other politicians are highly likely to adopt Trump’s successful methods. If enough of them win by doing so, we’re headed for a downward spiral of deceit in our political system. Without a serious intervention to clean up the pollution of truth in politics, this spiral will lead to the end of our political order as we know it. Trump supporters will say this is the kind of disruption we need and what they sought in electing him. I would argue that our survival depends on moving from the post-truth, alternative-facts present into a post-lies future.

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