The victory of Donald Trump in the US election has left many people reeling – though probably fewer of us on this side of the Atlantic.
How could such a misogynist, xenophobic dissembler get to lead the so-called Free World? How could that other bloke with a wayward blonde quiff get to lead Britain out of the EU – both of them on the back of what many would argue were blatant lies? Is this the death of truth?
It’s a crucial question because, surely, the long-term future political stability of the world depends upon it. (On a personal level my immediate livelihood does too – I run a communications company with the values clarity, spark, truth.)
Maybe what we’ve witnessed this year is not the death of truth but the death of trust.
I suspect few Brexit voters believed Boris would actually deliver £350m a week to the NHS. It’s tempting to make a glib joke about dumb Americans, but nor can there be many who really think Trump can spend billions of pounds building airports, schools, roads and the odd wall and still make swingeing cuts to tax bills.
Humans have a complex relationship with truth – that’s why kids who don’t believe in Santa still get excited hanging up stockings and why old people buy the Daily Express.
What Johnson, Gove, Farage and now Trump have all done is tap into a different truth.
The “experts” say globalisation and free trade are good for the economy, but try telling that to redundant steel workers in the American rust belt, try telling that to call centre workers in the North East – paid a pittance because they’re competing with Bombay prices – and try telling that to the millions of people having to rely on Uber-like jobs in what has been euphemistically called the “gig” economy.
We’ve seen a series of British Chancellors standing at the despatch box, claiming credit for growth and rising employment. More people may be in work, the economy may be growing, but for millions of people on low incomes it doesn’t feel like it and the failure of politicians to even acknowledge the problems feels like a deceit.
The Brexit campaigners and Trump did speak to many of these concerns and this is what voters selectively heard. They didn’t believe everything, but they’ve lost trust in the political status quo and they voted for a shake-up.
So it doesn’t mean we are now in a post-truth age. It’s possible to argue that it’s actually the opposite – social media means that falsehoods are more readily exposed than ever.
The financial services industry shouldn’t take it as a signal to suddenly go around promising risk-free double-digit returns and hiding failures. It’s harder than ever to massage unpleasant truths like client losses and high charges.
Nor can you hide behind acronyms, legalese and corporate finance-speak. If the general public has become tired of the language of the traditional political elites, expect it to be just as sceptical about compliance-friendly obfuscation.
In this new era I’d argue that you have to be more frank and truthful than ever. Say it how it is and why – even if that’s difficult – and find a distinctive voice. It’s the only way to win and retain trust.