The events of recent months, especially in the light of yesterday’s result across the pond, are a sure sign that we a living in an epoch of ‘post truth politics’. Emotion and the power of story telling seems to run the roost above the plight of policy makers, who are desperately trying to push their policy ideas to the forefront of debates. The 24 hour news cycle creates a journalistic culture that focuses on the cult of the individual, rather than the importance of collective ideas. For example, if the media stories were the only terms of reference for the US presidential election, one couldn’t be blamed for thinking that policies are redundant (unless it involves building a wall across the border with Central America).
‘Truth’ has become associated with establishment politics, which is ironic given that establishment politicians are among some of the least trusted people on the planet. Instead, trust is placed in the form of hope and personified through figures who may be entirely disconnected from the political world. Brexit and the Presidential election, as well as the scandalous story that has resulted in the Middle Eastern mess we see before us today, are consequences of our post-truth world. The political world seems to entirely lack direction or a narrative that it can successfully draw in ‘the people’ through conventional policy. Indeed, when this happens, such as George Osborne’s deficit cutting obsession here in the UK, populations divide and more anger is created than support. Instead we are floating in a socio-cultural-economic universe that is too complex for anybody to understand.
Division is a consequence in itself of post truth politics. Without concrete policy ideas to support, people fall into a line of confused polarisation. Politics will always polarise to a certain extent. However, confused polarisation is different. It polarises on the grounds of which people are unsure of their foundations. Brexit and Trumpgate have divided Britain and America. This has happened on multiple fronts: gender, age, race, class, educational background and urban/rural. The urban rural divide is coming to be associated with the rise of the Right in European politics.
Many in rural Britain voted to leave the European Union in the referendum on 23rd June. This is despite the fact that the EU pours millions of Euros into the rural economy each year. Indeed, 9% of the European budget is spent on rural development and 30% on agriculture.The EU institutions have become a marker of hate, for the multiple problems faced by rural communities. Rural England wanted to hammer a blow to the cosmopolitan urban elite, who are perceived as having guarded the power, wealth and prestige around them in the recent past and fail to do anything about the need to rejuvenate rural communities. Often ‘urbanites’ are brandished as useless on countryside matters anyway, ‘not understanding’ the country way of life.
Division is based on fear and it is growing across Europe. The social and economic gap between urban and rural communities continues to advance. Many rural communities cling on to a need for ‘tradition’ and ‘protection’ of ‘their way of life’. This conservatism might seem tame but it actually has the potential to cause immense damage. Halting organic change, especially in a technological age, can only breed division and prevent prosperity that is so lacking in the first place. The conservatism and wish for preservation of tradition is allowing populist parties to take advantage. The Right in on the move in Europe.
In Austria, one in three communities is getting smaller, and all of these are in rural areas. This phenomenon is perfectly understandable if you think about it. After all, the vast majority of jobs are in the towns and cities. Why would young people especially want to stay in areas where there is little likelihood of them being able to make a living? The consequence however is that the far right Freedom Party, the FPÖ is gaining foothold in the areas, promising to ‘protect tradition’.
Most people in Britain were, understandably, transfixed by Brexit in May and June of this year, but in Austria, post-truth politics was being played out in the Presidential election. FPÖ candidate Norbert Hofer received 62% of the rural vote, mainly from men and the elderly, the same demographics who voted for Brexit and Donald Trump. Young people and those in urban areas tended to vote for the Green-liberal candidate Alexander van der Bellen. A re-run of the election will take place on December 4th. It could be the countryside that swings it. Europe should be keeping a close eye on Austria.
In September this year there were local elections in the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern in northern Germany. Rural areas in the state face immense problems of economic backwardness, especially when it comes to physical infrastructure and internet speeds. The far right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party was able to capitalise on this and secured 20% of the vote. The party is now represented in 10 of the 16 German state parliaments.
In France, it is well known that Marine Le Pen’s Front National is making headway and she intends to make history in the upcoming French Presidential election. Rural areas, such as the villages of Auvergne in northern France, provide strong support for the euro-sceptic and traditionalist views of her party.
The focus needs to be on building bridges, not walls. The rise of the populist right is not going to help matters. The advance of nationalism is evident everywhere: Brexit, the Austrian election, Trump, Poland, Scotland. None of this is helping. However, in a world whereby we each live in our own little bubble, with many activists simply posting their views on the internet without undertaking any ‘real’ action (rather like this blog post in a way!), it is easier for post-truth politics to rise on the agenda and for fear to lead people into desperate situations. We live in a fascinating political period, but there is also an ounce of danger that we need to be wary of. Seeds are being sown in the countryside that must be tended if the whole thing is not to run away with itself.
For those of you who haven’t already, I suggest you watch Adam Curtis’s recent documentary, Hypernormalisation, which looks at the world from the perspective of global political confusion and in the context of post-truth politics.