The “Post-Truth” Challenge to Democracy
”You are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts.” – Daniel Patrick Moynihan
One of the cornerstones of democracy is an informed citizenry. As Thomas Jefferson explained, “wherever the people are well informed they can be trusted with their own government; that whenever things get so far wrong as to attract their notice, they may be relied on to set them to rights.” Therefore, the current environment in which “facts” are said to be liberal, the craziest conspiracy theories are taken at face value, and our political leaders dismiss national security intelligence contradicting their political agenda, is one in which the core principal of democracy is challenged.
Facts do not produce their own conclusions to addressing our nation’s problems. Debating policy alternatives is important and necessary to formulate the best responses to minimize harm and maximize benefits. When the very validity of facts are being questioned, however, reasonable people no longer have the ability to argue over the best course of action. Disregarding the truth about climate change, immigration, and security threats does irreparable damage by preventing these discussions from taking place.
A telling moment for me, was one in which many were encountering on Facebook. A friend shared a “fake news” video listing a number of false claims about the Clintons by Dick Morris. (This video received 10 million views, 626,500 shares and 289,000 likes.) I replied to each claim by linking to Snopes and PolitiFact articles explaining why each was false. I did not expect my friend to change their political preference, but I hoped that they would see the problem of the claims put forth by these types of videos. My friend responded with “I think Snopes is definitely run by liberals.
My friend and I share many of the same goals for our country, namely a nation that protects political liberty while providing security and economic prosperity to all of its citizens. These goals are jeopardized when the underlying facts of a situation are disregarded when they contradict one’s personal beliefs. Disregarding facts that are easily accessible and undisputed is reckless and irresponsible in a democratic society. We no longer justify Jefferson’s faith in us– the people–because so many reject the opportunity to be informed with respect to the wrongs that need to be fixed. Instead, the refusal to act upon factual information places the personal over the good of the country.
Remarkably, it is now an act of patriotism to support the continuation of our democratic system by persisting in providing accurate information and fighting against the spread of disinformation and disregard for the truth.1
Recommended Reading and Listening;
- NPR’s Planet Money journeys into the market for Fake-News and one of it’s “Kings”
- Reply All takes us through inner workings of sub-reedits and how some emails including the word pizza became pizza-gate
- Oxford Dictionary 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.”
- Politifact explains why “Fake news” was the Lie of the Year for 2016
- A sentiment also conveyed by Brendan Nyhan in the PolitiFact.com post “2016 Lie of the Year: Fake news” ↩