President Trump and the ‘Post-Truth’ Era

A former CIA chief argues that the the president is a product, not a cause, of a profound shift in the way millions of our fellow citizens and people around the world perceive the world.

President Trump’s hold on millions of Americans – politically, emotionally, and intellectually – is one of life’s mysteries to the millions of us who haven’t fallen under his spell.

How, we wonder, can so many of our hard-working, fundamentally decent neighbors, co-workers, and relatives so easily overlook the daily outpouring of half-truths, outright lies, self-dealing, racism, sexism, and other outrages emanating from the president’s mouth and his Twitter feed? How can the same country that twice bestowed its highest office on the cerebral, cool Barack Obama have swung so suddenly to the impulsive, instinctive Donald Trump?

Former CIA Director Michael Hayden, a retired Air Force general, argues in a new book, “The Assault on Intelligence,” that the Trump phenomenon is a product of a national and global shift to a “post-truth” era. The president is an effect, not a cause, of this change, he asserts.

Post-truth Americans are more likely to make decisions about politics based on their emotions and instincts, their feelings about how the world should be, rather than by observable, objective facts.

“To adopt post-truth thinking is to depart from Enlightenment ideas, dominant in the West since the 17th century, that value experience and expertise, the centrality of fact, humility in the face of complexity, the need for study and a respect for ideas,” Hayden wrote in an April essay for The New York Times.

How this happened and continues is not at all clear. Figuring it out, it seems to me, is key to fighting back against it. Hayden laid out some of his thinking on that in a “Recode Decode” podcast last week. His conversation with host Kara Swisher, a former technology journalist at The Wall Street Journal, lasts an hour but is well worth a listen.