A recent article in The Economist laments the diminishing importance of truth (September 10, 2016). The most depressing thing about current American politics is not so much Donald Trump but the apparent demise of respect for facts. It does not seem to matter to Trump’s supporters how many times he fudges facts and tells lies. After the first debate with Hillary Clinton where he lied dozens of times, his percentage of support did not diminish. It’s a case of : ”My mind is made up, don’t bother me with facts.”
The Economist blames this on the loss of faith in institutions among people who used to enjoy their place in society; mostly white men. They lost influence and are angry. They feel they have been betrayed by institutions like banks, government, political parties, mainline media, and policies they implemented like globalization and free-trade. So they don’t trust anything coming from the traditional sources of information anymore. They think immigrants and women are taking over and undercutting America’s greatness. They explicitly deride “political correctness.” The Black President symbolizes all this. So they are fighting back.
The authority of mainline media has diminished because social media has become the primary information source. Social media has democratised the information sector. But there is no longer a fact checking mechanism hence no authoritative referee. Truth is determined by “who is saying it.” Anyone who says what you don’t like is unfriended and banished from your sight, so you see only what you like. Even scientific consensus is considered to be unbalanced if it is inconvenient.
As the result, there are few means to verify facts. Truth no longer depends on facts but on “who is saying it.” Truth is determined according to tribal loyalty, race, nationality, religion, or political ideology, leading to statements such as: “ I believe whatever he says, right or wrong; the NDP is leading us into a catastrophe because they are doing what NDP does (even though the Tories might have done the same thing.)” Even aesthetics can distort facts: Nicholos Sarkosy stated that “Bashar Al Assad can not be so bad because his wife is beautiful.” This is why Mr. Trump can get away with untruths.
We are in trouble even after American election is over, one way or another; we have to find a way to restore faith in truth based on facts.