2016 has been an odd year – to say the least! Politics aside, this year has been a gold mine for the journalists and political commentators who like to come up with catchy new phrases to describe the political comings-and-goings across the globe.
“Brexit” is the obvious breakout star of this “political neologism of the year” award and, as much as I may not like it, is going to be the phrase with the greatest longevity in popular usage. “Alt-right” is another watchword being voiced in newsrooms and broadcast centres everywhere but (thankfully) most of the media now acknowledge that this marks a mere rebrand of existing neo-Nazi groups. However, “post-truth” is perhaps the most interesting new utterance to enter the political lexicon and others seem to agree as it was named by Oxford Dictionaries as their “word of the year”. But what does it really mean and should it have us students worried?
It seems like an age ago that Michael Gove declared in the midst of the referendum campaign that the people of the United Kingdom had “had enough of experts”. As someone who is more of a policy wonk than an ideologue, I found this talk both infuriating and baffling. Why on earth would we dismiss the years of work and experience that experts in their respective fields can offer us? Surely we should respect the academic qualifications of others – he says in hope as he is writing this whilst taking a break from his dissertation – and respect their views on their areas of specialisation? Well according to Mr Gove and a growing number of like-minded voices from the political world, the answer to this second question is simple: no.
Indeed, post-truthism seems to be catching on, with other Tory MPs parroting Gove’s sentiments. To my surprise – not at the fact that he actually said it but that someone with an Eton and Oxford education would be ill-advised enough to do so – Jacob Rees-Mogg decried the validity of experts, putting them in the same category as “soothsayers and astrologers”. Rees-Mogg is not alone, with former cabinet minister Iain Duncan Smith declaring the budget watchdog he used to quote as Secretary of State as “pretty much wrong on everything”.
This post-truth syndrome is not just confined to the shores of our islands. The post-truth disease has gone global and is now a worldwide pandemic, which is apparently contagious in the extreme, as President-elect Trump is most definitely presenting symptoms. My money is on the theory that Mr Farage didn’t wash his hands thoroughly enough during his recent visit to Trump Tower last month. But, unfortunately, we can’t blame everything on Nigel Farage. Trump has been a “post-truther” since he orchestrated the birther movement against President Obama – so he has really been ahead of the curve on this!
However, examples of Trump’s post-truth mentality have been numerous in the last few weeks. His claims to have won the presidential election in a landslide and of widespread voter fraud as the only logical reason as to why he didn’t win the popular vote are two prime examples. In his electoral “landslide”, Trump now trails by Hillary Clinton by more than two million votes in the popular vote tally. However, even in the Electoral College, Trump’s victory over Clinton was by 306 votes to 232, which only constitutes a 57% to 43% result. This is far closer than both of President Obama’s victories in which he earned 365 and 332 Electoral College votes in his respective presidential elections. Indeed, in comparison to presidential elections since 1952, the victors have had far greater Electoral College leads (Reagan 525 in 1984 and 489 in 1980; Nixon 520 in 1972; LBJ 486 in 1964; Eisenhower 457 in 1956 and 442 in 1952; Bush Sr. 426 in 1988 and Clinton 370 in 1992 and 379 in 1996). I think any objective individual would be able to see that, despite Trump’s clear victory in the Electoral College, it was nowhere near a landslide in comparison to other presidential election results.
As someone who is obsessed with winning, it would be reasonable to imagine that the fact that Trump lost the popular vote is eating him up inside. His Twitter rant at nearly four in the morning a couple of weeks ago goes a long way to shoring up this assumption. Trump claimed on social media: “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”. He went on to refer to “serious voter fraud” in three states: Virginia, New Hampshire and California. However, he never once provided any evidence of this. The individuals in charge of elections in the states to which he made reference have pushed back on the lack of evidence and even some of Trump’s backers have recognised the absurdity of his claims.
So should we, as students of higher learning with some aspiring experts undertaking postgraduate qualifications within our ranks, be fearful of this shift in political discourse? Quite simply: no. With the critical thinking skills we have hopefully developed through our time as university students, we are well equipped to refute any rubbish, dispel any drivel and hold off any hokum that the likes of Trump, Gove or any other expert-hating post-truther wants to throw at us! On the other hand, we could all just become rich by opening our own fact-checking sites, which the media are becoming ever more reliant upon and that our political climate necessitates. Either way, we have four years of entertaining Twitter tirades ahead of us!
by Matthew Schlachter, Editor of the Caerulean, 2015-16