It has been said that given the continued buoyancy of the candidacy of one Donald J. Trump, that we are living in the “post-fact” era. This means that a candidate for high office, like Mr Trump, can lie all he wants, be called out for his lies, confronted with clear evidence of his lies, continue to repeat them, and suffer no serious consequences. Indeed, this has been borne out by almost everything that has spewed forth from Mr Trump during the course of this campaign. They are almost too many to list in one post, but I’ll take a wee swing at it.
- “I opposed the Iraq war.” (He didn’t until 2 years after it started. In fact, he was for the war prior to its beginning.)
- “Hillary Clinton started birtherism. I ended it.” (Not only did Mrs Clinton not start birtherism, Mr Trump loudly championed the “cause” for five freaking years!)
- “I can’t release my tax returns because I’m being audited.” (The IRS has said nothing about being audited precludes you from releasing your tax returns. If anything, the words of Donald Trump Jr give a much clearer insight into why the said tax returns are not forthcoming. Hint: they don’t want to create 300 million tax experts.)
- “I never said not paying taxes makes me smart.” (In his first debate with Mrs Clinton, he interjected into her comment that perhaps he wasn’t releasing his tax returns because it would show he hadn’t been paying federal income tax, “That makes me smart.” Then, literally 15 minutes later, in response to a question in the “Spin Room” he flatly denied saying so.)
In any event, Mr Trump’s most egregious lies are well-documented elsewhere. What is important is that none of these flat out lies have dented his standing with his “base”. If anything, the more he gets called out for lying, the more vociferously he is defended. It is mind boggling.
However, nowhere is the post-fact era more keenly seen than in the United Kingdom. During the Brexit Campaign, it was claimed by the “Leave” side that the UK was sending £300 million per week to the EU, which would be better put to use in the NHS. This claim, which was debunked during the campaign, but somehow still played a role in making up the minds of some “Leave” voters, was spectacularly abandoned the morning the results came in and the “Leave” side was declared the winner. And, not only have those responsible for this high-profile lie never been punished, Boris Johnson (one of the key architects and promoters of this lie) was made Foreign Secretary! Think about that for a second. A man who says Africans have “watermelon smiles” is in charge of the UK’s foreign policy.
However, perhaps it is unfair to lay the blame for the post-fact era squarely at the feet of Donald Trump and his ilk. We need to go back a bit further for moment telling big lies to the public became mainstream (and was rewarded). In the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq, the world was reassured by the United States and United Kingdom that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and the willingness to use them. There was the famous CGI presentation of Colin Powell to the United Nations Security Council. There was the British claim that Saddam could launch a full-scale chemical weapons attack in mere minutes. Both countries were adamant (despite all the evidence to the contrary) that Saddam Hussein had a stockpile of WMDs somewhere in the country. 13 years on, and not only did they never find these fabled weapons, enquiry after enquiry has concluded that they had no actual evidence of the weapons existence in the first place. Saddam Hussein did have mustard gas once upon a time, but that was sold to him by the Americans.
Now, how did the American and British voting public react to being so cleverly played for fools by their respective governments? They re-elected George W. Bush to a second term, and Tony Blair’s Labour Party also won the next UK elections. Mr Blair himself only left office after a palace coup in his party.
It would be fair then to say that it was at this moment that the seed took root. If you lie, and lie big, and have the guts and gumption to stick the lie out to the very bitter end, it’s probably not going to do you much damage. All you need to do is make sure the people who don’t care about your lies outnumber those who do.