The saddest thing that happened in 2016 was that the Oxford Dictionary chose “post-truth” as word of the year. Oxford defines post-truth as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”
When a majority of Americans don’t believe in a common set of facts, how can the electorate make rational decisions? When a substantial portion of that electorate turns to internet “news” sources for reality rather than our once trusted news sources, the populace will make poor decisions at the voting booth. In an earlier time we believed, for the most part, that what we were told by Walter Cronkite, David Brinkley, Harry Reasoner and the others on TV reflected reality. We knew they were sometimes flawed, sometimes influenced by politically motivated forces, but we still believed them because we believed that these journalists and their organizations worked hard to verify the news they reported. Those mainstream institutions still work hard to verify what they report.
But now many Americans choose news sources based on whether or not they like what those sources say? If mainstream news doesn’t tell them what they want to hear, they simply go to the internet to find “news” sources that support their political beliefs. Russians, political hacks, pranksters can write the “news” and are believed because people want to believe. Real news, truth, isn’t the writer’s plan, impacti politics is.
In the 1950s Joseph McCarthy grabbed the nation’s attention by saying outlandish things such as, “I have in my hand a list of (insert number) communists in the State Department.” Eventually the mainstream news of the time, newsmen like Edward R. Morrow, were able to blow up those falsehoods. McCarthy would find our current environment welcoming.
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“Truth” no longer matters. Evidence no longer matters. Recently my son shook his head and asked how some people, including relatives we love, can deny over 90 percent of climate scientists who say that human activity is driving global warming. I explained that the science doesn’t fit the political doctrine of many people in the Republican Party. The whole world understands that human activity is negatively impacting our climate, everyone except some of these Republicans. Scientists tell us, show us, how human activity is impacting our climate, but many deny that reality. It reminds me of the Middle Ages when a round Earth circling the sun didn’t fit the political doctrine of the Catholic Church.
Our president-elect can look straight into the camera and deny that he mocked a physically disabled reporter, even while a video of him doing just that is played. He can tell us that he personally saw “thousands of Muslims” in New Jersey celebrating the collapse of the World Trade Center towers, even when no one else saw that. It is ironically appropriate he was elected to lead us into the new “post-truth” future. After all, he “tells it like it is.”
Darwin Roy is a retired businessman and the former owner of Clima-Tech Corp., a temperature control company with offices in Boise and Portland.