Much has been made about “the post-truth era,” the popular idea that we live in a time uniquely adverse to facts. Pundits insist that, while politicians have always lied, the rise of Trump marks a distinct departure from a fidelity to the most basic facts. We are living in a time where down is up and up is down, and the republic is threatened by these post-fact forces. While there is an element of truth to this (it is true that Trump is one of the most prolific liars in modern American political history), a potentially more pernicious force has emerged over the past few weeks that should give us equal, if not greater, pause: the post-evidence era.
A series of leaks and unclassified reports by the United States government over the past month involving alleged Russian hacking of the DNC and the Clinton campaign in order to help Trump win the White House have understandably captured the media narrative. “Russian election hacking” became the popular descriptor, with most media outlets from The New York Times to The Washington Post dropping the word “alleged” or “according to X” formulation entirely.
“The Russians hacked Democrats in an effort to swing the election to Trump,” insisted Politico’s chief economic correspondent, Ben White. “Everyone knows this. It’s not in question.” But despite the frequent, self-affirming leaks and reports by US intelligence agencies, the fact remains: Actual evidence of these claims has yet to surface. Thus far, for better or worse, we are simply taking the government at its word. The same government officials that, in just the past few years, have lied about everything from CIA torture to NSA bulk-collection of data on Americans.
While there is circumstantial evidence as well as technical indicators, what specific evidence the US government is relying on to reach its blockbuster conclusion remains under wraps. The closest thing to detailed evidence comes from a report released back in June by CrowdStrike, a private security firm employed by the DNC. But if the report alone wasn’t satisfactory in June, why is it now? Officials insisted more hard proof was forthcoming, but six months later all we have is anonymous leaks and an Office of the Director of National Intelligence report, released on January 6, that even former NSA lawyer and Lawfare editor Susan Hennessey called “underwhelming at best,” with “no new information.”