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Oxford Dictionary’s Word of the Year Describes Trumpism and Buharism

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D. Twitter: @farooqkperogi You are probably already aware that Oxford Dictionaries’ word of the year is “po...

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.
Twitter: @farooqkperogi

You are probably already aware that Oxford Dictionaries’ word of the year is “post-truth.” It is an adjective, which the dictionaries define as "relating or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief."

In other words, the word signifies the demotion of verifiable empirical proofs and the elevation of feelings, biases, prejudices, etc. in the formulation of thought-processes and courses of action. The reality the word lexicalizes isn’t by any means new, but it’s a voguish new addition to our vocabulary.

“Post-truth” joins a long list of trendy words that capture the sense of instability and dislocation that has accompanied human progress in the last few decades. Words like “postmodern,” “post-Christian,” “post-structural,” “post-Marxist,” “post-feminism,” etc. have existed in the English lexicon, especially in academese (i.e., the distinctive language usage of scholars), for years. But they are no longer the awkward academic neologisms they were years ago; they are now crossing over to mainstream usage.

“Post-truth” most certainly derived etymological inspiration from the arcane language of humanities and social science scholars who seem enamored with the “post” prefix. But it is a useful concept to explain the dissolution of certainties, the explosion of settled narratives, and the stubborn persistence of wrong, mistaken, and patently false beliefs even in the face of what lawyers call clear evidentiary proofs.

It is telling that “post-truth’s” lexical birth was actuated by two politically consequential seismic shocks the world just experienced: Brexit and the election of Donald Trump.

"It's not surprising that our choice reflects a year dominated by highly-charged political and social discourse," Oxford Dictionaries president Casper Grathwohl told the AFP. "Fuelled by the rise of social media as a news source and a growing distrust of facts offered up by the establishment, 'post-truth' as a concept has been finding its linguistic footing for some time. We first saw the frequency really spike this year in June with buzz over the Brexit vote and again in July when Donald Trump secured the Republican presidential nomination."

Buharism’s Post-Truth Politics
It isn’t just Brexit and Trumpism that luxuriate in and exploit our emergent post-truth world; post-truthism is also the lifeblood of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration in Nigeria. In the face of its crying failures and ineptitude amid the worst economic crisis in recent memory, the administration is whipping up emotions, turning logic on its head, and doing so much unconscionable violence to truth and basic decency as a defense mechanism.

Lies, deceit, and mindless propaganda are now the oxygen of the Buhari administration. If you deprive it of lies, deceit, and mindless propaganda, it will suffocate and die.

And there is a shrinking but nonetheless potent corps of Buharists, especially in the Muslim north, who perpetually lie to themselves—and to others—to the point of believing their own lies that Buhari’s administration is the savior of the nation. For example, they believe their own—and the Buhari government’s— lies that Boko Haram has been “technically” defeated. The facts of the unceasing Boko Haram attacks in Borno State and the tragic spike in the murder of our soldiers there do nothing to change this narrative.

The fact that Nigerian soldiers have not been paid their legitimate salaries, not to talk of their allowances, for at least three months is hidden from the public by government’s propaganda machine and is dismissed as “untrue” by Buhari supporters blinded by the plague of post-truthism. So is the heartrending malnutrition among, and deaths of, internally displaced Boko Haram victims, especially children—and the sexual exploitation of their young women.

Buhari is hailed as “fighting corruption” even when no one has yet to be prosecuted for corruption more than one year after the government came to power—and when clear cases of corruption against the president’s own loyalists are brazenly swept under the carpet. Post-truthist Buharists almost always retort that “corruption is fighting back” when anybody calls attention to the invidious selectivity and insincerity in government’s so-called fight against corruption.

Buhari is still called a “man of integrity” even when it came to light that he didn’t tell Nigerians the truth when he claimed he was so poor that he couldn’t afford to buy his party’s presidential nomination form and had to take a bank loan. At the time he made the claim, at least two of his children were studying at UK universities.

The president had said in the past that he had no other house outside of the houses he had in Kaduna and Daura, but his partial, half-hearted asset declaration in 2015 said he has a house in Abuja. Only multi-millionaires and billionaires own homes in Abuja. Yet the president feigned that he was poor in order to win voters’ sympathy—and their donations.

He has repudiated even his most basic campaign promises, such as fully declaring his assets like the late President Umar Musa Yar’adua did, yet he is still touted as a “man of integrity.”

He is also called a “frugal” and “modest” man even when evidence shows that he is probably Nigeria’s most profligate president. He is, for instance, the first and only president to spend millions of naira to build a helipad for his exclusive use in his hometown, which will be useless after his presidency. He is the only president in recent memory who officially goes abroad for “holidays” while the vast majority of the people he governs writhe in agony as a consequence of his economy policies, and so on.

It is only post-truthism that can blind anybody to the truth that Buhari’s government is pushing Nigeria to the brink of the precipice, that he is not the poor person he said he was, that his claims to “integrity” “modesty” and “frugality” have no basis in evidence.

But for post-truthers, emotion is all that matters. Evidence is a pesky, expendable encumbrance.

Runners-up to Post-Truth
In what follows, I reproduce AFP’s story on the choice of “post-truth” as Oxford Dictionaries’ word of the year. Enjoy:

The runners-up for words of the year included the British term "Brexiteer" used for anti-EU advocates.

"Alt-right" also made the shortlist, defined as an ultra-conservative grouping in the United States "characterised by a rejection of mainstream politics and the use of online media to disseminate deliberately controversial content".

Trump's appointment of anti-establishment media firebrand Steve Bannon, seen as a leader of the "alt-right" movement, as his chief of staff earlier this week has proved highly controversial.

Capturing the mood 
Oxford Dictionaries said the word "post-truth" had become "overwhelmingly" associated with politics.

Charlotte Buxton, associate editor at Oxford Dictionaries, said the term "caught the public imagination" in Britain and the US, with social networks playing a key role.

"It's tied in quite closely with the social media world now and how people are accessing their news," she told AFP.

"I think it reflects a trend of how emotion and individual reactions are becoming more and more important.

"People are restricting their news consumption to sources that don't claim to be neutral."
Social media networks, in particular Facebook, have come under fire since the US election for allowing "fake news" and misinformation to be widely shared.

Google and Facebook responded to the criticism Tuesday by pledging to cut off advertising revenue to fake news sites which some claim influenced the US vote.

The term "post-truth" is "reflective of the mood of the past 12 months," said Buxton, but it has been around for some time.

Oxford Dictionaries traced its first use to a 1992 essay by late Serbian-American playwright Steve Tesich in The Nation magazine about the Iran-Contra scandal and the Gulf War.

"We, as a free people, have freely decided that we want to live in some post-truth world," Tesich wrote.

"There is evidence of the phrase 'post-truth' being used before Tesich's article, but apparently with the transparent meaning 'after the truth was known' and not with the new implication that truth itself has become irrelevant," Oxford Dictionaries said.

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