Back when I was enlisted as a persona non grata, Turkish officials, including President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his inner circle, said things about me for days that were outright false. The Turkish media parroted these groundless claims. Some claimed that I worked for Israel, others said I was Caucasus station chief of the KGB (they think it exists today).
I was battling these lies day and night, giving interviews to scores of news outlets. I even started a fact-checking website that only dealt with these types of lies. I was appalled by how officials could be so forthcoming and brazen in saying such things that a simple Google search would discredit. I was smeared so bad. That character assassination is a modus operandi of Turkey's ruling AKP, aided and abetted by the loyalist media.
We're now living in an era where leaders can tell such endless lies without facing any public retribution. The Economist calls this an era of "post-truth politics." From Trump to Erdogan and to Brexit leaders, these politicians rely on "assertions that 'feel true' but have no basis in fact." Feelings, not facts, "are what matter" in this sort of politics.
Republican presidential candidate Donald J. Trump has become the voice of those who were let down and left behind, including by traditional GOP leaders. Isn't true about Erdogan, too? Turks both in Turkey and abroad are proud of a leader who yells at Israel (never mind the silent reconciliation) and lifted millions out of poverty, made long oppressed Muslims feel as "first-class citizens."
In the words of late author Maya Angelou, "People will forget what you said or did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." Because Erdogan and Trump make their electorate feel "great and empowered", who cares if they tell the truth or lie, if they respect laws or bend them?
That "post-truth politics", reinforced with the social media and a wide variety of click-baiting media outlets, has also become a new battleground. These leaders design their lies in a fashion that attacking them only feeds their narrative further. It sheds more spotlight on groundless allegations.
This line from that cover story in The Economist is scary for many of us in Turkey: "The deeper worry is for countries like Russia and Turkey, where autocrats use the techniques of post-truth to silence opponents." Times have changed. So lies shall set you free.
The reason why the fact-checking mechanism in these societies does not work is because polarization is so high that no one believes what the other camp is saying. If CNN or the NY Times claims that Trump is lying, they're immediately branded as dishonest liberal media.
When a public figure claims that President Barack Obama was not born in the U.S. and that he is not a patriotic American, it feeds into people's worst impulses. It helps consolidate many around a single political line.
Trump had to finally abandon his birther claims on Friday, because he was pandering for the votes of African Americans as well as many white people who think the GOP standard-bearer is a racist. Even when acknowledged that Obama was born in the U.S. during Friday's 28-second speech, he made two claims that were also false: Hillary Clinton started the birther controversy and that he put an end to it after President Obama published the long-form of his birth certificate in 2011.
How are you going to hold leaders accountable for their false statements when millions of their supporters buy them?
Welcome to post-truth politics.