How America Lost Its Objectivity
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)