By Kregg Hetherington
The idea that we might be entering a “post-truth” era is a crisis for liberal democracies because it reveals the tenuousness of a proposition that many people in North America and Europe have taken for granted, at least since the end of the Cold War. For the sake of argument, I’ll call that proposition “truth politics.” It claims that the appropriate way of governing a population is with recourse to empirically verifiable facts. Part of the difficulty with understanding the Trump phenomenon, and its correlates in other Western democracies, is how suddenly it has revealed the positionality, and the fragility, of this proposition. The rabbit hole this opens is deep for believers in truth politics, since it undermines the very tools for thinking critically about politics at all. What we assumed to be the ethical standard governing the realm of political debate turns out to be part of the debate itself, one position among many others in a realm whose standards are suddenly up for question.
From the outside, however, the situation is less strange, and it’s therefore useful to think about places and times where truth politics is not taken-for-granted. Paraguay is one of those countries that staunchly refuses to conform basic liberal assumptions about truth in government. Continue reading “The End of Truth Politics in Paraguay”
By Peter Lauritsen & Lars Bo Andersen
Denmark is known for having a strong democracy. We have high election turnouts, political transparency, widespread and profound trust in the public system, and a lively political debate facilitated by strong and nuanced medias.
However, we argue that there is a growing breeding ground for Trumpism in Denmark and would like to point out two reasons why.
Research and politics
The first is a weak relation between research and politics.
In many situations, it has become perfectly legitimate for politicians to ignore firmly established knowledge and to refer only to their ‘gut feeling’, when accounting for political measures. This is not a new trend. Many consider former Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen’s 2002 New Year’s address a milestone in this regard. In the speech, he announced that there was too many ‘taste panels’ for politics and that neither the people nor their politicians should allow themselves to be subdued by ‘lifted fingers’ from the ‘tyranny of experts’.
Continue reading “Trumpism in Denmark”
By Mei Zhan
Let me begin with a fiction. Let the Bullets Fly, a Chinese “action comedy,” was wildly popular upon its release in 2010. Witty, gory, at times bawdy, and determinedly absurd, the plot centered around the confrontation between Zhang Mazi, a fictitious Chinese Robin Hood impersonating a county governor (whom, upon being captured by Zhang, impersonated the governor’s secretary in order to survive) and his nemesis Master Huang, a mobster boss who turned out to have a body double. The opening scenes of the film featured what appeared to be a steam-engine train, only to reveal a few seconds later that the train was pulled along the rail tracks by horses and the white steam arose from an impossibly large hotpot around which the governor and his entourage were dining and singing. Zhang and his bandits took aim and fired several shots. As the train continued roaring on, one bandit asked, “Did we miss?” Zhang calmly replied, “Let the bullets fly for a while”. Neither horse nor train was hit. But the train soon stopped as the horse reins came undone.
Although unable to pin down the historical and allegorical references in the film, many Chinese viewers understand it to be a political satire. They marvel at the fact that it not only circumvented government censorship, but also generated a slew of catchphrases widely used in everyday discourse. “Let the bullets fly for a while” in particular has acquired an effervescent afterlife on Chinese social media, which is saturated with sensational news of all natures and scales: natural and human-made disasters, political scandals, abuse of police power, medical malpractice and violence against doctors and nurses, illegal trade and consumption of wild life, celebrity extramarital affairs, and so forth. These dramatic events often unfold through multiple rounds of disguises, revelations, and revisions.
Continue reading ““Let the bullets fly for a while”: an allegory from China”
By Marja Hinfelaar and Tinenenji Banda
While ‘post-truth” was dubbed Oxford Dictionary word of the year in 2016, for those who have lived under populist and authoritarian regimes, the concept felt simply like a déjà vu. Having been an integral part of our political DNA long before the term was popularized by recent happenings in the West, we were startled at how Western academia and the media misread the situation. Yet, many studies were at hand. Is it a sense of exceptionalism that blinded them to the potential benefits of comparative, but also historical knowledge? It appears that these commentators could not comprehend beyond the teleological lens of what is expected and defined as a modern and rational society.
This tunnel vision has not only affected the U.S., but also determined how the rest of the world has been perceived, most notably ‘developing’ countries. Zambia is a case in point. Its history has largely been cast through a developmental lens. Continue reading “Post-Truth and Zambia’s King Cobra”
By Rika Febriyani and AbdouMaliq Simone
In a region of thirty million people, what would residents stake their futures on? How would they decide where and on what to devote their time and their, for the most part, limited resources? Readings of the landscape, in all of its multifaceted physical, social and political dimensions, would of course be replete with cues and trajectories. Certainly vast alterations of the built environment with their implications for where and how people reside, socialize, and operate economically to reinforce an intensive individuation of livelihood, obligation, and accountability. In a city where how the world was to be interpreted largely was contingent upon the everyday pragmatics of residents coordinating markedly heterogeneous backgrounds and ways of doing things within dense, collectively-evolved quarters, the ongoing disentanglement of these everyday relations attenuates the accompanying structures of interpretation.
Continue reading “Making Way, True or Not, in Jakarta”
By Ehsan Nabavi
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has recently been blocked from running again in Iran’s presidential elections, is probably the farthest example of a foreign leader Americans can think of as analogous to Trump. the two share a resemblance, however, in a number of ways. Particularly in how both build their governance platform on creating “shock events,” as well as providing alternative interpretations of what constitutes expertise and knowledge, through which they themselves act as the central expert.
Like Trump, Ahmadinejad’s populist platform has massively criticized Iranian political elites and the experts who worked with them for using their power to monopolize wealth. He was nominated by the Alliance of Builders/Developers of Islamic Iran (Abadgaran) with a promise to redistribute wealth, recreate the original revolutionary spirit of 1979 Revolution, and regain the country’s lost pride, dignity, and esteem, particularly in when confronting the West. Paraphrasing, Ahmadinejad’s platform is to Make Iran Great Again.
Continue reading “Make Engineering Great Again: Shifting to ‘Self-Expert’ Platform of Governance in Iran and the US”
By Francesca Bosisio
In the days that followed Donald Trump’s election, the media celebrated the dawn of a new Age, characterized by post-truth or post-fact politics. A point in the history of modern society in which a previously authoritative source of knowledge is neither considered as a reliable source of information nor a need. But post-truth politics, as opposed to its branding, is not a new phenomenon: worldwide, candidates have long ago diverted facts and statistics and appealed to people’s emotions to reach large parts of the population. The spread of social media has reinforced this trend. On the one hand, social media gave an audience to people who do not want or do not have the opportunity to go public via traditional mass media. On the other hand, it is allegedly more difficult to deny, challenge or improve the contents of a discussion happening on the boundaries of the private and the public sphere.
In Switzerland, few mass media commented on the post-truth or post-fact phenomenon in the days that preceded or followed Trump’s election. Only few papers tried to compare the results of the US presidential election with the raising of populist movements in Switzerland. An editorial on “Le Matin” wrote that: “Some claim, referring to statistics, that there is no similar risk [of financial powerlessness] in Switzerland. As if politics was only a matter of data, while everywhere the anger is growing. […] [T]he feeling of economic oppression and the anguish of not having enough reserve to face a harsh blow altogether weaken solidarity and give points to the populist formations.” In the same period, the “Tages-Anzeiger” also drew a parallel between Switzerland, France, and the US by highlighting that in these countries mistrust of authorities has become a leit motiv of right-wing parties.
Continue reading “Post-truth Politics in Switzerland and Threats to Direct Democracy”
By Casper Bruun Jensen
Post-truth, the post-factual, alternative facts. In the wake of Donald Trump’s campaign and election as president of the United States, these terms swirl around the social media and public sphere with increasing frequency. Trump’s blatant disregard for the category of facts, if not for reality itself, perplexes and infuriates his many opponents. One hears the refrain “We are entering uncharted territory.” At stake is a challenge to the long-cherished notion of speaking truth to power. If power refuses to listen, what would be the point of scientific knowledge? Just think of the unheeded warnings against global warming.
What might political life in Cambodia tell about this situation? Located around 9000 miles from Washington D.C, the modus operandi of politics in Phnom Penh confronts us with some of what Michel Foucault called “thought from the outside.” A glance at this thought might help put into sharper focus what is, and is not, unprecedented about the current American situation. For what this thought is “outside” to is, among other things, the idea that the normal state of affairs is one where scientific facts balance or constrain political power.
Continue reading “Thought From the Outside: Post-Truth and Cambodian Political Theater”
By Tito Carvalho
As the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union and the United States elected President Donald Trump, Brazil partook in its own major political event with the impeachment of President Dilma Rouseff after fourteen years of rule by her Workers Party. But while the U.K. and U.S. cases have been seen as victories of right wing populists over liberal technocratic elites, the Brazilian case has been seen as the demise of a left populist government before its center-right opposition. Despite these ostensive differences, the term “post-truth politics” has been deployed in all three circumstances. I propose that a comparison of these cases shows that this term, as any other, has no fixed meaning that is independent from the context in which it is used. Instead of attempting to define “post-truth politics” once and for all, I argue that we are better off contending with it as a useful marker of shifting political orders.
On November 16, 2016, The Oxford Dictionary named “post-truth” its word of the year. It defined the term as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” However, in the largest country of the Lusophone world, wherein “post-truth politics” has been literally translated as “política da pós-verdade”, this definition does not quite apply. Deployed by Brazilian pundits (see below) and politicians, (e.g., Congressman Jean Wyllys, of the Party of Socialism and Freedom), the notion of “política da pós-verdade” has meant something other than appeals to emotion and personal belief to counter objective facts. Rather, it has been used to question what those on the left see as a strategic assemblage of various facts by the center-right to engender the narrative that the Workers Party is simultaneously incompetent, corrupt, and idealistic, and to galvanize the urban middle class against the government. For example, as Bob Fernandes, a Brazilian political commentator, has said, post-truth is when opposition leaders are interviewed about corruption accusations made against members of the Workers Party without being questioned about similar accusations made against themselves. Or, as Thais Herédia, an economic analyst, has written, post-truth is when the opposition makes different Gross Domestic Product projections before and after the impeachment. In other words, the phrase “post-truth politics” operates not on an objective-facts-versus-personal-beliefs axis, but rather is invoked to question what facts matter, how they are produced, selected, and curated, and by whom and for whom. Continue reading “Shifting Political Orders: “Post-Truth Politics” in the U.K., U.S., and Brazil”