The Oxford Dictionary declared “post-truth” the word of the year in 2016, with the explanation: “it describes not just particular assertions, but a general characteristic of our age”.
Donald Trump’s presidential campaign was widely thought to embody this new age. And now, it seems his presidency has firmly established the post-truth political era.
Lies abound, but in the past few weeks all previous falsehoods have been eclipsed by the charade with Stormy Daniels at its centre. As the headline at Vox proclaimed on 3 May, “Trump’s lies about Stormy Daniels and his lawyers are a reminder: never trust this White House. Ever”.
First, Trump denied ever having sex with the porn star. Then, he lied about attempts by his electoral team to shut her up, first by threatening her, then with a $130,000 bribe.
After admitting that his lawyer, Michael Cohen, made the payment, he denied it had anything to do with the election campaign. Finally, previous lying tweets were made redundant by his admission that he actually paid the money back to his lawyer.
In this 21st century post-truth world, a whopping 94 percent of those inclined to support the Democrats say Trump tells the truth only some of the time or less. And who can deny that even that is probably generous?
Nevertheless, an April Wall Street Journal/NBC poll found that only 27 percent of US voters had a very or somewhat positive view of Hillary Clinton, compared with 35 per cent for Trump. And they both have an unpopularity rating of 52 to 53 percent.
Perhaps, unlike the liberal commentators who fawn over the Democrats, millions in the US can’t stomach their lies any more than Trump’s. Lies that are not even recognised as such, but which are part of the DNA of politics in the US and around the world.
In July 2016 at the Democratic National Convention, Michelle Obama inverted Trump’s slogan: “Don’t let anyone ever tell you that this country isn’t great, that somehow we need to make it great again. Because this right now is the greatest country on earth!”, she said.
Had she not noticed the misery inflicted on millions of people by the Global Financial Crisis while president Obama handed out billions of dollars to banks crying poor? Did he not think that millions of people losing their homes put a question mark over US greatness?
By 2011, 11.6 million households owed more on their mortgage than their house was worth. In late 2015, there were still 4.3 million living with this misery, threatened with homelessness and unemployment. Does this not make the claim to US greatness a gigantic lie?
“The American dream is something no wall will ever contain”, Barack Obama declared, implying a Democratic presidency wouldn’t victimise immigrants. In eight years, Obama deported more undocumented migrants than all his predecessors combined.
Hillary Clinton tweeted on 28 July 2016: “America is already great. America is already strong & I promise you, our strength, our greatness, does not depend on Donald Trump”.
But racist cops killing Black men, falling living standards and millions with no access to health care – all this and more put the lie to the claim to greatness.
But the liberal media can see only Trump’s lies. Outlets such as the Age and Crikey think the offer of spending an evening listening to Clinton’s lying drivel in Melbourne or Sydney is sufficient enticement to induce us to take out a subscription to their publication.
George Orwell knew that the bigger the lie, the harder it is to challenge. Think of the lies taken as fact: the US is great, a land of freedom, bringing democracy to Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan. Tell that to African Americans gunned down by racist cops, and workers struggling as living standards are trashed. Tell it to the civilians targeted by US drones, to Palestinians faced with losing Jerusalem to Israeli occupation because of a stroke of a pen by Trump.
Yes, Trump is a liar. But he is not the first. The only difference between him and his establishment critics is that his lies don’t get repeated as self-evident fact by all those voices who now demand the world take a stand against lies.