Leave it to the language experts at England’s Oxford Dictionaries to come up with a two-word “Word of the Year” for 2016.
That (those) word(s) is (are) “post-truth.”
Post-truth, explain the Oxford experts, is “defined as ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.’”
A food example might explain the difference.
Recently, while accompanying newly minted Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue to an elementary school in Leesburg, Va., Senate Ag Committee chairman Pat Roberts, a Kansas Republican, endorsed Perdue’s swift action to “slow down” implementation of the nutritional — and controversial — school lunch standards promoted by former first lady Michelle Obama.
Said Roberts to his fourth-grader lunch mates, “Try eating a biscuit made with whole grains. It just doesn’t work!”
Secretary Perdue agreed, telling nearby reporters, “I wouldn’t be as big as I am today without chocolate milk.”
You can all but hear the conversations around Leesburg dinner tables that night, right?
Mother: “Eat your broccoli, son, it’s good for you.”
Son: “But, Mom, an old guy with glasses, a salesman or a senator or something, told me at lunch that I should eat biscuits and then a round guy — he said he was a used DA or USDA or whatever — gave me a glass of chocolate milk and told me I could be big like him if I drink it every day!”
Mother: “What have I told you about making up nonsense? Eat your broccoli!”
So it goes in post-truth politics, where the new normal is two grandfatherly politicians dispensing personal nutrition advice and partisan political retribution to an audience of 10-year-olds who just want to go to recess.
It wasn’t much different back on Capitol Hill that day as both Republicans and Democrats claimed victory after a funding deal was announced to keep the federal government open through Sept. 30.
No one, of course, dared to mention that the deal covered just the five remaining months of the fiscal year because Congress and the White House had failed to agree on an annual spending plan for the 21st year in a row.
But this new $1-trillion-plus bill, they said, ensures the federal government will remain open through Sept. 30, a key element sought by midterm-wary Republicans.
Fine, but the deal did not include money to fund new programs U.S. dairy farmers and cotton growers claim they need to make it through September, too.
The dairy lobby wanted changes in its almost completely ineffective Margin Protection Program, a government-sponsored revenue program similar to today’s crop insurance program. Those changes will likely have to wait on the still-not-started 2018 Farm Bill.
The cotton growers, however, after being denied their “cottonseed-as-an-oilseed,” $1-billion assistance program, were in no mood to wait. They immediately took a pitchfork to two Senate Democrats.
Senate Ag Committee members Debbie Stabenow of Michigan and Patrick Leahy of Vermont, complained Ronnie Lee, chairman of the National Cotton Council, “chose to play politics at the expense of cotton producers and farm families…”
Why, pray tell?
“Because the senators’ desire to help dairy producers somehow became a prerequisite for whether Congress could provide a policy to cotton producers to help respond to the ongoing financial and trade policy challenges,” said Lee. “There was no rationale or justification for linking support between cotton and dairy producers.”
Sure there is; it’s called politics. It’s what political leaders used to do to arrive at policies — dairy policies, cotton policies, ag trade policies, federal farm budget policies, you name it — through committee hearings, open debate and, finally, through compromise to meet the nation’s crying needs.
In the post-truth world, however, political leaders bellyache about too many whole wheat biscuits and not enough chocolate milk to non-voting fourth-graders, rather than swallowing hard and doing their jobs.