How Amer­ica Lost Its Ob­jec­tiv­ity

Global Asia - - BOOK REVIEWS - Re­viewed by John Nils­son-wright, Se­nior Lec­turer, Uni­ver­sity of Cam­bridge, Se­nior Re­search Fel­low for North­east Asia, Chatham House, and a re­gional edi­tor for Global Asia.

Michiko Kaku­tani, former chief books edi­tor of

The New York Times, of­fers a per­sua­sive, cul­tur­ally nu­anced anal­y­sis of a key fea­ture of the as­sault on truth and ob­jec­tiv­ity and rise of ir­ra­tional­ity in pol­i­tics that are hall­marks of con­tem­po­rary life in Don­ald Trump’s Amer­ica. While rec­og­niz­ing that Trump’s de­mo­niza­tion of main­stream me­dia and de­nun­ci­a­tion of “fake news” is an im­por­tant fac­tor, Kaku­tani shrewdly notes that he is a symp­tom, not a cause, of a more deep-seated and long-term trend.

Meld­ing her lit­er­ary knowl­edge with po­lit­i­cal in­sight, Kaku­tani iden­ti­fies the 1960s and, notably, the rise of post-mod­ernism, with its rel­a­tivis­tic re­jec­tion of ob­jec­tive knowl­edge, as the de­ci­sive fac­tor in the steady un­der­min­ing of faith in con­crete re­al­ity. What be­gan as a skep­ti­cal ten­dency by the new left evolved into a cul­ture of nar­cis­sism and in­tro­spec­tion in turn adopted by the pop­ulist right as part of an an­gry, of­ten op­por­tunis­tic at­tack on the es­tab­lish­ment.

US pol­i­tics’ ex­trem­ism and “para­noid style” (to quote Richard Hof­s­tadter) has deep his­tor­i­cal roots, but this ten­dency, and a dis­dain for truth, has been am­pli­fied by so­cial me­dia, de­base­ment of lan­guage, and pro­pa­ganda tech­niques of both for­eign ad­ver­saries and un­prin­ci­pled dem­a­gogues such as Trump to pose a se­ri­ous, ex­is­ten­tial threat to the norms and val­ues be­hind US democ­racy. To re­sist this, US cit­i­zens must avoid re­treat­ing into cyn­i­cism and work to pro­tect their demo­cratic in­sti­tu­tions.

The Death of Truth By Michiko Kaku­tani Tim Dug­gan Books, 2018, 208 pages, $14.71 (Hard­cover)

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Cambodia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.