Look, we already know -- there's no point in fact-checking Donald Trump. He lies and lies and gets away with it because in the "post-truth era," we're well past the point where lying has any consequences.
The issue is not whether or not he's telling the truth anymore. The significance is deeper and more troubling: years of right-wing narratives about "liberal media" and "alternative" sources that are "fair and balanced" have turned the very nature of truth itself into contested terrain. Dear lord, there's an entire artificial ecosystem developed for the express purpose of spreading lies and polluting public discourse with bullshit. What's that sad new meme? We're in the "post-truth" era?
We've been circling around that theme here for the past few weeks. When facts aren't facts anymore, how are we to know what to believe? When words no longer mean what we think they mean, how are we even to understand each other? When we can't distinguish true from false anymore, when every bit of evidence, every observation, every analysis, every study is suspect or biased or part of some sinister agenda, how are we to make sense of things?
Forget rabbit holes. Forget corn mazes. Forget labyrinths. We're talking quicksand.
We all know about confirmation bias and self-reinforcing bubbles and all that, and I've gone on about the fact that we're not even speaking the same language anymore, and the dearth of critical thought, and how people who will dismiss growing and credible evidence of Russian involvement in Trump's ascendancy as just sore-loser speculation will turn around and believe, uncritically, that Hillary Clinton was running a pedophile ring out of a Washington pizza restaurant -- and we're still arguing about whether it's true or not? Contested terrain isn't even the beginning. Forget rabbit holes. Forget corn mazes. Forget labyrinths. We're talking quicksand.
There's a whole other essay -- probably an entire academic discipline, in fact -- to be written on how to bridge that chasm, and how to reason with people when the entire basis for reasoned conversation is so fragile (thanks, Tara, for the nudge), but right now, the concern is more immediate.
We're well past the point where calling Trump out on his lies matters. He's just the most recent and obnoxious manifestation, but there's plenty more to go round -- just think of that fake-news ecosystem. Whether social-media platforms and other content distributors can find a way to deal with it -- if, indeed, they even want to -- isn't even the issue anymore. It's not about fact-checking anymore, and it's not about calling out this liar or that demagogue or phony-content source anymore, either. This is on a whole different scale. This is about reclaiming the idea of truth itself.
So. What are we to do?
We can make the ground more hostile to bullshit, and eventually lies will find it impossible to take root.
Well, I don't want to be a total Debbie Downer, so I do have an answer. It's not easy, but it's not complicated, either. It just requires commitment. To what? To the values I've been advocating all along: open-mindedness, skepticism and critical thinking. When so much is invested in robbing us of our ability or desire to do so, resolving to think critically is the most effective means of resistance there is. Hell, it's practically revolutionary.
And vigilance. Words have meanings. Choice of words matters. When you choose to express yourself in a certain way, you're responsible for the implications. People need to be held to that. As long as the willingness to do that remains, there's hope.
No, it won't be easy. There are decades of atavistic bullshit to push back against. But if it's done firmly and consistently, we can make the ground more hostile to bullshit, and eventually lies will find it impossible to take root.
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The UK's very own Donald Trump is, beyond doubt, Nigel Farage. The leader of the populist UK Independence party (UKIP) relishes in his politically incorrect, beer-swilling, cigar-smoking persona. Avowedly anti-establishment and a privately-educated businessman, he knows that many compare him to The Donald. With a referendum on the UK's membership of the European Union looming, he could have more influence than ever. -- Paul Waugh
Right-wing Congressman Jair Bolsonaro has left a huge mark on Brazil’s political scene. Bolsonaro is one of Brazil's most controversial characters: Military reserve, dictatorship enthusiast, bullet caucus member and “traditional” family defender, he fights mainly against Brazil's minority groups, including gays, women and black people. In Brazil's Chamber of Deputies since 1990, Bolsonaro rails against gay marriage, believes that women's salaries should be lower than men's salaries, and is against affirmative action and the legalization of marijuana. -- Grasielle Castro, reporter, HuffPost Brazil
Like Trump, Doug Ford’s political ambitions are fuelled by a potent combination of anti-intellectual populism and seemingly delusional promises. The Ford brothers had a well-publicized fight with beloved Canadian author Margaret Atwood about cuts to the city’s libraries. He fought against a group home for developmentally-challenged children in his ward calling it a ‘nightmare’. Trump has his border wall and Doug Ford has his waterfront monorail. Trump pays for supporters to show up at his events, Doug Ford hands out $20 bills while canvassing in an affordable housing block. -- Ron Nurwisah, Social media editor, HuffPost Canada
Joachim Herrmann, Bavarian Interior Minister, is never ashamed of a populist comment. He hit a low about a week ago when, during a television talk-show, he referred to Roberto Blanco, a German pop-singer of Afro-Cuban descent, as having "always been a wonderful Negro, adored by most Germans." He insists he didn't mean to sound derogatory. Yet, the word "Negro" is still an insult for people with darker skin — and therefore, isn't a word that's easily justified in conversation. Especially among politicians. What else is Herrmann famous for? A tough policy against refugees and immigrants. That's it, actually. -- Jan David Sutthoff and Christoph Asche, HuffPost Germany
Clive Palmer is a Rolls Royce driving, dinosaur theme park owning, mining magnate -- and the man behind a wholly unsolicited plan to launch a Titanic 2 replica -- who twerked his way into politics in the 2013 federal election. Under the banner of the Palmer United Party, he secured the balance of power by bringing three senators with him, including a retired football legend nicknamed, "The Brick with Eyes" and a Tasmanian Army veteran who revealed her ideal man was endowed with a bulging wallet and trousers. But the PUPs are no longer "united.” Palmer has lost two senators, had a senior adviser caught up in a weird alleged kidnapping case, attracted unwanted scrutiny of his business affairs, was spotted asleep in Parliament, and became an interview talent more likely to walk out in a huff than not. Despite all this, Palmer says he is not giving up politics, and that he would take part in the next election. -- Karen Barlow, Politics editor, HuffPost Australia
As Frank Bruni wrote in the New York Times, Italy had its own Donald Trump far before the American Donald Trump: we’re talking about Silvio Berlusconi, the man who ruled Italy for about nine years – but dominated Italian politics for at least 20. Similarities between the two span from wealth, to style of communication, to Casanova-like behaviors. In 1994, when Silvio Berlusconi decided to enter the political arena, one of his main arguments was very reminiscent of Trump: “I don’t need anyone’s money. I’ve got my own money, I’m very rich, really really rich.” -- Giulia Belardelli, Editor HuffPost Italy
Now that Berlusconi has become a somewhat marginal figure in politics, the new “Italian Trump” is Beppe Grillo, leader of the populist Five Star Movement. He is also a comedian, actor, blogger and political activist. Like Trump, Grillo came into the political arena as an outsider, altering the traditional relationship between politicians and voters. His communication style is informal, vulgar at times, and very loud. He shows off his “outsider” status any chance he can. Both Grillo and Trump present themselves as alternatives to traditional politicians; and their political views are often very extreme. They share the same confidence under the spotlight, and they both bully journalists. -- Giulia Belardelli, Editor HuffPost Italy
We don’t really have a particular politician like Donald Trump in South Korea. We once had an interesting politician -- more of a comical figure -- in our presidential election back in 2007. Huh Kyung-young, leader of his own Democratic Republican Party actually ran for president, and lost. He’s a bit of an odd one who once claimed to have an IQ of 430. While campaigning he proclaimed: "I can change 23 chromosomes and 40,000 DNA in the human body. If someone is diagnosed with uterine cancer, I can treat the cancer within 0.1 seconds just by looking into the patient's eyes." His campaign pledges were also quite crazy, like granting 100 million won to every single couple getting married. He also wanted to move the UN headquarters from NYC to DMZ (Korean Demilitarized Zone), in a town between North Korea and South Korea. Yes. He is that crazy. But he was oddly popular among Korean voters during the election; the press called it ‘Huh Kyung-young syndrome’. Of course he didn’t win the election but he earned nearly 100,000 votes, which is insanely huge. The driving reason behind his popularity was simple: people wanted to express their frustration with the country's politics. Huh was jailed in 2009 for 18 months on charges of defamation, after claiming Park Geun-hye, President of South Korea, would marry him. Today he is all but forgotten in Korean politics, but people still remember his name because he once was a symbol of the public's sarcastic response to South Korean politics. -- Dohoon Kim, HuffPost Korea
Heinz-Christian Strache, Chairman of the Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) says utterly absurd things, often rendering Donald Trump's statements inferior. A few examples? "Putin is, with certainty, a true Democrat, but with an authoritarian style." Or: "Do you know, what foot-and-mouth disease is? It's when East-European workers come to work in the West: they show up and gripe, and when they can't work, they steal." Strache understands populism. And he attracts a terrifying number of Austrians. If things take a bad turn, he'll soon govern in Wien as the new Mayor. And, if recent polls are any indication, the odds are he'll eject the reigning Social Democrats from city-hall. Incidentally, he refers to his political movement as the "Fight for Wien." -- Jan David Sutthoff and Christoph Asche, HuffPost Germany
The Editor-in-Chief of the right-wing conservative "Weltwoche" magazine scatters crass sound-bites on-air whenever he's given the opportunity. Köppel demands, quite openly, that the "death-channel" which the "Muslim masses" use to travel to Europe, be sealed. And: "We can't take in all of Africa." Yet, in contrast to some other right-wing populists, Köppel isn't dumb; in fact, he's highly intelligent. He is a seasoned journalist, and knows how to construct his messages in a way to best reach his target audience. He makes headlines — as a journalist — and now, as a wanna-be politician. Even in Germany, he's a highly popular guest on talk-shows. -- Jan David Sutthoff and Christoph Asche, HuffPost Germany
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