Post truth politics

Everyone knows, or at least thinks, that politicians tell lies, or at least state things that aren’t fully truthful, and promise things that they know they can’t deliver on.

Misleading and false claims were a prominent feature of Britian’s Brexit referendum success.

The US election brought politics and lies to a whole new level.

Hillary Clinton wasn’t truthful about things, and she admitted duplicity – telling one thing to those with power and money, and another thing to the plebs. The plebs have rebelled, or at least enough plebs didn’t vote for Clinton or voted against her to deny her the presidency.

Donald Trump took lying to a .new level. He seemed to simply not care about telling lies, untruths, making up accusations and repeating them despite them having been proven wrong. And he got elected, to the surprise of many and the horror of some.

This isn’t the first time something like this has happened. Silvio Berlusconi  apparently played a similar game – @gtiso: “Berlusconi’s secret weapon leading into the 1994 elections was he worked out he could just lie all the time. The whopper the better.” – (and Berlusconi had a media background and may have been much sleazier than Trump) see Clinton v Trump, round 1.

New York Times wrote about post-truth on August – The Age of Post-Truth Politics

Facts hold a sacred place in Western liberal democracies. Whenever democracy seems to be going awry, when voters are manipulated or politicians are ducking questions, we turn to facts for salvation.

But they seem to be losing their ability to support consensus.

For the Brexit referendum, Leave argued that European Union membership costs Britain 350 million pounds a week, but failed to account for the money received in return.

If the British government had spent more time trying to track public sentiment toward the European Union and less time repeating the facts of how the British economy benefited from membership in the union, it might have fought the Brexit referendum campaign differently and more successfully.

PolitiFact has found that about 70 percent of Donald Trump’s “factual” statements actually fall into the categories of “mostly false,” “false” and “pants on fire” untruth.

The sense is widespread: We have entered an age of post-truth politics.

Nicholas Reed Smith writes about this at The Spinoff: The Trump phenomenon proves that electoral politics has failed. Time to try something new

(Brexit and the US election) demonstrate that we are entering a new age of politics in the West, a post-truth age. Coined by the blogger David Roberts in 2010, post-truth politics denotes “a political culture in which politics (public opinion and media narratives) have become almost entirely disconnected from policy (the substance of legislation)”

The main catalyst for the emergence of post-truth politics has been the incursion of social media into the centre of our everyday lives. Originally, the internet was seen as a tool to liberate us, giving everyone access to information free from the hierarchies of everyday life. However, it has seemingly done the opposite, leading to the rise of misinformation and with it, the demise of expertise.

Social media is particularly key to the emergence of the post-truth age because thanks to the advanced algorithms at the heart of these platforms our lives online have gradually become echo chambers that echo our inherent biases back to us. The echo chamber effect means that our while our ideological convictions strengthen, our openness to critique and revision of these ideas is reduced.

This explains why so many of us have been shocked by Brexit and the election of Trump. We were told in both cases that neither outcome had any real chance of happening. The experts, the pollsters and the ordinary people we saw on our social media platforms all gave us an impression that these phenomena were fringe movements which would be soundly beaten by the masses.

A silver lining of Brexit and Trump is that our echo chambers are collectively shattering. Realising that we have become detached from reality is an important step to correcting the ills of post-truth politics.

The first lesson is that conventional campaign strategies do not succeed in a post-truth world. The Trump and Brexit campaigns found fertile ground because they embraced the idea of non-linear campaigning. In a nutshell, a non-linear campaign aims to make its movement undefinable through a never-ending shapeshifting of contradictory statements and actions. The idea is that if something is undefinable, then it is also uncriticisable.

This non-linear idea was created in Russia, the brainchild of one of Vladimir Putin’s more flamboyant advisers, Vladislav Surkov. Putin has used this non-linear approach for some time domestically and also used it in his intervention in Ukraine. The Ukraine example shows how the Kremlin has used misinformation to try and achieve their goal of destabilising the country, a strategy which has had some success.

While many are pointing the finger at Putin for directly interfering in the US elections, his greatest influence, in my mind, has been as an inspiration for Trump’s campaign. While few people are prepared to give Trump any credit, with many chastising him as a buffoon, Trump has played this non-linear role to perfection. Trump has continually contradicted himself while ignoring refutations, all of which created a bewildering and undefinable movement.

These tactics have proven to be both dishonest and successful.

Post-truth (political lying) has been around for a long time in New Zealand. Winston Peters is even openly claiming the ‘Trump’ tactics and successes as his.

There have been claims of dishonesty and Trump-like tactics in the Mt Roskill by-election – see Fight over Roskill which centred around accusations of attacks on the wife of Labour candidate Michael Wood.

Are we know going to see a rush to lie and abuse in the style of Trump?

If so this is likely to alienate the public further from the dirt of politics, given that the two combatants in the Mt Roskill incident were from long established parties rather than offering a break from the establishment.

Leave a comment


  1. “in the style of Trump” again really?

    The tactics Trump has used have been around since politics started. He is nothing new…. I suspect if we dredge the tomes on Greek CIty States we will find the word demogogue and the rabble rousing techniques they used. And guess what those techniques were often post fact …. and also involved shifting positions….


    “This non-linear idea was created in Russia, the brainchild of one of Vladimir Putin’s more flamboyant advisers, Vladislav Surkov. Putin has used this non-linear approach for some time domestically and also used it in his intervention in Ukraine.”

    Again please!!! See the note above and consider the active disinformation campaigns of the Cold War as a not so distant example of the non-linear approach. Both sides moved their rhetoric often and often were strangers from the truth. Consider America home of the Free, Consider The USSR has achieved another glorious lift in Coal/Steel/Cotton production…

    “Oceania was at war with Eastasia: Oceania had always been at war with Eastasia”

  2. Gezza

     /  13th November 2016

    Trump is already making it pretty clear that he he said & did whatever it took to get the job. Two generations have now been programmed to see this as normal & acceptable. It’s called “embellishing your CV”, overstating your quals & experience, & is frequently accompanied by white lying during the interview, in the hope that once you get the job, you’ll pick it up quickly so nobody will remember or care about what you said at the interview, so it won’t matter.

    Hell, Work & Income even tell jobseekers to do this at their seminars. It’s a pervasive thing in the job market now. One of the things you do when interviewing potential staff is try to assess how much of what they tell you is bullshit.

    Of course, it can also go spectacularly wrong if it eventually becomes obvious to everyone you should never have got the job because you are terrible at it. So now we’re all waiting to see whether Trump can actually do the job he talked his way into.

  3. duperez

     /  13th November 2016

    Maybe lying is a victim of modern media.

    In the 1940s and ’50s a politician being questioned by reporters was probably a little different that in 2010. The resulting material from the questions and answers arrived at our eyes (and maybe our ears) a lot differently.

    Words in the Herald (or wherever) did not have the impact of the modern sight and sound.

    A politician stands there telling the story to answer the questions and we get to see the body language, hear the prevarication and defensiveness, and feel the uncertainty in the exactness.

    “Big German? Helicopter ride? Mansion? I know nothing.”

    The adage had it that “the truth hurts.” Maybe the truth is that lies no longer hurt.

  4. Blazer

     /  13th November 2016

    the basis of Keys success is definately not speaking the truth.His semantics and swerving are quite extraordinary…I will resign if NZers are subjected to mass surveillance.”….No,NO thats ‘bulk collection’ a completely different animal.

  5. Righties recalling ‘them good ole days of factual journalism’ is absolutely f^*Ken hilarious … It sounds very much like what people constantly accuse me of all the time … Seeing pre-Rogernomics NZ thru rose-tinted spectacles …

    Never mind that there might be such a thing as historic blue-tinted dark glasses as well …? See everything tinged Commie Red and negatively …?

    I recall researching about Parihaka some years ago and discovering the pointed and blatant ‘political’ difference in reporting between the ‘gentry farmer’ NZ Herald and the ‘hired man’ Lyttleton Times …

    We pakeha owe an enormous debt of gratitude to Croumbie-Brown of the ‘Times’ for finding a back-way into the village and reporting events from Te Whiti & Tohu’s side of the ‘surveyors lines’ … [motivated, I gather, by his loathing of that brutal oaf and Handley’s Woolshed child murderer John Bryce] … Parihaka was New Zealand’s day of judgement … our Wounded Knee … our Gandhi’s Salt March … our Sharpeville Massacre …


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