We are in a period where knowledge is no longer power, ignorance is.

 

Throughout 2016, there has been a disturbingly rapid rise of anti-intellectualism in US and UK politics. Genuine knowledge and research has, in many instances, been replaced by entertainment, ignorance and deliberate gullibility.

There are examples of this pattern throughout American politics in the last few years. Jim Inhofe, a sitting congressman since 1994, brought a snowball into the chamber as ‘proof’ that global warming is a hoax. A congressman until 2015, Paul Broun described evolution as ‘lies from the pits of hell’. Furthermore, a national poll conducted for Associate Press in 2014 highlights that these views are not limited to a few right-wing congressmen. Only 33 per cent of Americans surveyed were confident that climate change is man-made, and more than half were sceptical of the Big Bang theory. The public has become less and less inclined to think critically, and instead glorify the irrational and emotional.

Two of the most publicised political decisions of 2016 further support this claim. Despite support for remaining in the EU from the majority of politicians, economists and experts, the British public voted to leave. Despite strong warnings that the election of Trump would be catastrophic for the US economy and politics, he won. Those with the most knowledge no longer have the most influence.

Mainstream media has a huge role to play in this growing trend. Tabloid newspapers play on the fears of the public and use scaremongering tactics to convince people. The Daily Mail described high court judges as ‘enemies of the people’ following a ruling that only MPs can trigger Article 50. Similarly, due to the algorithms that run social media sites and search engines, people see the news that they want to see, or even news that is completely fabricated. Nearly 45 per cent of the US population get their news from Facebook, the site where most fake news stories are found. President Obama likened this to ‘propaganda’, and it is clearly working. In the three months before the election, fake news stories were viewed, liked or shared a million times more than real ones. Of the 20 top fake election stories, 17 were about Hillary Clinton. It is undeniable that this impacted the election result.

However, this anti-intellectualism is not the public’s fault. This article is not claiming that voters are ‘stupid’ or ‘ignorant’ as has been stated by some following Brexit and Trump’s victory. Career politicians and opportunist public figures have taken the disenchantment of the white, working class and run with it. The fact that Boris Johnson, an Eton and Oxford educated politician, and Donald Trump, a billionaire property mogul, have become ‘men of the people’ representing the views of disenfranchised voters is laughable. But when outright lies are told during campaigns, it is understandable that populism will win. It is not the fault of the public that they were lied to throughout the Brexit and US election campaigns. But it is their responsibility to not take false claims at face value.

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