You can't handle the truth! (Donald Trump and the Post-Truth Era)

The day is grey and miserable.

Toblerone rationing has been introduced, proving even chocolate can be bitten by austerity. My train has been cancelled--again--due to an accident on the line. I'm crammed (along with three-dozen other commuters) into a grim replacement bus service, trundling slowly toward London. 

The weather is cold. We cling to our coats and scarves.

"I know, I know," says the cockney lady on the seat behind me, chirping into her phone. "Donald Trump. I just can't understand it."



That was November 9th, the day after the American election.

Tomorrow, the Electoral College votes. The expectation is that they will ratify Donald Trump's victory.

The period in between is roughly the amount of time it has taken me to stop screaming, and settle into a sort of comfortable, resigned horror at this prospect.

It's also about the time it's taken for a new phrase to rise up and dominate the media landscape. In the aftermath of the election, "post-truth," became the word of the year, touted by political commentators as the reason for Trump's victory. We are living in the post-truth era, goes the argument, where little things like facts have become irrelevant to political discourse. What other explanation can there be for voting in a presidential candidate with a record of telling the truth approximately 4% of the time?

The problem with the phrase "post-truth" is that it brands itself as being something novel--a scary new age we are courting, thanks to the strange quirks of our information landscape. It's a notion that seeks to characterise itself as some curious, recently-evolved beast, a unique product of the 21st century.  

(As if a politician who brazenly lies to people has never gotten into power before.)

Unfortunately, that's not really the case. Donald Trump's disturbing popularity isn't owed to anything specific to the present. The ability of a man to appeal to emotion and belief over facts is nothing revolutionary. Pretending otherwise is as big a lie as any other; an attempt to make it seem like the modern day is somehow separate from past, instead of an extension of it.

Instead, the real issue stems from something that seems hard-baked into human nature. It's always been here, an everyday part of life, something insidious and troubling and all too easy to ignore.

Basically, it is The Daily Mail



"You can't trust newspapers, you know," is a sentiment I've often heard.

Oddly, I've often heard it from elderly gentlemen who spend their Sunday mornings bent over tabloids like The Daily Mail, grumbling at the latest story about invading immigrants.

People have a remarkable ability to pick and choose information, like magpies rooting for gems in dirt. They pluck hopes and fears from sources they know to be questionable, and hold onto them just in case. Everybody knows that newspapers are biased, politicians are all crooked, and there are lurking con-men behind every promise of a new tomorrow. But still, people are swayed by tabloid scoops, choose if a source is trustworthy today, and vote for men like Donald Trump when they come in swearing to make the world a better place.

The information age doesn't help, of course. Most hard-working folk have only a few free hours in the day, and they're now forced to contend with a slew of different information channels, most of which feel biased, some of which are insulting, and some of which are just repeating the same five or six lies over and over again in loud letters until they sink in.

And Trump's election is a matter of enormous significance, because never before has such a brazen liar gained control of the most powerful political and military entity in human history. But the problem (assuming you think there's a problem with giving the nuclear button to a man who cannot be trusted with his twitter account when under stress) is nothing shiny or new in character.  

The problem is not that the truth is out of style.

The problem is that human beings have always been willing to replace the truth with hope for something better.

Or fear of something worse.