Nationalism and all other forms of traditionalism have always been “post-truth”. One might think that this is an odd statement, since reactionary movements are so often characterized by a kind of absolutism. Liberals and leftists have always been the ones who are accused of vacuous relativism; many on the left mistake their commitment to pluralism for a refusal to defend the objectivity of their beliefs. Traditionalists’ sharp distinction between right and wrong makes them appear to be defenders of objective fact, unconcerned with matters of circumstance or emotion.
This absolutism is not the hallmark of a truth-sayer. For reactionaries, truth is a facade: manufactured in order to mask a host of dead cultural gods they are terrified to let go of. These gods ground their own subjective sense of stability. Reactionaries use truth like a hammer, but truth is not a tool. Truth is the construction project itself. Truth is aimed at — not swung around.
The performative contradiction embedded in so much of conservative discourse and political activity is embodied perfectly in Trump and his loyal fanbase. Trump’s infamous version of honesty involves confidently and bolding asserting that which is patently false. His truth is a fiat backed by an endless, eternal, choral repetition of the phrase “Believe me”. This is the essence of traditionalism. If something is repeated enough times with enough power behind it — if it has successfully drowned out the opposing view for long enough — then that’s just the way things are and always have been.
And this is our president’s strategic genius (although the genius may simply be incidental). Truth is rarely loud. Truth is for nerds. It’s boring. Who wants truth when you’ve got the age-old cultural practice of getting your followers worked up into a euphoric froth of righteous indignation at all things weak and foreign? That really gets the blood pumping and the dopamine circulating. Truth is hard and vague. Those who sincerely pursue truth are going to be wrong more often than they are going to be right. Those who present themselves as being consistently “correct” are rarely interested in any fact outside their place in the prevailing dominance hierarchy.
We have always lived in bubbles. Technology has simply allowed us to see through our bubbles and into other people’s. “Fake news” was at one time just the gossip of our particular ingroups. Today, gossip gets millions of views, and it’s more open to being challenged. Unfortunately, these things were never meant to be challenged. They are built to travel freely through our community like a virus, until that virus simply becomes an accepted and practically invisible component of our collective operating system. It’s just the way things function, so you’d better just go along with it.
I’m beginning to think that this is our fate. I can’t make myself seriously entertain the idea that this return of tradition-worship can be defeated by good-faith, reasonable engagement. It’s best to just wait for the accumulating viruses to crash the whole damn system and start from scratch. Taking an optimistic perspective, at least it doesn’t look like such a collapse will take very long to occur. Look at the last great wave of extremist reactionaries back in the 1930s. There’s only so much bullshit you can expect society to process before it burns down.