In 2016, Oxford Dictionaries defined their ‘word of the year’ to be Post-truth: an adjective defined as ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief’.
Across many major media outlets, post-truth was sprawled across headlines as the Brexit campaign and the US Presidential campaign for President-elect Donald Trump, utilised the concept to win over voters. There is no doubt that 2016 was a pivotal year for post-truth politics. We saw Michael Gove making the bold assumption that the UK were “sick of experts”; we also saw Trump feed into people’s anger and resentment towards the very same establishment he was born and bred into.
The Brexit campaign appealed to those who so ignorantly over-assumed the extent of the so-called “migrant crisis”, ranting on about how immigrants (ironically many complained about immigrants from outside the EU) were ‘coming over and stealing our jobs’. No one bothered to check the facts. No one bothered to check that in 2010, a mere 3.6% of the UK population comprised of EU immigrants. It was hardly a crisis.
Yet this concept appeared in politics a long time ago. After the events of 9/11, trust in the US government sky-rocketed. The War on Terror was officially declared as many Americans felt the need to immediately deal with terrorism. Once again, no one bothered to check that the chances of being killed in a terrorist attack were around 1 in 20 million; or that you are more likely to be killed by your own furniture then by a terrorist attack. Yet, we don’t see anyone declaring a War on Ikea. The Iraq War became known as one of the greatest intelligence failures in history. Government chose to ignore sources stating there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, though they still chose to invade despite all peaceful options not being exhausted. Despite being a far more violent and horrific event than the British exit of the European Union, the same concept stands.
Post-truth politics began with 9/11 and continued with the Iraq War. The media fed the public sensationalised headlines about terrorism and the public responded with fear and anger and an urgency to do whatever in order to stamp it out. The problem was, is the fighting terrorism with more violence will never end it, only feed the flames. But ultimately, post-truth should not have been the word of the year in 2016, but in 2003.