Former BBC head Mark Thompson on Trump, Orwell and what’s gone wrong with political language

Jonathan Green in The Telegraph:

TrumpAuthenticism is not a synonym for authentic. Quite the opposite. It is first cousin to another weaselly coinage: truthiness, which is not “truth” as most people conceive it but belief that stems from gut instinct, from “common sense”; ideas that irrespective of evidence, logic or analysis, “just feel right”. It is the equivalent of popular etymology, the staunchly held belief that the f-word, for instance, comes from “Fornicate Under Command of the King”. It is fuelled by rumour and populist fantasy, usually with a partisan subtext: President Obama is a Muslim, Europe takes £350 million of our NHS cash per week. It is the lingua franca of a “post-factual” society, and the go-to position, claims Thompson, for our unappetising political conversation. Thompson, a fully qualified member of the liberal wing of the Great and Good, was ranked the world’s 65th most powerful person by Forbes magazine. He enjoyed a starry career at the BBC, topped out with eight sometimes contentious years as director-general; he has run Channel 4, and is now chief executive of The New York Times. The experience gleaned from his media career informs this, his first book, but the inspiration for its writing came from a more arcane post: as Oxford’s first Humanitas Visiting Professor in Rhetoric and the Art of Public Persuasion.

In Enough Said, Thompson considers the current state of political language and its effect, far from positive, on our world. He is not optimistic. Like a hellfire preacher, he thunders his jeremiad: “Intolerance and illiberalism are on the rise almost everywhere. Lies go unchecked. Free speech is denied and state repression is returning… In the Middle East and Africa, and in the streets and suburbs of European cities, the murderous idiocy of religiously inspired nihilism can prove more persuasive than the milk-toast promises of secular democracy. We hear politicians talk. Children drown, starve, are blown to smithereens. The politicians go on talking. At home, boundaries – of political responsibility, mutual respect, basic civility… are broken by the week. Often it feels as if there’s a nihilistic spirit at work here, too, a politics with no positive agenda of its own which seeks only to divide.” At the heart lies a degenerate public language that serves to “boost the immediate impact of political language at the price of depth and comprehensibility”.

More here.