Post-Truth Politics

In 2016 at a Sioux Center in Iowa, Donald trump famously said “I have the most loyal people – did you ever see that? I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters, OK?”

No we know it’s true. On Tuesday a New York jury ruled that Trump had sexually abused the advice columnist E Jean Carroll in an upmarket New York department store changing room 27 years ago. It also awarded about $5m in compensatory and punitive damages: about $2m on the sexual abuse count and close to $3m for defamation, for branding her a liar. The following day CNN gave him a live tv platform at a ‘townhall’ meeting where crowds laughed and cheered as he lied and lied. The Guardian reported that “Afterwards, Trump allies joked that the event in their eyes amounted to an hour of Trump infomercials and should be recorded as an in-kind campaign contribution”.

The hapless moderator Kaitlan Collins tried to fact-check Trump live but the speed at which he delivered his stream of lies made this impossible. He repeated his lie that the 2020 elections were rigged – a claim that Fox News has had to pay out millions for propagating (the voting equipment company Dominion successfully sued Fox News for $1.6bn in damages for knowingly broadcasting false information about the company after the election.) He claimed the judge was “horrible” in his trial – a trial he failed to call any witnesses for – or appear at. He re-wrote history denying he had asked Georgia’s Secretary of State to ‘find’ 11, 780 votes. We’ve all heard the audio. Then he claimed that foreign countries were sending millions of migrants from prisons and mental institutions into the USA.

Why does any of this matter? We know Trump is a liar and we know that US tv networks are a travesty of journalism. So what? Who cares?

Well there’s three different reasons why this matters. The first is the idea that ‘when America sneezes Britain catches cold’. In a globalised world American culture, mannerisms and trends cross the Atlantic (and beyond) in a heartbeat. Trump and Trumpism contaminates the body politic not just in the USA with its modes and memes of reactionary populism. The British right is riddled with ‘Atlantacists’ and cheerleaders for Trump who can barely wait to amplify his toxic politics on a domestic stage.

The second is the general impact such a grotesque figure serves. The idea that a figure can be prosecuted for sexual abuse and this can have no impact on his running for President is extraordinary. We knew Trump was a misogynist. He told us. But the effect of having such a figure given such an incredible platform with those views and actions is a degradation of our social and cultural life. The message it sends to men everywhere is ‘you can abuse women – be prosecuted – and then be celebrated and given the highest office in the land’. The implicit acceptance of this sort of behaviour leaves a sort of psychic oose on all of us.

The third reason it’s still worth charting Trump and America’s dire tv media, is that he might win. Trump’s prosecution in court didn’t weaken him at all. His supporters are so immersed in the crazy Trump narrative that when Trump was indicted, also in New York, over hush money paid to the former porn star Stormy Daniels his approval numbers among Republicans went up. For the true believers, the indictment merely vindicated Trump’s claim that he is the martyred victim of a liberal deep state. Believe in the rule of law – or due process has effectively collapsed in America.

The polls don’t look good. Incredibly, after all he has said and done, a Washington Post/ABC survey showed President Biden six points behind Trump. Trump’s supporters operate in information silos – algorithms send them the stuff they want – and none of the previous realities that would unseat a normal candidate – like a moral compass, critical thinking or shame have any impact at all. Facts don’t matter. Truth is irrelevant. His opponents (Republican or Democrat) are useless. ‘Sleepy’ Joe Biden has some wins he can sell – like on jobs and the environment – but he will be 86 by the end of his next term and voters are (understandably) not convinced he has the mental capacity for the job.

But if post-truth is pre-fascism – and this is the greatest threat to democracy that the Trump phenomenon presents, there is another one. The reality is that the liberal hegemony that the Democrats represent is deeply distrusted by millions of Americans. The failure to face the origins of Trumpism – widespread disaffection and the myths of the rustbelt is a problem for any progressive alternative. The power – and dark hypocrisy of the religious right in supporting such a man is a moral stain, but also a political reality. America stands once again on a threshold of a very fragile democracy. The fact that there is much crossover (as ever) between Democrat and Republican policy will not prevent Trump framing a Biden candidacy as either dangerously radical, ‘woke’ or part of a liberal deep state. The reality that Trumps supporters include armed militia and a hefty brew of America’s far-right is deeply worrying. But so too is the fact that the deeply reactionary policies around immigration, race, crime and gender have become completely normalised. Issues and ideas that would have been unthinkable a few years ago – hard-fought rights and democratic ideals – such as a woman’s right to have control over her own body – have been abandoned – and if you think this can be contained within America you’re not paying attention.

Finally this is about the media in western democracy. CNN’s disastrous decision to host Trump in this way is a marker of what’s to come. It was a terrible editorial decision in desperate search of ratings and connection with the Trump camp. It speaks to a wider malaise in broadcast and print media about how you deal with toxic and fascist populism as it sweeps across broken societies coughing up simplistic stories to the disaffected. Truth matters, facts matter, behaviour matters. To abandon all is to enter a new zone of politics that could have appalling consequences for us all.


  • In a previous version of this article we mistook George Santos for Ron DeSantis. Corrected with apologies, thanks to P. Kerr for pointing out our error.


Comments (19)

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  1. Jim Aitken says:

    Yes, I am in agreement with this argument. However, I think it should also be seen in regard to how capitalist crises has got us here. As Yeats once said ‘the centre cannot hold’ and dangerous demagogic clowns like Berlusconi, Johnson, Trump come along to fill the vacuum. The forces on the left are disparate and fighting along single issues like climate change, Black Lives Matter, LGBT. Italy has now turned fascist, the way paved by the antics of Berlusconi. Macron could so easily be creating the conditions for a Marine Le Pen to come to power by raising the pension age. Here, of course, we are considering raising it to 68! These dark forces are already here and only a united left and one that starts to talk about class again will be able to avert this.

    1. Cathie Lloyd says:

      Agreed, Jim but the ‘single issues’ you refer to have much wider ramifications which have far reaching implications. For instance energy production and distribution is not just a green issue but is linked to power relations within the UK providing strong arguments for our independence. BLM reaches into questions of social justice, human rights. Working with these diverse intersectional movements to build a massive argument for our self determination.

    2. Iain MacLean says:

      A united left would be the optimum platform to work from in Scotland, but a significant party of the left (if they can still be called left) labour, seeks to keep Scotland, by fair means of foul, in a political construct that permanently benefits and is run by the deeply established brtitish right, now verging on far right. A right who stoop to any low where lying and treachery are common place and have been long in existence prior to Trump, during Trump and will continue post Trump until Scotland gains independence.

      The papers, the state broadcaster all work in the interests of the british right, always have always will. The monarchy can also be included in the armoury of the british right. A partnership of the left including or working with labour in Scotland will always result in governments of the right ruling the uk for two thirds of our lives.

      I’d be interested to learn from others how in Scotland we can forge a unity of the left whilst labour see their main prize as winning power in a parliament where Scotland and her people are a mere after thought?

  2. Lynn Reid says:

    Sorry to sound a note of cynicism but in saying truth, facts and behaviour matter and abandoning all is effectively entering some new chapter in our political lives is slightly naive surely? This is already insidious and indeed overt in Conservative party politics and that ‘attitude’ is showing in cross party politics, particularly in the behavioural sense. You are very right, however, in saying CNN made a disastrous decision in giving Trump free rein to laud his dangerous right wing lies and this does not auger well for further events such as this to happen at home. The. ‘ anything goes’ style of behaviour and interviews can only enhance dangerous right wing polemic which is affecting ( to a slightly lesser extent in Scotland ) all our lives at the moment.

    1. SleepingDog says:

      @Lynn Reid, well, quite. I am just reading about the 1895-1914 decades in Critics of Empire: British Radicals and the Imperial Challenge by Bernard Porter (1968) who provides ample evidence of lying pretexts for colonial wars, irrational and reactionary jingoism with a dark heart, and the war-worship spun up theologians among others.

      Politics have been diverted towards small-minded focuses on people and events throughout recorded history. The challenge is to provide large-scale models of sufficient prognostic capabilities that can be tested and revised in decision timescales. Today this is exampled by the Integrated Assessment Models used by the IPCC (there is a controversy about corporate influence on these that does not undermine the concept itself). The forces of anti-science naturally array themselves against this approach, since it distributes authority evenly across the globe and out of the domain of subjective, party or theological sources.

    2. Hi Lynn – yeah you are right – the Trump phenomenon is across extension off an existing trend – but I think it takes it to new extremes.

      This from Peter Pomerantsev:

      “What happens when the powerful stop being scared of the truth, indeed flaunt their disregard for it – as we see in the behaviour of Russia’s Vladimir Putin and America’s Donald Trump? Why has shame disappeared and why does impunity reign? Are we now helpless to hold the powerful to account?

      In the US last week, Trump was again lying “bigly” and brazenly. At a televised CNN town hall event, the journalist Katie Collins tried to rein him in with ropes of evidence and rational argument but he just revelled in rejecting any truth or logic. According to Trump, the presidential election that he lost in 2020 was “rigged”, despite there being no proof for any such claims; the reporter E Jean Carroll, whom a civil jury found Trump guilty of defaming and sexually abusing, was just a “whack job”; when Collins pulled him up over the classified documents that Trump had removed from the White House, he dismissed her as a “nasty person”. The audience in New Hampshire, full of Trump fans, whooped and cheered. Instead of being “held to account” with the truth, Trump had a field day showing how he didn’t give a hoot about it. Why do his supporters enjoy this so much?

      There is, first of all, a powerful relief that comes from throwing off the weight of facts, the constraints of glum reality.

      Facts are generally unpleasant things, but they are useful for politicians who are trying to establish some sort of proof that their big policy is working.

      But Trump had no stable policies: he can be righter than right, and then pivot left when it suits him. Ever since Florida governor Ron DeSantis, his rival to head the Republican party, has tried to show he is more conservative than Trump – and most Americans – on issues such as abortion, Trump has made himself look more liberal.

      Nor has Trump any ideals that you could shame him into having betrayed. Instead, he appeals to a sense of pure resentment, where throwing off all forms of authority and responsibility – the authority of logic, ideals, rational policies, the “elites” – is what makes him attractive to people.

      In a democracy such as the US, however, reality can take revenge. Trump’s rejection of the facts about Covid cost him the 2020 election. Every month, more court cases pile up against him: most seriously, for (allegedly) trying to force officials in Georgia to count more votes in his favour in 2020. Fox News, the Trump-supporting television network that has knowingly peddled conspiracy theories supporting his claims of a “rigged” election, has just paid out $787m (£633m) to the company it accused of falsifying votes.
      Putin has fewer restraints. Unlike previous warmongering dictators, he doesn’t even try to hide his atrocities and intent to commit genocide in Ukraine. Putin and his propagandists speak openly about their desire to destroy Ukrainian identity and sovereignty, of abducting Ukrainian children and forcibly re-educating them. The Russian army shells maternity hospitals, obliterates civilian infrastructure and entire cities. Putin wants to show he can mass murder openly, and there is nothing anyone can do about it. He wants to open a chasm between truth and justice so the connection between the two is utterly ruptured.”

  3. Jim says:

    Can I give a shout-out to all anti-fascists reading this post. Next Sunday, 21st May, the STUC and Stand Up To Racism have called a counter demonstration against the Fascist Homeland Party who are demonstrating against refugees in an Erskine Hotel. If you can come along to party against Fascism and support the residents of the Hotel. The Homeland Party are a split from the Fascist Patriotic Alternative. Let’s send the Homeland Party away with their tail between their legs!

  4. PK says:

    I agree with all of the points in this article but I’m wondering if you have mistaken George Santos for Ron DeSantis. The latter is a contender for Republican candidate and is Trump lite, Santos is the fantasist who, as far as I know, has never been considered a contender.

    1. Aargh. Yes. Sorry. You are right. This is bad.

      1. SleepingDog says:

        @Editor, I hope my meagre regular donation pools with more generous contributions to afford a house fact-checker…

        1. Sadly not – but thanks!

    2. Have updated and added a correction note.

  5. 230515 says:

    There always comes the point beyond which lying becomes counterproductive. This point is reached when the audience to which the lies are addressed is forced to disregard altogether the distinguishing line between truth and falsehood in order to be able to survive. Truth or falsehood – it does not matter which anymore if your life depends on your acting as though you trusted; truth that can be relied on disappears entirely from public life and, with it, the chief stabilizing factor in our ever-changing affairs.

  6. Sheena Jardine says:

    The basic premise for this article is that we have never been lied to by the media, and that Trump is all bad. Sadly, during the 2014 referendum, I watched how the BBC and other news outlets, including newspapers, used all sorts of tactics of lies, misleading and withholding of information, especially that of the YES side, to try and herd people down the path of fear and voting NO. This is called propaganda.

    Our news outlets have been using these tactics for years, probably decades, to control what people think and also what they know. It happened again during Covid years, pushing fear tactics, and badmouthing and ignoring all those people, including experts, who had different opinions from the mainstream. We know there are people willing to lie to shut up and discredit truth tellers, such as Julian Assange.

    So, I am completely disillusioned by the mainstream media and I don’t think what is going on with Trump is particularly unusual, he is perhaps just saying things which go against the narrative. He shouldn’t be dismissed just because the mainstream media likes to paint him as an idiot. We all need to start questioning what we get told and listen to what people are actually saying and think for ourselves.

    1. Hi Sheena – the premise of the article is not that we have never been lied to before. Bella has been criticising western media for well before Trump existed as a political phenomenon.

      Far from the MSM portraying Trump like an idiot – they gave him a huge platform to lie from. That was what the article was about?

      1. Sheena Jardine says:

        Your article is called post-truth politics. This is simply incorrect. We have never, ever, had ‘truth’ politics, we have been lied to, in all ways, at all times, for years, maybe decades as I said. Perhaps some of what Trump says is actually true, who knows. The jury is out, but as I said before, we have to all start using our own discernment and I know for a fact that I no longer believe anything at face value which the mainstream media tells us. I ask myself instead, what are they trying to infer and make us think. They are adept at the art of brainwashing.

        As for allegations made against prominent people, often good truthful people like Julian Assange, I take them with a pinch of salt. There are so many willing to lie for money. Look at the Alex Salmond case, another example.

        1. Hi Sheena – Bella isnt mainstream media. What of Trump says do you think is true?

          1. Sheena Jardine says:

            The first thing that made me think about Trump is that during the years of his presidency he started no wars. I have thought for many years about how the US are the biggest terrorists on the planet, followed only by the UK. So no new wars during the Trump years made me think. Once Biden got in, the warmongering began again right away, virtually the same day. I watched this interview with Trump and I liked when he said, I don’t care whether Russia or Ukraine wins, I just want the people to stop killing each other. Regarding election rigging, I now think it is most likely to be real, I certainly have my suspicions regarding our 2014 referendum and also the ousting of Alex Salmond from his seat. That was odd and very sudden. There is much more corruption going on than we know.

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