'Post-truth' politics

Published 01.07.2019 22:43
Updated 02.07.2019 00:10

It is not only parties and political experts who have to look into the March 31 mayoral elections and Istanbul's renewed elections. Given the "new political wave" that has come to life for the first time in Turkey and the newly emerging political culture, sociologists and philosophers also have their hands full. This is called a "post-truth" wave in the world. The word is so popular that, the Oxford Dictionary, the most prestigious dictionary of the English language, named it the "word of the year" in 2016.

The dictionary defines the word as, "Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief." In other words, not truth, but emotions, perceptions and even lies are effective now. The word describes a situation in which the truth is intertwined with lies in politics. Post-truth politics is not only about lies of the sort Nazi Joseph Goebbels told, but there is also "real" data within those lies that appeal to the dominant emotions of one or more social segments.

Onur Erim, a political scientist who has reflected on the issue, gives two striking examples of the new wave in the world.

"Although some political scientists think the post-truth political culture dates back to the beginning of the 20th century, it actually emerged in the early 1990s. The first implementations of it were seen [in the U.S. with Donald] Trump's presidential election in 2016 and in the U.K.'s Brexit campaign," he says.

In the former, Trump addressed voters' anti-immigration sense and insisted in his campaign that there were 30 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. However, the actual number of illegal immigrants in the country was 11 million. The same thing was done by Brexit supporters in the U.K. through the lie that the country was paying 350 million pounds to the EU each week. It seems both lies found audiences, given more than 50 percent of the population still believes in these lies, although the allegations have proved to be false.

The situation in Turkey is no different. There used to be lies in politics, but they have not been as effective in any period as they are today. Moreover, society has not ignored them this much. For instance, there are innumerable lies about Syrian refugees. It is clear that there is discomfort with the Syrians here, and politics is capitalizing on it.

The most striking example of this new wave is Ekrem İmamoğlu, who was elected as the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality mayor. İmamoğlu pursued a typical post-truth policy in his election campaign, especially after March 31, and reached nirvana on political lies.

His remark that his rival Binali Yıldırım requested questions to be asked in the live debate between the two candidates one week before the polls, his insult against the Ordu governor and a number of his other allegations such as that CNN Türk cameraman shooting him was dismissed and that the portrait of Atatürk had been removed from the wall of the office of Istanbul Metropolitan Mayor all turned out to be lies.

However, he proceeded as if nothing happened. Nevertheless, he won the elections with great support. Of course, this was partly because of some facts such as the Justice and Development Party's (AK Party) election strategy mistakes, economic crisis and harsh political discourse. However, what is more determinative is the fact that some segments of society who have been consciously antagonized against the AK Party and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in recent years have been made to fail to see the truth.

Frank Underwood, the political actor of House Of Cards, explains what such a mood leads to, "My god, you're addicted to action and slogans. It doesn't matter what I say. It doesn't matter what I do. Just as long as I'm doing something, you're happy to be along for the ride. And frankly, I don't blame you… In the end, I don't care whether you love me or you hate me, just as long as I win. The deck is stacked. The rules are rigged. Welcome to the death of the 'Age Of Reason.' There is no right or wrong. Not anymore. There's only being in... and then being out."

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