We are living in a post-truth era… and it has infected New Zealand politics.
The campaigns of Donald Trump and the Brexiteers have been a triumph of emotional populism over cold, hard facts.
And our MPs are running around the Beehive with their pants on fire. Reporting on politics now feels like dispatches from an alternate universe.
In this distorted reality there are imaginary MSD squads flying in to help the homeless, and new emergency beds that already existed.
There is no evidence that inequality in New Zealand is rising, despite actual evidence on the widening wealth gap from Statistics New Zealand.
And in this brave new era, politicians prefer the anecdotal evidence of café owners over Treasury commissioned reports on the ineffectiveness of the 90-day trial.
The Government can disown previous statements (work trials were never about creating jobs, the foreign trust regime is “world class”, we’ll only be in Iraq for two years).
And serious flaws – such as the Ombudsman’s conclusion that the MFAT leaks inquiry “failed to have proper regard to relevant evidence in making its findings” – were merely “procedural issues” that journalists had “misinterpreted” anyway.
This flimsy relationship to the truth is not confined to National.
Labour leader Andrew Little refused to say sorry to John Shewan because he said the tax expert didn’t ask for an apology. Point of fact: he had. In writing.
And Little is heading for court over remarks he made about National party donors Earl and Lani Hagaman which they say were defamatory.
The polls don’t punish National for straying from the truth. And Labour are desperate, throwing mud in the hope something gets traction.
Whatever the motivation, the truth has gone out of fashion.
The public are turning to politicians who they think “tell it like it is”. Trump, Nigel Farage, Winston Peters.
But they don’t. They tell it how they think it is. Evidence – even (as with Breixt) overwhelming evidence offered up by economists, world leaders, the IMF – is dismissed as opinion, or biased.
Politicians are now playing a game in which it’s up to their opponents to fact-check, to catch out their lies. (“People have had enough of experts,” as British Tory leadership hopeful Michael Gove put it.)
They presume media and the voters should accept what they say as fact.
Earlier this week, Trump’s supporter Jeffrey Lord dismissed this “fact-checking business” as an “elitist, media-type thing”.
People only care about “what the candidates say”, he added.
But if what the candidates say are bare-faced lies…then where does that leave us?