2016 election has begun post-truth era of U.S. politics

Published 12:27 pm Thursday, November 10, 2016

There were a lot of losers in Tuesday’s election and very few real winners. But the biggest loser of all was not a candidate for any office. The biggest loser was truth.

We are now at a point in our democracy where truth is next-to-impossible to find and worse, apparently irrelevant when revealed.

Donald Trump, now president-elect, has one of the worst records for lying of any politician in modern history. This isn’t a matter of interpretation or opinion — Trump regularly denies saying things he plainly said, in public, on the record.

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But that fact doesn’t matter one bit — Trump’s supporters simply do not care that he lies. The truth is no longer of relevance.

The new political reality ushered in by this election is one where passion is the only vector. Winning is accomplished not by demonstrating capability or displaying an understanding of the issues; winning is only accomplished by galvanizing your team to vote more than the other team.

You don’t need to look any further than Trump’s signature issue — the wall — to see this new reality in motion.

A nearly 2,000-mile-long wall is impossibly expensive to build, even more impossibly expensive to maintain, and wouldn’t be very effective even if it could be constructed.

Net immigration from Mexico to the U.S. has been at zero for years. And many immigrants to the U.S. crossed legally and then remained after their legal status expired. A wall wouldn’t have stopped that.

Trump says simply that Mexico will pay for the wall — a statement that dismisses the complexities of international diplomacy and economics in favor of a juvenile “says you!” at his opponents.

Trump’s plan consists of a two-page PDF — available on his campaign website — that claims Mexico will pay the U.S. $10 billion just three days after Trump’s inauguration because he will threaten to force money-wiring companies to require proof of citizenship before sending money outside of the U.S.

If that doesn’t work — it won’t — Trump would threaten to cancel visas and then increase visa fees. “Even a small increase in visa fees would pay for the wall,” the PDF states, even though by the PDF’s own math, every visa would have to cost an additional $10,000 if 1 million visas are going to pay for a $10 billion wall.

Other, non-partisan estimates put the price of building the wall at $15 billion or more.

Trump doesn’t address anywhere in his plan how the U.S. would continue to pay for maintenance of such a massive structure, which would quickly add billions more in cost over just a few years and continue adding billions in cost for as many years as it’s kept functional.

Here is where the meaninglessness of facts in today’s political world becomes clear. It is completely irrelevant that the wall could never come to be and Trump has no real plan to make it happen. Trump’s supporters already know there will be no wall. They only cheer for it because it’s an effective rallying cry to galvanize Trump voters.

That’s the game that U.S. politics is now: Who can fabricate the best issue that angers people enough to make them show up to vote?

It seems like this WWE version of our federal government isn’t going away any time soon. Future elections will only up the ante, with greater and greater numbers of candidates pursuing Trumpian paths by saying whatever will stoke the fires of fear and anger the most.

We will pay many prices for this sea change — we’ll have fewer allies around the world, we’ll pay more for durable goods, we’ll further expand the wealth gap. The question is, when those things happen, will the truth matter?