What is the basis of alternative facts? Why do voters choose to believe what politicians say (like Donald Trump) rather than believe the pure facts? Have we reached a point where language itself has acquired too much power and influences us more than it should? Although it is our nature to believe anything that is true or proven, people have slowly switched to believing anything that is told to them, and spreading it on to friends and family, which, in turn, do the same and the process goes on and on. People tend to believe anything (“All Muslims are bad”, for example) said by a famous person or a prominent political figure, however unusual/unconventional these opinions are. This unobstructed spread of eccentric ideas causes certain problems to society. This leads to ask the question: Has language become too powerful?
To provide an example of the above, I present to you a roadmap of the 2012 US Presidential campaign polls, with certain important milestones indicated on the roadmap. From June 2012, Obama was clearly ahead of his running opponent in the race of the White House, Mitt Romney. The parties’ conventions did help in closing the gap of the two candidates, but Obama’s lead was quickly regained. However, when the October debate occurred, one month before election day, and Mitt Romney was assumed to be the winner of the debate, the Republican candidate’s rating even went on to surpass Mr. Obama. This indicated a very strong influence that language had in the voters’ minds. Throughout both campaigns, facts were exchanged back and forth between the two candidates but, in the end, the factor that gave a brief edge to Mr. Romney was his win on the debate. Any past achievements/failures outlined in the fact exchange were pushed aside and the language battle’s result came in place. This establishes that people value words more than proven facts and vote with this preference in mind.
This new approach is perplexing, however. People are programmed from birth to believe something that is true, something that is proven. This is why we believe in the law of gravity, for example. It is a phenomenon discovered by Newton and proven with mathematics, and, thus, we believe it. When it comes to unproven ideas, like ghosts for example, most people do not believe in them, because nothing has occurred to prove their existence. However, this thought process does not apply to politics, which is vexing.
The idea that politicians rarely say the full truth in their speeches has become widespread. People are aware of the tactics that politicians use to get their point across. Nevertheless, they choose to believe all these “facts” brought up by politicians and to disregard the fact checking conducted by media outlets. An important role in this disregard of real facts has been the recent branding of such facts by politicians as fake or alternative, brought up by the establishment of more liberal outlets. But, even though, the “facts” of politicians can be proven not right and the facts of the media can be proven to be correct. However, there has not been a coordinated effort by the media in order to strongly oppose this new branding of “fake/alternative”. This, combined with the recent rise of populism and anti-establishment notions by politicians such as Donald Trump, Geert Wilders, and Marine Le Pen, leads to the prevalence of anything that is said by such people. The media gets shadowed by establishment characterizations and the people continuously get brainwashed with ideas such as building walls and having other nations pay for them, or ideas such as leaving the EU or Euro without any compromises.
This disregard of the true facts, the anti-establishment notions, and the belief in the words of politicians lead to the conclusion that language has taken on a role of power, now more than ever, that can be used to easily manipulate the masses in any way a person wants. This power of language can be especially dangerous in times like these with the rise of populism. People can be very easily manipulated to believe that simple solutions exist to very complex problems, as for example the ease with which a new Health Care Act can be passed in order to repeal and replace the aging Obamacare. Such campaign and first-100-days promises were the flagships of the new US President’s campaigns and we see how all of them have already turned out. The problem is, though, that this person was voted with these ideas in mind and now, although he will not implement any of those ideas in the extent that he declared (which connects to what the facts were saying during the campaigns), he is the man in the Oval Office. That office comes with great power, a power that cannot afford mistakes to be made. However, in those close calls that have already occurred, we see that the new US President again uses language to market the mistakes as being the right solution. In the example of the Muslin ban, facts proved that extremely few of the Muslims of the banned countries do go on to some terrorist activities in the US. Nevertheless, the President used his language in such an effective manner where he passed on to the public ideas of discrimination due to religion, something unconstitutional. Most worrying, however, is the fact that the population of the US believed and now loudly supports such an executive order to ban.
Concluding, the language’s power has become very troublesome in these times. Anti-establishment populists wield language in such a way that makes it powerful and intuitive to the general public. This supports the rise to power of ideas that are not able to be implemented but put an unconventional and inexperienced politician in office. When looking in History, such means were used by figures that contributed to change our world for the worst.