Among the many unsettling developments of the incipient Trump era, Oxford Dictionaries this week declared “post-truth” its international word of the year. The term is defined by the dictionary as an adjective “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”
As with the real news that fake news disseminated on Facebook may have tilted the US presidential election, the real news — at least it seems real, it’s hard to tell in a post-truth world — that post-truth is now a thing, elicits the immediate reaction of “How did this happen?” and the subsequent reaction, “What can we do about it?”
How did this happen is fairly easily explained by nearly two decades of Balloon Boys, tanning moms, reality shows and creepy clown epidemics — a post-internet, social media-fuelled extravaganza of content, overwhelmingly contrived, in which objective facts have been less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.
Donald Trump has been both a purveyor of this content — in both the entertainment and political realms— and beneficiary of the phenomenon that has elevated it to the status of fact.
The political exploitation of post-truth may be new to America in its most recent, emotionally charged incarnation as opposed to its less sophisticated, pre-post-truth manifestations, which included lying, prevaricating, non-denial denials and pathological parsing, all of which were considered politically undesirable, possibly disqualifying and, occasionally, impeachable.
But it is not new to other, l