Is it just me or have politicians the world over really become nastier, more violent and more vengeful?
Perhaps it’s just a temporary phenomenon. Perhaps I’m feeling especially downbeat in the wake of Brexit, the terror attack in Nice, the attempted coup in Turkey, the nomination of Donald Trump as the Republican candidate for US president and Boris Johnson’s appointment as Britain’s Foreign Secretary. And oh yes, let’s not forget Mrs Trump’s botched attempt at plagiarism.
Recently it seems that everywhere I look, every time I go online, every word uttered by politicians that I hear, propels me into an unpleasant new era dominated by liars, bullies and cheats.
This is a time when being a successful politician means being dishonest, where nastiness is rewarded with votes and where fear and hate have replaced the discourse of tolerance and hope.
It’s not just politicians who lie and deceive of course — more and more everyone appears to have succumbed to the temptation. But while lying by ordinary people is hurtful and harmful, lying politicians are more dangerous because they are changing our world.
The transformation has been rapid. The “new normal” has come upon as almost unnoticed, changing our politics and with it our world in the blink of a Twitter feed.
It really has happened fast. Only a few years ago calling a politician a liar was the ultimate insult. When just like thieves, lying politicians were outcast by society, becoming objects of contempt and disdain. They were unceremoniously booted out, their lies exposed, their careers in tatters.
And remember a time when honesty in a politician was admired and considered a virtue? Promises were meant to be kept and men and women in charge were judged by their word. Just like ordinary fold, they were taught to speak the truth and never, ever cheat, whether at school, in the playground or in the family.
And facts. Remember when facts were important, nay even crucial in political discussions? Facts and figures — data and statistics — determined our views, informed our decisions and shaped our discourse. Elections were fought on the basis of correct, verifiable information.
Finally, think back to a time when politicians were polite and that mattered. People who were respectful and courteous were admired and looked up to as social models. Having good manners was an asset in society. Just like children, the people in power were taught to say “please and thank you”. And oh yes, they often also said “sorry”.
That was then. Today, more than half-way into 2016, it’s official: truth, vows, facts and manners are out. Lies, dishonesty, rudeness and fiction are in.
A close scrutiny of the Brexit and Trump campaigns provides ample proof we are living in what many commentators describe as a “post-truth” era.
“In the post-truth era, borders blur between truth and lies, honesty and dishonesty, fiction and non-fiction. Deceiving others becomes a challenge, a game, and ultimately a habit,” says Ralph Keyes, author of The Post-Truth Era: Dishonesty and Deception in Contemporary Life.
For proof look no further than Trump’s election campaign, and reports that 76 per cent of Trump’s statements are rated either “mostly false”, “false”, or “pants on fire”, which is to say off-the-charts false. By comparison, Hillary Clinton’s total is 29pc.
Boris Johnson and the Leave campaign lied notoriously about many things, including the 350 million pounds that Britain was supposed to be sending to the EU every week and which could be channelled into the National Health Service.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan may or may not be misinforming his citizens by linking the attempted coup to his arch-rival Fethullah Gulen but his vengeful rounding up and mistreatment of those involved — and threats of bringing back the death penalty — are worrying signs for a country which was once viewed as a much-needed inspiration for Muslim democracies.
The media is full of other examples of liars, including of course former British prime minister Tony Blair whose “conviction” that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction has been revealed to be false.
Interestingly, however, he isn’t repentant. In the 21st Century, politicians found to have misled and deceived others go on to become authors and much-coveted conference speakers. Or like Boris Johnson, they shrug it off as unimportant. Or like Trump, they rage and rant.
The post-truth era is facilitated by the social media where “misinformation” spreads like wildfire and most mainstream journalists have abdicated their role as fact-checkers, preferring instead to swallow deceptions and lies without much questioning.
Bullies, ranting and lying politicians are certainly not just a phenomenon of the West. Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America have more than their share of deceitful men and women who have turned lying into a long-standing political art form.
In the past, once unmasked, liars and cheats in the West beat a fast retreat. Today, they are foreign ministers and leaders of political parties – and possibly one of them could become the next leader of the “free world”.