Skip to content

Latest Stories

Top Stories

We live in a post-truth and post-ethics world

disinformation spelled out
TolikoffPhotographyGetty Images
Anderson edited "Leveraging: A Political, Economic and Societal Framework" (Springer, 2014), has taught at five universities and ran for the Democratic nomination for a Maryland congressional seat in 2016.

Political theorists, philosophers of social science, pundits and the media are essentially right to say that we live in a "post-truth" society, even world. This viewpoint has been associated with left-wing academics in the postmodernist and deconstruction traditions and right-wing autocratic leaders like former President Donald Trump, namely leaders who regularly depart from saying what is true.

Trump, according to The Washington Post, made false or misleading statements 30,573 times while in office. In their most extreme form, these leaders advance manifestly untrue claims and build their politics around them. For Trump, the "Big Lie" that the Democrats stole the White House from him is the supreme example of a manifestly untrue claim, at least according to the judges, state legislatures and other politicians who refused to buy into his narrative.

Truth, notably a factual accounting of the world, has definitely lost value. Either Trump and many Republicans painted very misleading or plainly false pictures of reality or they transcended the very distinction between truth and falsity and made the concept of truth itself meaningless. Politicians are not historically known as the most honest of professionals, but the dishonesty in the last five years has been elevated to its highest peak in American history.

Sign up for The Fulcrum newsletter

What has driven this loss is an ethical concept, namely lying. Getting the truth wrong about a given state of affairs does not in itself reveal any ethical failing. Failing to state the facts, whether the topic concerns voting irregularities, climate change science, deaths as a result of handguns in 2020 or the number of people who have received two Covid-19 vaccines in a given state, may arise out of ignorance. It is only when someone intentionally misleads others to believe that a given state of affairs is true when it is actually false that an ethical wrong has been committed.

The deception that drives so much of the extremist agenda (and the way the far wings of a party use it to manipulate and harm the public) is one of the principal causes of the feelings of loss of trust experienced by those not on the wings. Admittedly, the majority of Americans in both major parties as well as independents have suffered a loss of trust in our political institutions since Vietnam and Watergate. Trump did not start this ball rolling. But he did snowball it for over half of the country.

The concept of a post-truth society is valuable, but it needs to be supplemented with a concept of a post-ethics society. The concept of post-truth, though it involves some ethical concepts, does not get us all the ethical values we need to adequately explain the sorry state of our democratic institutions.

Post-truth is chiefly about social and physical reality and whether politicians (and the media) are lying about it and using those lies to harm us in various ways. Yet politicians do a lot more when it comes to unethical conduct than deceive others about reality and then manipulate them based on the deception.

They also create outrageous gerrymandered districts. They engage in highly questionable campaign finance tactics. They refuse to grant Supreme Court confirmation hearings for brilliant judges. They obstruct justice. They make outrageous promises they can't keep. Above all, they promote an extremely polarized U.S. capital that makes it near impossible to pass laws about major societal problems ranging from climate change to paid parental leave to immigration.

Over half of the country according to most polls has lost trust in what we are told are the facts — what is empirical truth, what is reality. About three quarters of us have lost trust in our federal government, while most polls for years have revealed that there is much more trust in our state and local governments.

So, yes, we do live in a post-truth society. But we also live in a post-ethics society — and actually a post-reality society, because about half of our politicians do not trust science and frequently do not tell the truth. We are a post-ethics society chiefly because we cannot trust politicians to put partisanship aside to address extremely pressing problems before us. The crisis in American democracy will not be resolved unless we address both problems.

Read More

Podcast: How do police feel about gun control?

Podcast: How do police feel about gun control?

Jesus "Eddie" Campa, former Chief Deputy of the El Paso County Sheriff's Department and former Chief of Police for Marshall Texas, discusses the recent school shooting in Uvalde and how loose restrictions on gun ownership complicate the lives of law enforcement on this episode of YDHTY.

Listen now

Podcast: Why conspiracy theories thrive in both democracies and autocracies

Podcast: Why conspiracy theories thrive in both democracies and autocracies

There's something natural and organic about perceiving that the people in power are out to advance their own interests. It's in part because it’s often true. Governments actually do keep secrets from the public. Politicians engage in scandals. There often is corruption at high levels. So, we don't want citizens in a democracy to be too trusting of their politicians. It's healthy to be skeptical of the state and its real abuses and tendencies towards secrecy. The danger is when this distrust gets redirected, not toward the state, but targets innocent people who are not actually responsible for people's problems.

On this episode of "Democracy Paradox" Scott Radnitz explains why conspiracy theories thrive in both democracies and autocracies.

Your Take:  The Price of Freedom

Your Take: The Price of Freedom

Our question about the price of freedom received a light response. We asked:

What price have you, your friends or your family paid for the freedom we enjoy? And what price would you willingly pay?

It was a question born out of the horror of images from Ukraine. We hope that the news about the Jan. 6 commission and Ketanji Brown Jackson’s Supreme Court nomination was so riveting that this question was overlooked. We considered another possibility that the images were so traumatic, that our readers didn’t want to consider the question for themselves. We saw the price Ukrainians paid.

One response came from a veteran who noted that being willing to pay the ultimate price for one’s country and surviving was a gift that was repaid over and over throughout his life. “I know exactly what it is like to accept that you are a dead man,” he said. What most closely mirrored my own experience was a respondent who noted her lack of payment in blood, sweat or tears, yet chose to volunteer in helping others exercise their freedom.

Personally, my price includes service to our nation, too. The price I paid was the loss of my former life, which included a husband, a home and a seemingly secure job to enter the political fray with a message of partisan healing and hope for the future. This work isn’t risking my life, but it’s the price I’ve paid.

Sign up for The Fulcrum newsletter

Given the earnest question we asked, and the meager responses, I am also left wondering if we think at all about the price of freedom? Or have we all become so entitled to our freedom that we fail to defend freedom for others? Or was the question poorly timed?

I read another respondent’s words as an indicator of his pacifism. And another veteran who simply stated his years of service. And that was it. Four responses to a question that lives in my heart every day. We look forward to hearing Your Take on other topics. Feel free to share questions to which you’d like to respond.

Keep ReadingShow less
No, autocracies don't make economies great

libre de droit/Getty Images

No, autocracies don't make economies great

Tom G. Palmer has been involved in the advance of democratic free-market policies and reforms around the globe for more than three decades. He is executive vice president for international programs at Atlas Network and a senior fellow at the Cato Institute.

One argument frequently advanced for abandoning the messy business of democratic deliberation is that all those checks and balances, hearings and debates, judicial review and individual rights get in the way of development. What’s needed is action, not more empty debate or selfish individualism!

In the words of European autocrat Viktor Orbán, “No policy-specific debates are needed now, the alternatives in front of us are obvious…[W]e need to understand that for rebuilding the economy it is not theories that are needed but rather thirty robust lads who start working to implement what we all know needs to be done.” See! Just thirty robust lads and one far-sighted overseer and you’re on the way to a great economy!

Keep ReadingShow less
Podcast: A right-wing perspective on Jan. 6th and the 2020 election

Podcast: A right-wing perspective on Jan. 6th and the 2020 election

Peter Wood is an anthropologist and president of the National Association of Scholars. He believes—like many Americans on the right—that the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump and the January 6th riots were incited by the left in collusion with the FBI. He’s also the author of a new book called Wrath: America Enraged, which wrestles with our politics of anger and counsels conservatives on how to respond to perceived aggression.

Where does America go from here? In this episode, Peter joins Ciaran O’Connor for a frank conversation about the role of anger in our politics as well as the nature of truth, trust, and conspiracy theories.

Keep ReadingShow less