The New York Times has published an editorial mourning the loss of reality-based political discourse. In this major statement from the grand old lady, they argue that Americans are simply less interested in truth and more interested in following a story line. Trump, they say, has brilliantly jumped into this post-truth environment to manipulate a large horde of us Americans. They further argue that such dishonesty is damaging our democracy.
Here are some quotes from the article:
Donald Trump understood at least one thing better than almost everybody watching the 2016 election: The breakdown of a shared public reality built upon widely accepted facts represented not a hazard, but an opportunity.
The institutions that once generated and reaffirmed that shared reality — including the church, the government, the news media, the universities and labor unions — are in various stages of turmoil or even collapse. Because Mr. Trump himself has little regard for facts, it was easy for him to capitalize on this situation. But even as Americans gobble up “fake news,” there is the sense that something crucial has been lost.
That’s what Mr. Trump has done. For him, facts aren’t the point; trust is. Like any autocrat, he wins his followers’ trust — let’s call it a blind trust — by lying so often and so brazenly that millions of people give up on trying to distinguish truth from falsehood.
Mr. Trump has changed this game. He has exploited, perhaps better than any presidential candidate before him, the human impulse to be swayed more by story than by fact. As one of his surrogates said recently, “There’s no such thing, unfortunately, anymore, of facts.”
Without a Walter Cronkite to guide them, how can Americans find the path back to a culture of commonly accepted facts, the building blocks of democracy? A president and other politicians who care about the truth could certainly help them along. In the absence of leaders like that, media organizations that report fact without regard for partisanship, and citizens who think for themselves, will need to light the way.
The last paragraph worries me. It argues that our post-truth world can be fixed by media organizations and citizens on their own. This is wishful thinking at best. We need much more than this. We need a concerted effort, drawing on a wide range of people and institutions, to make truth a virtue again… That is why Truth For Democracy, a yet-to-be-born nonprofit organization is needed. You may sign up here.