The world has gone through many changes and various political phases.
The 1950’s saw a rapid rise in globalization with the advent of the Bretton Woods Conference. The 1989 revolution saw the demise of communism in many parts of the world. Recently, 2016 has witnessed the beginning of the post-truth era. Hence, it is no coincidence that the Oxford dictionary had selected ‘post-truth’ as the 2016’s word of the year. The dictionary defines post-truth as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influenced in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief”. Facts for all these years have shaped the discourse and has helped us understand the world we live in. Politics based on a scientific approach with a great emphasis on facts has now moved on to a more interpretive approach where alternative facts shaped by emotion are greatly emphasized. The Post-truth politics is interconnected with the rise of populist authoritarian regimes. Political campaigns have been designed to undermine the liberal world order and the neoliberal policies by evoking emotion and alternative facts.
Mathew D’ Ancona in his book ‘Post Truth’ had said, “Rationality is threatened by emotion, diversity by nativism, liberty by a drift towards autocracy”.
These words reflect the present narrative globally. The election of Donald Trump as Americas’ President, Brexit and the politics practiced by the Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi stand as exemplifications for the politics practiced in the post-truth era.
Most of the times alternative facts altered by emotion amount to lies. Social media has become the latest weapon for politicians and political parties to propagate their views and has become a medium for political campaigning in the era of post truth politics. Fake news and lies are spread on social media which suit the advantages of politicians. Donald Trump’s political campaign had highlighted the latter. His quotes on climate change, President Obama, Hillary Clinton, immigration and on many more issues have been found to be false and misleading. Hillary Clinton had become a victim of this fake news propagated by the Trump Campaign during the Presidential campaign. A report by ‘Politifact’ suggested that 70% of what Donald Trump has said till now is either false or mostly false. Lets’ for example take the latest issue in the United States: the government shutdown caused due to a lack of consensus between the democrats and the republicans on the funding toward construction of a wall on the U.S. border to Mexico. Donald Trump in most of the election campaigns had promised that a wall would be built, and that Mexico would pay for it. However, now he wants the US to fund it. Hence, he had misled the people by making false promises not backed by facts, but emotion.
In Brexit, the leave campaign similarly made false allegations not backed by facts and figures. The leave campaign argued that the United Kingdom (UK) has been paying approximately 350 million pounds to the European Union (EU) and that the same amount could be used to fund the National Health Service (NHS) if the UK exited the EU. Another claim was made regarding the, accession of Turkey in the EU and that if that happens it would pose a serious threat to the UK as it would be exposed to mass Muslim immigration. Such claims had a blatant disregard for facts and figures. It is surprising that many in the international diaspora do not talk about the post truth politics practiced by Narendra Modi of India. I had always believed that Mr Modi was one of the first few leaders globally to practice such politics. His 2014 election campaign was filled with lies, false promises and emotional speeches not backed by logic and facts. Such politics had earned the Prime Minister the tag of a ‘liar’ and his proposed promises has been called ‘jumlas’ (false promises). His disregard for the truth is astonishing. For instance, in one of the state elections in India, he had alleged that the former Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh belonging to the Congress party had hatched a conspiracy with the neighboring state of Pakistan in influencing that state election. Such irresponsible and false statements coming from a person holding a high office such that of a Prime Minister just stands as testimony to the fact that we live in an era of post truth politics.
Critiques of the post-truth concept have stated that lies, propaganda and alternative facts have been present prior to 2016 and that they are not new to this world. However, they fail to understand that currently there seems to be a denial of the objective reality.
Fake news, lies, alternative facts and evoking people’s emotions have become an election strategy.
Regimes in many countries including the US and India now want to re-write history and destroy the legacy of the past leaders using false propaganda and lies. In India, the Modi Government has been carrying out well-planned propaganda to destroy the legacy of the former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, one of the founding fathers of Independent India. Such are the times we live in, times where emotions matter more than facts, where lies and falsehood shake the very foundations of democracy and times where the truth is despised and untruth is revered.
However, I will end on an optimistic note. These are crucial times for us, the people to unite and stand against falsehood and lies. It is critical for journalists to fight fake news and restore the tenets of journalism. Narratives will be thrust upon us, but it is for us to stand up and reject them. We can together overcome this war on truth.
In conclusion, there is a saying in the classical language of Tamil, “வாய்மையே வெல்லும்” or “Vaymaiye Vellum” which means “Truth Alone Triumphs”.