The phrase post-truth is a remarkably new one for a phenomenon that gives cover to remarkably old enemies. Take Vladimir Putin. The repeated insistence by both the far left and right is that mainstream western media demonise Putin and his attempts to protect Russian interests against either cynical western foreign policy or a globalist consensus with no respect for the concept of national sovereignty.
Trump is one of the least overtly religious candidates to win the Republican nomination since Reagan. But in most ways, he stands in a reasonably clear tradition. Isolationists of the left and right have argued for protectionism, a retreat from the national stage, and cited immigration as the cause of economic woes.
But the repeated emphasis that he is unprecedented gives his movement a revolutionary bent that is, in places, unearned. The particularly modern phenomenon of impregnable bubbles of information is intersecting with the rise of some political actors so archaic that they’re boring. Calling Trump a fascist is ahistorical and plays down the crimes of other presidents of the US. But one thing he shares with fascism is how modern he has managed to make retrograde ideas look. To look to the much scarier version of this, we have to turn our eyes to Russia.
Take the case of Vladimir Putin. Here’s a militaristic strongman, a dictator who censors his press, a pseudo-Tsar whose rise was conditional on the death-rattle of a dying empire and the emergence of a powerful class of oligarchs. Authoritarianism in the public sector and a small and powerful economic elite chiselled his name into the masthead of Russia, and yet even in the west, left-wing types like Glen Greenwald, and right-wingers like Trump or Peter Hitchens insist that Putin’s foreign policy has been misunderstood. Modernity is covering for the archaic and we would do well not to mistake the old for something totally novel.