Michael Harvey
Michael Harvey
Rabbi | Advocate | Educator

The Dangers of Post-Modernism in Politics

Most Americans when, in 2016, began to hear terms such as “alternative facts,” and “fake news,” thought them to be new or unique terms dreamed up by the Trump Administration.  However, they are based on a particular understanding of our post-modern world.  Postmodernism, which is an ideology that promotes the rejection of a “universal validity” of “binary oppositions,” allows for incredible amounts of subjectivity, self-reliability, and individualism. In laymen’s terms, it means that anyone’s point of view on something is essentially valid.  While this can be productive in theological or sociological discussions, when it comes to political discourse, we have seen that, when used improperly, postmodern views can be incredibly damaging.

Typically, when one enters a postmodern discussion, they are aware of it, with open minds and knowledge that the subjectivity is of the discussion is relevant and accepted.  However, when one enters into a postmodern discussion with a modernism view, severe problems occur.  Modernism is the idea that there is binary opposition: one thing is right, one is wrong. Therefore, when a speaker tells of a subjective postmodern view to a listener steeped in modernism, the modernist believes not only the subjective opinion to be valid, but essentially factually correct (or incorrect).

The term “fake news,” was one of the tools used by the Trump administration to confuse Republican modernists with postmodern strategies.  In truth, there is no such thing as “fake news,” on the surface.  Well, unless you count satire news sources such as The Onion or Babylon Bee.  What “Fake News” actually means is a particular interpretation or “spin” of an event that highlights and thus creates a positive, or usually negative, evaluation of that event.  What a postmodernist would say is that there is an interpretation of this reporting or writing about an event that highlights the negative aspects and makes subjective, but valid, predictions on the ramifications of those negative aspects.  A modernist, on the other hand, hears that the reporting is objectively false, and that the writing of this objectively false narrative was malicious.

The result of this was the loss of trust in the media as a whole, with the conservatives denying outright the reporting of outlets such as CNN and MSNBC and the liberals denying outright the reporting of outlets such as Fox News and Breitbart.  Concurrently, the denial of the other side’s outlets let to full trust of the familiar side’s outlets, and labeling the other as “fake news,” now redefined as objectively and maliciously false.

As we have seen in past events, such as on January 6th, the modernist view of “fake news” has led to radicalism including violence and truly objective falsehoods spread on social media.  Moreover, the objective falsehoods have let to the creation of conspiracy theory cults, such as Qanon, that now outright reject all media outlets that speak negatively about their interests.  The loss of faith in all media reporting can be blamed on the skewed and spun news reporting of both sides of the outlets, but it is the modernist interpretation of these postmodern strategies that have led to millions of Americans now stuck in the rabbit hole of falsehoods.

Trump and his administration are undeniably guilty of fanning the flames of the above, by using terms such as “fake news,” instead of “bad press,” or “unfair spin,” and contributing to the defining of certain particular news outlets as “fake,” or, as explained, objectively and maliciously false.  Trump played himself as the victim of malicious bad press, thus leading his supporters to trust only his words and the words of those in his circle (as long as they were still in his circle).  As soon as those in Trump’s circle left the administration or expressed negative views, they were labeled as “deep state,” the binary opposite of Trump’s “patriots.”  Again, the binary modernist interpretation (or misinterpretation) of a postmodernism subjectivity categorized political figures as “good” or “evil,” ;”patriots,” or “deep state,” and of course, “real,” and “fake.”

It appears that politics is still exceptionally a modernist subject, and the introduction of postmodernism, especially strategically and weaponized, helped to contribute to the radicalization of millions of people by disinformation campaigns and objective falsehoods.  Let us be clear, the ramifications of this have been violent, deadly, and long-lasting.

About the Author
Ordained rabbi and social justice advocate with extensive experience serving congregations and leading large-scale community change. Published author who concentrates on bringing deep Jewish understanding to the lay public. Doctoral student with a focus on how Jewish philosophy can drive social justice work in the United States. Passionate Jewish educator using innovative teaching methods to reach unaffiliated Jews. Founder of "Teach Me Judaism": educational and animated Jewish lessons on scholarship: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC4vNAB0lVE4munW_znGdEtQ