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Fighting The Normalization Of Post-truth Politics - Intentional Insights
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Donald Trump’s rally speech in Phoenix on August 22 was full of falsehoods. The lack of outrage over his deceptive statements points to the Normalization of post-truth politics when appeals to personal beliefs and emotions win out over objective facts. To avoid this normalization, we need to borrow the successful tactics of the environmental movement in dealing with the pollution of our environment.
During his speech, according to highly credible fact-checking organizations such as Factcheck.org and Politifact, Trump misled the audience as to his reaction to the Charlottesville violence, such as by neglecting to mention that he blamed “both sides.” He made false claims about the media, for instance that CNN’s ratings went down when they are rising or that the media failed to report on Trump’s condemnation of racism when they did. In the economic arena, he stated that wages “haven’t gone up for a long time,” when actually they’ve risen for at least the last three years. Another example of economic deception: Trump wrongly claimed that the US has “become an energy exporter for the first time ever just recently.”
Where is the outrage over these deceptions?
This is our President, systematically sowing misinformation. Most of his falsehoods – such as the statement about the wages or CNN ratings – had been debunked earlier. Yet he kept repeating them, leaving no other interpretation than a deliberate intent to deceive, the dictionary definition of lying.
This lying is part of a broader pattern: Trump’s Politifact file shows an astounding 49 percent of his statements, is false. By comparison, his opponent in the US presidential election Hillary Clinton’s file shows that only 12 percent of her statements were false, 14 percent for the Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. Despite Trump’s extremely high rate of deception, many still believe him. As an example, 44 percent of those polled believed his falsehoods about Obama wiretapping Trump Tower during the 2016 election campaign.
Thus, many will believe his Phoenix rally claims, despite debunking by fact-checkers. Unfortunately, 29 percent of the public and only 12 percent of Trump supporters trust fact-checkers. This mistrust enables Trump to pollute our politics with deception, undermining the trust so crucial to the political health of any democracy.
How do we stop this pollution of truth by post-truth tactics?
The modern environmental movement is successfully dealing with a somewhat similar problem, namely addressing the physical pollution of our environment. The historical consensus is that the launch of the modern environmental movement came with the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring in 1962. This and other similar publications brought about an awakening of the public to the danger posed by environmental pollution to individual and community health and led to the coordinated movement of activists – Republican and Democrat – fighting for the environment.
The marked difference in the reaction to the two fires stemmed from the launch of the modern environmental movement, combining the coordinated actions of activists to seek out and highlight these problems with heightened public attention awareness of the danger of environmental pollution. We can do the same for the pollution of truth by launching a pro-truth movement. Such a movement would require a coordinated group of activists holding public figures accountable for deception as well as publicly highlighting the danger that post-truth politics poses to the health of our democracy.
By launching a nonpartisan pro-truth movement, we can avoid the normalization of post-truth politics. Doing so will help ensure that the kind of falsehoods uttered by Trump at the Phoenix rally get a response equivalent to the 1969 fire on the Cuyahoga River, rather than 1952 one. Whether the pro-truth movement takes off depends on how many people choose to take the pledge and join the effort to protect the health of our democracy from the pollution of truth and destruction of trust in our political system.
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