Oxford Dictionaries defines its official Word of the Year, post-truth, as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” This month, we will briefly highlight each day a major moment from 2016 that most exemplifies the concept of post-truth. Many of these moments will, inevitably, pertain to our president-elect.
The election of 2016 truly was historic. After a tense, long-fought, ideologically fraught, emotionally exhausting campaign that left at least half of the country with a de facto diagnosis of low-level post-traumatic stress disorder, one party’s nominee emerged way ahead at the polls–in the process earning not just more votes than the other candidate, but also earning more overall votes than any white man to run for the office in the history of the United States. It might be fair to call the historic results and “landslide” and a “blowout,” but for one nagging detail: That candidate actually lost the election.
The vagaries of the United States Electoral College have been rehashed many times in the past month, and they’re not worth getting into here–both candidates knew how the election rules worked, and both candidates were going after the same states when campaigning. Hillary Clinton, like Donald Trump, wanted to win Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, and other long-established swing states, and she did not. But despite taking the presidential election by a margin so thin that ongoing recount efforts in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania still have some Clinton supporters clinging to the hope that this is all a bad dream–his margin of victory in the three states combined is less than 100,000 votes–Trump’s campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, took to Twitter on November 28 to declare his mandate.
“Landslide. Blowout. Historic.” Those are bold words, but they don’t describe what we saw in Trump’s victory. (Well, “historic” might apply, given that only John Quincy Adams and Rutherford Hayes won the Presidency with a smaller percentage of the popular vote.) Conway clarified her remarks shortly thereafter, explaining that of course she wasn’t referring to the number of people who voted for her candidate as a landslide or a blowout, she was only talking about the number of electoral votes. Even that, though, was a post-truth interpretation of the numbers: Reagan, Nixon, and LBJ all had claims to “landslide” and “blowout” victories in the electoral college, winning with at least 90% of the votes. If one wanted to define either of those terms in quantifiable language, you might go with “won the electoral college by at least 30 points,” in which case Barack Obama’s 2008 victory, and Bill Clinton’s 1992 and 1996 victories, would both pass muster. At least 32 of the 54 presidential elections we’ve held have won by a margin that intense, though, so the question of whether such victories are actually “historic” is worth asking–more often than not, the margin of victory actually is something of a landslide blowout.
On that list of each of our 54 elections, though, Donald Trump comes in 44th. He’s still ahead of Rutherford Hayes and John Quincy Adams, as well as folks like George W. Bush (both times), Woodrow Wilson, and Zachary Tayler, but if Donald Trump’s victory is a “landslide” or a “blowout,” then it’s fair to ask: What electoral college margin isn’t?
The answer, of course, is who cares, nothing matters, history is nonsense, and facts don’t exist anymore. Trump’s supporters–egged on by the President-Elect and his campaign manager–can rest easy feeling confident that they’re part of a sweeping wave. And if that wave is in fact smaller than the wave that voted against it, well, in a post-truth world, they can just get their facts elsewhere.