In preschool, we are taught several basic rules: Sharing is caring. Wash your hands after you go to the bathroom. Honesty is the best policy. But in 2016, which marked possibly the most melodramatic U.S. presidential election to date, the importance of honesty (and many of the other common courtesies most of us learned at the ripe age of four) seemed to disappear.
Oxford Dictionaries selected “post-truth” as its international word of the year in November. This adjective describes the phenomenon of “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” In the post-truth world of 2016, it seems that many people would prefer that their news sources and leaders validate their own personal perspectives and convictions rather than tell them the truth.
According to the nonpartisan website PolitiFact, only 4 percent of President-elect Donald Trump’s statements to date have been completely true. Some of his statements are partially true, 33 percent are false and 18 percent are so fallacious that PolitiFact categorizes them as “Pants on Fire.” This is the soon-to-be-president of the United States we’re talking about. Not only has the future leader of the free world deemed the truth irrelevant, but he has convinced millions of Americans to do the same.
On Dec. 4, a 28-year-old man armed with an AR-15-style assault rifle entered a pizza restaurant in Washington, DC to “self-investigate” a conspiracy theory known as “Pizzagate”, which frames Hillary Clinton and other members of her circle as members of a worldwide child-sex-trafficking ring said to be run from within the restaurant. Dozens of equally incredulous supposed news stories have emerged in the past year. Tweets and Reddit threads have made their ways from the dark depths of the Internet to the newsfeeds of millions of Facebook users, to websites such as Breitbart and even to daily broadcast news segments. In one small town in the Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, the fake news boom has led to the creation of more than 100 websites dedicated to American politics, most of which spout false stories in order to attract readers and, in return, revenue.
But these post-truths, invented by anyone with a cellphone or a laptop and some free time on their hands, have inundated the mass media, creating an illusion of credibility. Despite intensive fact-checking and illuminating investigative pieces by sources like FactCheck.org and the New York Times, post-truths reign powerful. This year the American people elected a leader who has called our current president “the founder of ISIS” and has stated that China created the concept of global warming for its own economic gains. The truth used to be important. Now, for many Americans, the post-truth seems to be good enough.