The 'post-truth' president flattens fact-obsessed media: Neil Macdonald

U.S. president-elect Donald Trump brilliantly recognized and owned post-truthism long ago while other politicians were still stupidly issuing concocted fact-checks

Trump brilliantly recognized post-truthism long ago, while others were still stupidly issuing fact-checks

Trump also realized the crucial value in a bumper-sticker culture of keeping his fact-free blurts to 140 characters (Mike Segar/Reuters)

Somewhat haplessly, the Washington Post's superb fact-checking department awarded president-elect Donald Trump four "Pinocchios" for his claim that millions of people voted illegally for Hillary Clinton, and that he in fact won the popular vote, or, as Trump now prefers to call it, "the so-called popular vote."

The Post's main headline called it a "baseless claim." The New York Times used classic Times-speak: "Trump Claims 'Millions' Voted Illegally, Citing No Evidence."

All of this is rather quaint, if admirable. Both newspapers, like other firmaments in the fussy, old-fashioned world of the mainstream media, continue to behave as though citing evidence, or making claims based in fact, actually still matters.

Talk about left behind. A massive segment of the U.S. population has happily said farewell to all that, sailing off into the new era of "post-truth."

To them, the real deal is to be found on websites like Infowars.com, which helped start the rumour that millions of non-citizens criminally voted for the criminal Clinton. In their minds, it just confirms Trump's warning that the system is rigged, and illegal aliens conspire en masse to thwart the will of real Americans at the polls.

Trump Nation

The very fact that institutions like the Post and the Times would report there is absolutely no evidence of massive voter fraud only makes Trump Nation all the more certain it happened.

Furthermore, they see no conflict at all in believing on the one hand that systemic fraud took place, and at the same time loudly rejecting, as Trump is asking them to, any recounts in battleground states.

If Trump Nation had to put it all in a tweet, it would read something like this:

"YEAH! Ha! Fraud! Lock her up! But, uhh, NO RECOUNT. Because, FRAUD. Lock her up!"

A second tweet might follow: "Don't you lefties get it? YOU LOST!"

Probably, when Infowars.com claimed no one was actually killed in the Sandy Hook public school massacre in 2012, they nodded and showed that post to friends as further "proof" of President Barack Obama's effort to have all guns in the U.S. seized by a new, classified government department.

Many in Trump nation still believe Obama was born in Kenya. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

And without question, many in Trump Nation still believe Obama was born in Africa — a profoundly racist notion pushed by the incoming U.S. president, who even after the White House released definitive proof Obama was born in Honolulu (a nearly insane thing for a White House to have to do), continued to express skepticism, retreating only a few months ago, after the idea had been so firmly entrenched in the public mind that it could no longer be uprooted.

"Post-truth" was just voted 2016's word of the year by Oxford English Dictionary, which defines it as "circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief."

Trump brilliantly recognized and owned post-truthism long ago, while other politicians were still stupidly issuing concocted fact-checks against each other, trying to get out ahead of organizations like the Post, or the Annenberg Foundation's Factcheck.org, or Punditfact or even the urban-legend debunkers at Snopes.

Bumper-sticker culture 

As if any of those fact warriors really matter anymore. Their efforts to set the record straight (which they apply as severely to liberal politicians as conservatives), can now be dismissed with devastating ease in another tweet.

Something like: "Note to lying MSM 'fact-checkers:' YOU LOST! Get used to it! Sad!"

Trump also realized the crucial value in a bumper-sticker culture of keeping his fact-free blurts to 140 characters, neatly avoiding pesky questions from reporters.

Say what you will about Trump, he's not one of those generals who can't help re-fighting the last war. But you can say that about the mainstream media, which was not just caught flat-footed by post-truthism, but flattened by it.

Mainstream journalists were simply not prepared for a movement that, faced with a fact, simply announces it's not true, and moves on, clamouring joyously for more of what they want to hear, as opposed to, let's call it, "pre-truth."

Some academics and pundits are actually trying to accommodate Trump's post-truth tendencies, seeking to avoid the harshness of applying the term "liar" to a U.S. president. They've seized on a philosophy professor's bestselling tract titled "On Bullshit," arguing there's a crucial difference between lying and bullshitting, and that Donald Trump actually practises the latter.

But really, we should have seen all this coming. Radical thinkers on the far left have been pushing post-truthism for decades.

People like Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida became heroes to the activist left – another group addicted to what it wants to hear – by theorizing that there are no facts, only "constructs."

As The Onion's genius headline for Derrida's obituary put it: Jacques Derrida "Dies."

Truth is relative

Deconstructionists, as they styled themselves, learned never to answer a question, but to question the frame of the question itself. As in: "Excuse me, but I do not accept that the sun rose in the East today. What is East, anyway, but an artificial concept?"

Well, they got what they wanted, didn't they? Truth is now utterly relative.

And as anyone who's made it through the first year of a liberal arts education knows, the two far ends of the political spectrum eventually bend toward one another, joining. Which they have.

Trump and his legions believe the system is utterly rigged. So do Noam Chomsky and his legions. Trump Nation believes trade deals are a conspiracy against the common worker. Bernie Sanders's followers (and, in Canada, Maude Barlow and the Council of Canadians) believe exactly the same thing. Far left and far right are suspicious of central banks, and corporatist media, and they seem for some reason to agree that Russian President Vladimir Putin is misunderstood and smeared.

In any event, here's a fact: the right won. The truth, for the foreseeable future, belongs to them. Get used to it.

This column is an opinion - for more information about our commentary section please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.


Neil Macdonald is a former foreign correspondent and columnist for CBC News who has also worked in newspapers. He speaks English and French fluently, as well as some Arabic.