People have been mentioning a lot lately about a post-truth world that we live in, ostensibly because President Trump has told some outright lies to the American public and the world. One of many cases in point is the false allegation of President Obama wiretapping his campaign. Trump’s underlings have had to work diligently to try to mitigate the fallout of what he’s been saying on Twitter and elsewhere.
This isn’t anything new, except Trump just isn’t trying as hard.
Last week I watched The Big Short, a movie about the people who actually figured out the housing bubble was going to burst. A handful of people made a windfall of cash while being laughed at by an entire subset of the economy that knew better. When the market collapsed in 2008, the companies that made bad investments received taxpayer help to stay solvent, because they were “too big to fail.” Since then, companies received additional bailouts, and there’s been some really significant political turmoil (made even worse in spite of how bad things got post 9/11).
When people lost their houses, boardrooms got a government-funded platinum parachute from both sides of the political aisle. Democrats protested the Bush programs, and Republicans protested Obama’s programs. After Obama’s bailout, Republicans began protesting, forming organizations like the Tea Party. Politically, this spawned the Freedom Caucus in the House, a subset of the Republican Party that has benefited immensely from not being bipartisan. Aside from that, other lasting legacies include an attempt by Republicans to bombard President Obama with fruitless investigations (like Benghazi).
Does any of this sound familiar? It seems like Democrats have taken pages out of the Republican playbook. There have been very public calls to just oppose Republican actions, like filibustering Trump’s Supreme Court nominee. Protests occurred immediately after the national election results came in. Trump even has a couple of primary scandals that might plague him for his entire time in office.
Even this is old news compared to what happened in Bush’s tenure, although by comparison it seems tame. His scandal involved his underlings lying to the world about the pretext for the Iraq invasion. Like any other scandal (even Bill Clinton’s, to be fair), nobody went to jail or got prosecuted for wrongdoing. The whole thing ended when parties changed office.
All of this stuff involved telling people things that weren’t necessarily true, all to support a narrative.
The narrative has all depended upon which side of the aisle a person tends to believe. Right now the narrative for Democrats is that the Republicans stole an election and need to be stopped from running this country into the ground (and turning it into a theocracy). The narrative for Republicans is that Democrats are criminals who complain their secret channels of power didn’t skew an election in their favor. Sometimes people do things that support the narrative, and other times the narrative is just assumed to be true.
I think this is why truth has taken a backseat to a comforting narrative. People don’t get out and vote on the best of occasions, and only when they’re really fired up about something in the news. You can see this in Presidential election years; Congressional years barely get noticed. Both parties know this, and they’re doing what they can to stoke their base to get them the seats they need. For them, the narrative is the key to power, and so the narrative is what they focus on.
Sadly, our media is a necessary component of all of this. Friendly national news stations cater to specific sides. They gladly market what politicians spread because politicians control video news’s broadcast rights, and because over the years national journalism has essentially jumped in the same boat with politicians. So, not only is a narrative more preferable to actually being truthful, it’s easier.
I find it hard to believe that the public doesn’t know better on some level.
If the public didn’t know better, then we’re living in an age of profound ignorance – a grotesque and macabre reversal of enlightenment. It means that people are incapable of finding out what facts are, and they are thus incapable of acting upon them. It means that the allegedly free society I live in is just a mass delusion, a fiction that doesn’t exist in reality.
The problem is that even if people did know better on some level, it’s not like anyone can do anything about it. The journalists with the biggest bully pulpits can’t even call a lie a lie, let alone keep government honest. Politicians will only dole out as much truth that will get them elected while actively pursuing an agenda against the public’s interest.
I say this, because when one takes the narrative away, the U.S.’s recent history has been one long list of military and economic mistakes. Clinton didn’t recognize the threat of international terror, and he didn’t recognize what his deregulation of banks would do to the economy 8 years later. Bush didn’t realize or care that the wars he fought would destabilize an entire region to the point of almost pure anarchy, and he didn’t do anything to stop the world’s economy from diving off a cliff. Obama didn’t realize that his complete inaction with regards to Middle Eastern despots would cause a humanitarian crisis not seen since I don’t know when, he only found a temporary cure for our ailing healthcare system, and he openly admitted that the U.S. government can’t police the companies it needs to police. Right now, Trump is doing the political equivalent of shooting a loaded gun in a neighborhood.
How awful is it that our post-truth age coincided with the information age?
If I’m right, post-truth was a thing back in the 90’s. One might even call it appropriate back in the 80’s, and an argument could even get made for earlier times. Or maybe truth never mattered at all, and everyone is just now realizing that sad fact. These lies might be on their deathbed, and the public is still clinging to them like they’ll actually make a difference.
Either way, the glass is either full or empty. I don’t know which it is, but as a student of history, it concerns me. Generally speaking, the biggest lessons in history correlate to the amount of blood shed to learn them. Right now the world is shedding blood in a bunch of different places. Are we going to learn something from it, or are we going to try to bury those truths like so many before?