LONDON – The late US Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously said, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.” That may be true. But, entitled or not, politicians and electorates are constructing their own alternate realities – with far-reaching consequences.
Nowadays, facts and truth are becoming increasingly difficult to uphold in politics (and in business and even sports). They are being replaced with what the American comedian Stephen Colbert calls “truthiness”: the expression of gut feelings or opinions as valid statements of fact. This year might be considered one of peak truthiness.
To make good decisions, voters need to assess reliable facts, from economic data to terrorism analysis, presented transparently and without bias. But, today, talking heads on television would rather attack those with expertise in these areas. And ambitious political figures – from the leaders of the Brexit campaign in the United Kingdom to US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump – dismiss the facts altogether.
The environment is ripe for such behavior. Voters, particularly in the advanced economies, are jaded by years of broken political promises, revelations of cover-ups, and relentless political and media spin. Opaque or dubious dealings have cast doubt on the integrity of organizations and institutions on which we should be able to rely. For example, the New York Times recently published a series of articles on think tanks that highlighted the conflict of interest faced by those who operate as analysts, but are beholden to corporate funders and sometimes also act as lobbyists.