Shifting Political Orders: “Post-Truth Politics” in the U.K., U.S., and Brazil

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”