Leading Edge / Winter 2017
Post-Truth Politics

When lying becomes an acceptable political strategy

Illustration of a boy's head with an extra long nose (Pinocchio) and a speech bubble with an "x" in the middle

Illustration: The Office of Gilbert Li

Donald Trump’s startling victory in the American election is being seen in some quarters as a total rejection of the idea that politicians should be truthful. Some take it as a sure sign that “post-truth politics” are here to stay – even that democracy itself is in retreat.

Trump’s almost complete disregard for the truth is indeed worrying, says Joseph Heath, a professor of philosophy and public policy. But he sees the former reality TV star as an outlier among politicians. What’s more concerning, he says, is the development of political strategists who make lying integral to their game plan.

If there’s a silver lining, Heath sees it in a mainstream media that’s asking deep questions about its obligations to democracy and the growing use of real-time fact-checking to correct politicians’ lies, almost as they’re uttered. “This is a positive shift,” says Heath.

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