Post-truth and The Zeitgeist

What we are now seeing with the USA is becoming typical of our time. President Donald Trump’s ban on Muslims from seven Islamic states entering the US has provoked international abhorrence. It is not just the religious blanket ban on Muslims that disturbs us, however, but Trump’s absolutist reasoning behind the ‘banned states’. As the republican candidate during the presidential campaign Trump publicly called for ‘a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on.’ Such a narrative of populist diatribe should be something we fear; it marks the return of a destructive trend. The established rational idea, that heads of state participate in structured organisations and find consensus to bring about change, and the reclaimed belief that unilateralism and populism’s decisiveness and efficiency are unparalleled, are now both equally as normalised.

Adam Curtis’ hit BBC documentary, Hypernormalisationand the themes it raises, are very much the support to this analysis. The deceptive act of perception management is central to our understanding of Trump and other populists’ political strategies, for they aim to distract people from the complexities of the world. Curtis explains how this originated and developed from Reaganism and the complex sequence of events and acts of aggression towards America in the Arab world. Reagan’s aim was that of a moral crusade: America would fight evil and make the world a better place. We can immediately see how appealing a narrative this can be to Americans today after more than a decade of the War on Terror – coincidentally a series of wars, namely that in Irak, where intervention was based on fabricated and factually inaccurate truths – which has culminated in nothing more but the most outwardly aggressive Islamic caliphate the modern world has ever seen.

Abu Bakr al-Bagdadi, a former student of the Sharia, is a relatively unknown, yet major influence on Trump’s Muslim ban on refugees and the now rescinded green card-holders (those vetted and permitted to enter the US) from Syria, Iraq, Libya, among other states. During the American occupation of Irak, al-Bagdadi was interned in a US prison where he was radicalised. Upon release, he encouraged an expansion of underground Sunni militia cells and patiently waited with them until the Americans left. As the Syrian civil war broke out, al-Bagdadi ordered a group of his Sunni militiamen, al-Nusra Front, to integrate amongst the Syrian rebels and eventually turn on them, implementing Sharia law in those areas taken by their rebel ‘partners’. Chaos ensued, an Islamic caliphate was declared, and an international scepticism for ostensibly ‘democratic’ forces conveniently developed into a general mistrust of Muslims from areas under IS control. After the apathy and anger over the futility of The War on Terror, Trump hijacked the truth and simplified it. Heeding German sociologist Ulter Beck’s theory of risk society, the idea that threats can be socially constructed and overexaggerated to be perceived as more dangerous, Trump has attempted to depict Islam, Muslims and unfettered migration from Mexico as threats to American society unparalleled by any others. This fits in with the simplicity of the Reagan narrative of good and bad, them and us, and Trump and his administration will fight to the death to defend it. This takes us to post-truth.

Raw emotions drove political decision-making in the US presidential campaign. Just how the net gains of EU membership were sidelined once the Remain Campaign carted out an eye-catching image of a line of foreigners with the suggestive slogan ‘Breaking Point’, Trump berated American political institutions for being deeply flawed and unfair. Its effect was incredible. Despite the complete lack of political credibility, Trump and Farage had managed to pull at the heart strings of those sceptical of a system and environment they couldn’t understand and from which they did not benefit. The post-truth era was established on the 24th June 2016 when a narrow majority of UK citizens voted in favour of leaving the European Union and later that year vindicated by Trump’s election on 9th November.

Both Theresa May’s flanking cabinet eurosceptics’ defining the Brexit negotiations’ 12 aims, and an uncalculated commitment to the economically inviable Mexican borderwall and a partial paralysis of American businesses dependent on employees from the 7 banned states have shown populism to trump pragmatism. The campaign tactic which both movements depended on, post-truth, is again being used to justify their promises. Kellyanne Conway, advisor to Trump, defended the hard to enforce Muslim ban, describing the widespread chaos as ‘a small price to pay‘ for American security. There goes that post-truth again: American security.

And when the Trump administration’s authority is further undermined, it bounces back by denying factually evident truths which both stupify and bewilder those who possess basic cognitive functions. Think of Sean Spicer’s laughable claim of a greater turnout for Trump’s inauguration over Obama’s in 2008. Its labelling of certain news outlets as ‘fake news’ is the most dangerous method, however, which seeks to both delegitimise the truth seekers and legitimise the truth deniers.

We need to keep our heads in this era of confusion in which we now question truths from our heads of state. The dichotomous nature of the world should be acknowledged and approached as such. We must continue to question in order to discover what has brought us to this tumultuous, factually vulnerable period of time, while we acknowledge there will never be simple fixes to come from hotheaded decision makers. President Trump’s first week will be seen in retrospect as emblematic of an established political trend: that everyone has a simple, idealised vision for the future, but no one has the inclination to understand and investigate its complex past.

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