Trump, Brexit, the rise (and fall?) of post-truth politics and their influence on the New Zealand election

University of Otago Politics Professor Robert Patman, August 27, 2017.

Brexit and Trump’s election as US president shared globalisation as a springboard of discontent – but, says Prof Patman, globalisation is not something that can be “undone”. Nor would a small country like NZ want it – or the liberal world order on which it is based – to be. We rely on rules supported by international organisations – as shown by our seven out of seven score against trading partners in cases taken to the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

The Brexit vote was “statistically, almost a draw,” yet it has propelled the UK along a path that will put 44% of its exports and almost 3 million jobs at risk, as the EU divorce moves the UK from a market of 520 million to just 63 million. UK politicians were deluded in their belief that companies wouldn’t move their head offices to Europe from London – Lloyds of London has already moved to Dublin, American companies have had exit plans in hand since Brexit discussions began.

Yet these politicians are not being held fully to account for false claims made over savings the UK would make from Brexit, in the post-truth, media soundbite environment now predominating. Although politicians had long been economical with the truth, “the pattern and scale of deception we are seeing is something quite different than the traditional level of lying,” he said. And the lies have become so routine that they seem to be said with impunity.

Pessimistic by training and optimistic by nature, however, Prof Patman doesn’t believe we have landed inevitably in a post-truth era. “We fret about these deceptions partly because of the increased number of sources and fact checkers we have pointing them out.” So, for instance, polls now show that Brexit wouldn’t have succeeded if the vote were held now.

If Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn came out saying he was against Brexit, because of the huge economic and social cost (especially for the most vulnerable citizens), this could help the British Labour Party galvanise support and reverse the Brexit tide.

Although Trump was “delusional” if he really believed that the US could reverse globalisation, he did correctly diagnose that globalisation isn’t working for everyone in a world where nearly 1 billion people cannot read or write and 1 billion do not get enough to eat each day.

Prof Patman thinks that a political counter-response to post-truth politics will gain momentum, especially in the UK and US, to enhance the tremendous potential of globalisation to address its major issues – such as environmental degradation and increased inequality.

NZ’s MMP system will safeguard us from the “disproportionate impact” populism has had in recent UK and US elections, he said.

Prof Patman would like to see politicians – here and elsewhere – show more leadership and bravery to speak against populist attacks on immigration and other divisive issues. All democratic governments needed vibrant, courageous oppositions – and if the UK and US had one, then the promises of Brexit and the Trump administration would have been more severely tested.

He said the world also needed new economic thinking as the current system, characterised by rising inequality, was neither sustainable nor good for anyone, even billionaires, in the long-term. “This is vital if we are to defeat the politics of rage and hate.”