Truth and Truthfulness in The Age of Trump

Free Public Lecture

Truth and Truthfulness in The Age of Trump

In politics, concepts of left and right are contentious. Think instead of Australia’s culture wars and those who refer to their opponents as the chattering classes, the Sandalista brigade or slaves to political correctness. They are the majority at writers festivals or festivals of ideas. For many years they were sceptical of any robust conceptions of fact and truth. The warriors of the culture wars scorned them for it. 'Cultural relativists' they called them. Trump turned things around. Now it is his side of the culture wars that makes a mockery of concepts such as truth, facts, evidence and reason.

Trump’s disdain of facts and argument has become so persistent and extreme that it threatens to erode the conceptual space that allows for the application of concepts of fact, evidence and argument. Or, more precisely, to where argument can make, or fail to make, evidence out of facts. His demagoguery took from reason, not the calm necessary for its operation, but the concepts necessary for its application. This lecture will reflect on this interesting turn of events. Even in politics, it will argue, truth is a need of the soul.

This lecture is part of a series: The Wednesday Lectures 2017: The Intelligentsia in The Age of Trump, hosted by Raimond Gaita.

It began with Brexit and entered another dimension with Donald Trump's election campaign. Many of the intelligentsia – those who choose or are required by their profession to comment on political affairs – were shocked. Hardly any anticipated that resentment, anger and even hatred could go so deep in parts of the British and American electorates almost unnoticed. When it was noticed few foresaw its transformative power.

In the case of Trump, many were incredulous that someone who had a good chance of becoming president of the US could be so radically disdainful of the practices, conventions and institutions that express and underpin democratic political civility, and pile lie upon lie so fast and shamelessly as to make the idea that reality mattered quixotic. He hasn't changed as president.

But commentators were not only shocked that they didn’t see Brexit or Trump coming. They were unsettled by a suspicion that some of the many reasons they didn’t played a significant role in ensuring that they did. Do we, even now, understand what has happened and why it did?


  • Professor Raimond Gaita
    Professor Raimond Gaita, Professorial Fellow at the Melbourne Law School and the Faculty of Arts