In 2016, the Oxford dictionary added a new word to its dictionary: “Post-truth.” They defined it as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” The new word was created at first because many commentators were trying to describe reasons why things like Brexit or Donald Trump’s victory could happen.
As an overall concept, we’re indeed in a post-truth world. The problem for most commentators who use the term, they believe everything started in 2015-2016. That was never true. Writers and authors on the right and center-left were noticing the trend decades before the Trump/Brexit era.
Evangelicals called it moral relativism, in which truth was whatever the speaker wished it was in an instant. The rise of the phrase “my truth” builds off moral relativism because it implies something true for that person only. If a person has a relative truth, then no one else is allowed to challenge it on any grounds.
The reason we’re in a post-truth world is more because of the long history of debasing thoughts and the language of the far-left. George Orwell noted this trend in his 1946 essay, Politics and the English Language. Orwell observed:
A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.
One of the reasons opponents of Trump or Brexit never had a viable argument against those movements is because they had spent decades trying to destroy the meaning of individual words. As Orwell argues, bad ideas can beget lousy language, but over time the rhetoric can impact ideas too.
Progressives and socialists have spent multiple generations trying to destroy objective facts. When they try to employ fact, it falls flat because they’ve destroyed the meaning of words. The other irony is that the people and issues the post-fact crowd most attacked, Brexit and Trump, don’t look as bad as we move into the Biden administration.
Applying post-truth to Brexit was a bad take then, and it looks even worse now. The United Kingdom has one of the most impressive vaccination rollouts in the world. The countries that make up the European Union are months behind the UK, the United States, and Israel on vaccinating their population.
Because the United Kingdom left the EU, it had more control over contracting with pharmaceutical companies and getting vaccinations into its citizens’ arms. The EU got embroiled in petty divisions, bureaucratic red-tape, and multiple layers of incompetence. The people living in the EU are suffering as a result.
During the Leave or Remain debates of Brexit, no one talked about the control the UK would gain in a pandemic. But only a few years later, that ended up being one of the essential tools available to the UK. And now, with vaccinations climbing higher every day, the UK will be able to save its economy. At the same time, the EU and its countries face the prospects of more shutdowns, cases and deaths.
These are objective, measurable facts. A person can claim they’d prefer the EU or something else. However, it’s an objective fact that if the UK were still in the EU, they would not be in the position they are right now with vaccinations. The UK would be in a worse-off position had they remained in the EU.
Responding to a pandemic isn’t everything a government does. Still, it’s a pretty big deal if a governing organization fails that one task. Public health and protecting citizens from viral diseases is something every significant state entity has dealt with going back to the earliest parts of human civilization.
Jared Diamond wrote a whole book on the subject, Guns, Germs, and Steel, in which he argued that “The history of interactions among disparate peoples is what shaped the modern world through conquest, epidemics and genocide. Those collisions created reverberations that have still not died down after many centuries, and that are actively continuing in some of the world’s most troubled areas.”
The pandemic has shown that while people can believe in post-truth things, the reality of the world demands they deal with reality, whether they want to or not. Post-truth is great for people who want to sit online and chatter, but a crisis requires grounding yourself in objective facts and moving forward.
Another objective truth is that Operation Warp Speed is a modern medical marvel. It was put into place by the Trump administration, and the Biden White House is riding the coattails of that program’s success.
The countries that ended the pandemic, the United States and the United Kingdom, were criticized for five years by critics claiming that everything proponents said was a lie, and we were living in a post-truth world. But as reality has set in for a crisis, those critics have little evidence on their sides. That’s not to say Trump or the UK were perfect in their decisions — far from it.
But it does mean that the outcries from those using the label post-truth were based less in fact and more on fearmongering. When evaluating “post-truth” claims, history provides clarity. That is if we’re willing to acknowledge it and not stay stuck in a false reality.