The rise and fall of truth in politics

The Great Financial Crash of 2008 sent tremors throughout the geopolitical landscape which, with the help of events and technology, persist to erode the centre ground.

Political systems are being redefined in an era of whole truth — revelation — and post-truth — manipulation. Perhaps it was a delusion to think the internet would come to the assistance of democracy.

Just like disruptors in the technological sphere have wiped out the competition, their political equivalents have in many cases been elevated to prominence by perceived incompetence and misrule, austerity programmes, scandal and revelations. They have been enabled by online platforms and clever — sometimes shock — messaging.

Perhaps it was a delusion to think the internet would come to the assistance of democracy.

Unwillingness to effectively regulate financial institutions contributed to the collapse of global markets in the first instance; failure to stymie the ‘credit crunch’ and rise of living costs, and to prevent the halt and fall in living standards bred resentment.

Establishments are floundering at the challenge posed by demagogues and populists with capability to employ statistics, truths and falsehoods to great effect.

Donald Trump

As was stated in an article published by last weekend’s Irish Times, the rise of Donald Trump as a serious candidate for the US presidency and the campaign that precipitated the UK’s vote to leave the European Union has led some to conclude we are living in a “post-truth era” where statistics count for very little.

It was Michael Gove MP who, campaigning for Brexit, said people “have had enough of experts”.

Yet in other places like Iceland it has been the revelation of the whole truth that has preceded a sea change. The release of the Panama Papers last October led to the resignation of then Prime Minister, Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson. Months later the country’s Pirate Party continues to top almost every opinion poll.

It was Michael Gove MP who, campaigning for Brexit, said people “have had enough of experts”.

At Trump’s rallies, banners read “Make America great again”; his campaign says “We’re not gonna take it [anymore]”. The message is clear: the ordinary man and woman should take back their country and the opportunities taken from them.

But whereas Trump’s solution is to pass this control over to one person, the Icelandic Pirate Party calls for the opposite.

The Pirate Party claims new technology should help promote civic engagement and involvement in decision-making, government transparency and accountability. Ordinary voters should be able to propose new legislation and decide on it in national referendums; this, in addition to granting greater internet and copyright freedom.

Global politics is in a state of flux because of a financial depression that still endures, mistrust in elites, the availability of so much information, as well as the opportunity to manipulate, at one’s fingertips. Truth is on the rise, and truth is on the fall.