Updated April 14, 2023
Our post-truth situation began around 2016 during the US’s presidential election and the UK’s European referendum (Brexit). That’s when a large minority of top-level public officials, their appointees, and followers used the Internet and attendant hard- and software, as well as other media, especially talk radio, to enhance their expressions; in this instance to affirm what most people reject (there was a larger crowd at Trump’s inaugural than at Obama’s, Britain sends 350m Pounds a week to Brussels, Trump won the 2020 election, et al) and to deny what most people accept (science, global warming, Trump lost the 2020 election, et al).
Although post-truthers talk as if they deny the reality accepted by essentially everyone else, or as if they believe in a different reality, the fact is, they don’t; they’re not schizophrenics; they accept and believe in the same reality as essentially everyone else. Their behavior proves it: stopping at red lights, taking their meds, and so on. They behave like the rest of us because they believe like the rest of us. They, too, believe in the laws of physics (though few of any of us can name even one of them), and in science, medicine, and research. For all intents and purposes, it’s only what post-truthers say—their talk— that distinguishes them from the rest of us. We don’t say what they say.
Indeed, the widespread conviction that tens-of-millions of people actually believe what the facts don’t support—for instance, that that Trump won the 2020 election— is based on, as pointed out by Columbia University sociologist, Musa al-Gharbi, faulty analysis of their talk; on “survey responses, followed by overly credulous interpretations of those results [responses] by academics and pundits,” and by the wide distribution and consumption of the results/responses made inevitable by Internet+ Age technologies.
When post-truthers talk this way, when they respond to questions with obvious lies about what has occurred, when they assert conspiracy theories (Domino voting machines were rigged in Venezuela), they’re not saying what they actually believe but, rather, expressing their emotional commitments, their beliefs, their interests, their ideological and/or partisan political preferences. Their subjectivities override their knowledge of the facts. “What looks like a disagreement over political facts,” writes Michael Hannon, a philosophy professor at the University of Nottingham, “is often just partisan cheerleading or party bad-mouthing.” Or as al-Gharbi puts it, “the big lie seems to be more about social posturing than making sincere truth claims.”
Effects of Post-Truthers’ Expressions
Post-truthers’ subjectively-driven expressions about political figures, policies, and past and present events have significant effects because what post-truthers say is, or can be, heard (and seen) by everyone who’s connected to the electronic planetary network. Many within the network, Martin Gurri’s “public,” the disaffected and the disenchanted, take these expressions as their own and send them, most often via social media, to friends and contacts. The lies, denials, fake news, and absurdities proliferate–expression/talk is enhanced–and the ranks of post-truthers grow.
A significant effect of the magnification of post-truth expressions, and of the consequent growing numbers of post-truthers, is increasing attacks on the elites/establishment, furthering the erosion of their authority. Al-Gharbi’s explanation of Trump’s Big Lie is an example of how this happens: “Within contemporary rightwing circles, a rhetoric embrace of the big lie is perceived as an act of defiance against prevailing elites. It is recognized as a surefire means to `trigger’ people on the other team. A demonstrated willingness to endure blowback (from Democrats, media, academics, social media companies et al) for publicly striking this `defiant’ position is interpreted as evidence of solidarity with, and commitment to, `the people’ instead of special interests; it’s taken as a sign that one is not beholden to `the establishment’ and its rules. “
Amplified post-truth expressions also significantly alter public/political discourse about numerous issues (climate change, public health, guns, abortion, and so on). With more post-truth information, as well as increasing numbers of post-truthers themselves, in the mix, public and political debates, conversations, and discussions, on- and offline, are increasingly shaped less by facts than by expressions of personal belief and interest, emotion (fear, liking/affection, anger, and so on), ideology, and identity (gender, ethnic, nationality, etc.). Uncertainty about everything is spawned, and whereas fact-based discourse is communication that often lends itself to agreement at the outset, and resolution of disagreements through negotiation and compromise—all of which is necessary for so-called “democracies”—subjective-based discourse is hardly, if at all, communication in the sense of imparting or exchanging information but, rather, continuous conflicting expressions of personal persuasions. Democracy thereby becomes frozen, deadlocked, less and less able to be an effective and efficient form of government.
 This is not to deny the inherent biases in everyone’s interpretation and presentation of the facts. Ben Sasse makes this point by calling attention to “the centrality of intellectual traditions, intellectual frameworks, and intellectual communities. It turns out that no people—not even scientists—are disembodied automatons. We have beliefs, and jobs and mortgages. Scientists have deadlines and a schedule and scholarly discussion partners and buddies in the breakroom. We all bring self-justifying biases to bear at the beginning of every day. . . . We come from communities and places, and we have passions and experiences and investments. . . . [O]ur views are shaped by a whole lot more than `just the facts, ma’am.’” Ben Sasse, Them: Why We Hate Each Other—and How to Heal (St. Martin’s Press, 2018), pp. 85-86.
 The people never rule, nor do the officials they elect. When I use the word “democracy,” I mean a government in which voters elect a chief executive and/or legislators and, in some instances, judges, all of whom exercise some power concerning some matters sometimes.