The US midterms are a referendum on whether truth has a place in modern politics

The butterfly effect of Donald Trump

Trump’s grip of the truth may float around like a butterfly but its impact stings way worse than a bee (Picture: Dave Anderson/

So much depends upon the red states tomorrow (and how they vote today).

Trump will either be emboldened by Congress staying Republican (red) and broadly backing his policy ambitions or neutered by a Democrat (blue) majority.

But the repercussions of this vote go far beyond US borders or foreign policy and could actually change how politics around the world, particularly in the UK, is conducted.

This election stands as a test of how important truth is in elections.

There are lots of facts to pick over – Trump is a climate skeptic, the North American Free Trade deal has disintegrated, he thinks low taxes are a good thing so is happy to remove safety nets from those in poverty, and that migration into the US is a bad thing.

There are many more examples of Trump’s new self-titled ‘nationalist’ agenda – take the trade war between China and the US – and a Republican majority will have a huge impact on global social and economic policy.

But it is not just these policies that will give a clear signal to the UK about what works in politics. Trump’s butterfly effect is not just about what policies are tested across the world, but with the how they’re presented and the rhetoric around them.

In short, what actually sways the electorate to vote for him?

With screaming protests of ‘fake news’ and ‘propaganda’, Donald Trump has made at least 6,420 false or misleading statements since he took office, Washington Post reports, and made more false claims ‘in the seven weeks before the midterms than he did in the first nine months of his presidency’.

Not even Fox, a television network known for supporting the Republicans, will run a ‘racist’ ad from the president making false claims about the Democrats and migration.

Dictators can get away with it but modern democracies are meant to root out mistruths and hold those responsible to account.

Trump’s quotes on ‘fake news’ can easily be compared to a quote from the Brexit campaign when then Justice Secretary Michael Gove said that ‘we’ve had enough of experts’ just before the Brexit referendum.

If we don’t trust the media, we don’t trust experts, we don’t trust fact checkers, we don’t trust businesses and we don’t believe politicians, then who do we believe?

Some have stopped even believing just absolute truths if they don’t chime with their personal politics.

There are so many things that are a matter of opinion or differing analyses (big state or small? Open borders or closed? High taxes or low taxes? Leave or remain in the EU?) that politics is built to argue out.

But things with right answers are still being misrepresented and, in some cases, knowingly lied about. Politics is being harmed by so much noise and so little rigour with what is and what isn’t based on fact.

The sad fact is this misrepresentation has been working.

Trump was elected, Brexit was voted for at least in part based on a lie painted on the side of the bus about £350m extra for the NHS after we leave the EU.

‘Post-truth’ was Oxford Dictionaries word of the year in 2016 but it is even more important now.

If Trump can get away with these thousands of misleading statements, it means that democracies no longer hold accuracy up as a key issue in elections. It means that British politicians will try and get away with bigger rhetoric with smaller substance.

It’s not a new thing. George Orwell wrote in an essay that political language ‘is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind’.

But what is new is just how many mistruths are going unpunished.

It’s predicted to come down to 48 of the 435 seats in the House Of Representatives and 10 of the 35 seats up for grabs in the Senate.

These are the swing seats that decide which way the majority goes.

If populism trumps (pun intended) realpolitik, pragmatism and foreign diplomacy, it’s the clearest evidence yet that ‘nationalism’ and adverts seen as racist still drive voters to the polls and to vote.

It would be a clear signal that facts aren’t important in politics right now.

Where Trump goes, if successful, others will follow. If Republicans even get close to keeping hold of the House, watch Theresa May’s line on immigration toughen, watch tax policies and Universal Credit rhetoric shift and watch the truth disintegrate further as politicians favour the popular over the practical or even implementable ones.

Whether we like it or not, politics is contagious. If you want evidence, just ask Angela Merkel. And if truth isn’t something you can get elected on (now even more than ever), then why would those who want to get into power tell the truth to get there if they don’t need to?

The real referendum on this comes in 2020 with Trump’s re-election but this vote is so important.

Political rhetoric is stuck somewhere between romanticism and imagism, fantasy and reality, between fact and fiction. Neither side is perfect but if truth prevails over fantasy, it sends a clear message not only for America but to the rest of the world that eventually liars get found out.

If not, we’re left with the reality that truth has no place in politics.

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