Does democracy need truth? A conversation with historian Sophia RosenfeldHistorians in the News
tags: historians, democracy, Trump, Truth
Ever since Donald Trump announced his Presidential candidacy, in June of 2015, there has been considerable concern about whether his allergy to truth is endangering American democracy. Without a public sphere dominated by agreed-upon-facts, many say, a healthy society—and wise polity—become impossible to sustain. In her new book, “Democracy and Truth: A Short History,” Sophia Rosenfeld, a professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania, argues that the relationship between truth and democracy was fraught for centuries before the time of Twitter and Trump. “Does democratic politics really ‘need truth to do its business well,’ as some have recently claimed?” she asks in the book. In addition to trying to answer that question, she argues that questions of truth have always been litigated and disputed, and that a politics dominated by shared notions of the truth has never really existed.
With Trump halfway through his four-year term in office, it seemed like a good time to talk about the state of truth in American society, so I called up Rosenfeld. During our conversation, which has been edited and condensed for clarity, we discussed whether it is healthy for a democratic society to debate issues like evolution and global warming, why people distrust experts, and whether public fact-checking is a good solution to the problem of fake news.
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