Stories attributing confusing or angering events to clandestine, malevolent forces have been with us forever and have always been of the American tradition, political and otherwise.
Some people suckle on a certainty that concrete evidence proving what they feel to be true exists, and is being withheld from them by powerful forces: We cannot be totally alone in the universe; President Obama cannot legitimately be in the White House.
That ranch in Roswell, N.M., that grassy knoll in Dallas feature large in America’s psychic geography for a reason.
A relatively small emotional investment in believing that the moon landing was faked by duplicitous scientists in the service of a corrupt government pays big dividends – if, that is, you’d rather not believe that humans cause climate change, or that you should have to pay taxes.
According to a 2013 Public Policy Poll, 7 per cent – so, millions – of Americans have made that particular emotional investment and many have proven themselves not at all averse to investing elsewhere in the crackpot market.
Predictably, the arrival of the Internet – a Gutenberg press in every basement – enabled the almost folkloric conspiracy theories of yesteryear to be shared more rapidly.
Tales of fluoride causing communism, cancer, or cavities spread – like measles among the unvaccinated children of Jenny McCarthy fans.
A once largely oral tradition was quickly written down, often in all caps, and now there are new and updated editions in every comment thread.
No wonder conspiracy theories, in these less fanciful times, seem to have replaced fairy tales in the American consciousness.
Conspiracy theories generally offer the reader an almost mythic struggle between absolute good – the kind that woodland creatures might recognize and clean house for – and powerful evil, which is likely in disguise and may be trying to poison you.
It’s easy to see yourself as a woodsman or whatnot in these stories, or as someone people mistake for a drudge, because dark forces are denying you your birthright.
“Jet fuel cannot melt steel beams,” is the new “Somebody has been lying in my bed – and here she is!”
Admittedly there’s seldom any justice to be found within the narrative of a conspiracy theory itself, but that’s the postmodern gimmick. That’s part of the attraction – the hero in these stories is the narrator himself, the guy sounding the alarm!
Even if his warning cry is just a response down in the “comment score below threshold” section of some entirely unrelated post on Reddit.
Recording old and inventing new conspiracy theories has proven profitable for some. American conspiracy theorist Alex Jones has done very well for himself, reworking such classics as “Government controls the weather,” now with bonus chemtrails, and introducing new ones. “No one was shot at Sandy Hook,” was an instant success. “Juice boxes are designed by the government to make kids gay” a literal cult classic.
Mr. Jones is arguably the Hans Christian Andersen of our era, but Donald Trump may well become its Walt Disney – he’s bringing conspiracy theories, loud and in Technicolor, into the mainstream.
Mr. Trump has been a guest on Mr. Jones’s show. “Your reputation is amazing. I will not let you down,” he said, running his hand lovingly through what was the fringe.
Conspiracy theories are the foundation of Mr. Trump’s campaign. He launched himself onto the political scene by questioning, endlessly, in various outlandish ways, where Barack Obama was born, while suggesting Mr. Obama is a Muslim.
The conditions were right for his kind of candidacy.
Many of Mr. Trump’s supporters, so quick to shrug off his many, bizarrely obvious lies, claim they like him because “He tells it like it is.”
What they mean is “He tells stories I want to hear.”
Asked this week if he still believes President Obama was born in Hawaii, Mr. Trump said “I’ll answer that question at the right time, I just don’t want to answer it yet,” and of course he doesn’t. According to Public Policy Polling, 65 per cent of Trump supporters believe that Mr. Obama is a Muslim, and only 59 per cent believe he was born in the United States but according to every person in possession of the facts and his senses, both those things are complete nonsense.
In 2012 Mr. Trump tweeted that Mr. Obama would start a war to win the election.
He claims that Ted Cruz’s father was involved with the JFK assassination and that vaccines cause autism.
The “concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese” he’s stated and against all evidence claims some people “are voting many, many times.”
Everyone – from these industrious over-voters, to the “disgusting and corrupt media,” to the unscrupulous maximum-occupancy-enforcing fire marshals – conspires against him, Mr. Trump complains.
The Reptilian Elites must be so sad not to have got a shout-out, but there’s still time.
Mr. Trump is playing Conspiracy Theory Bingo.
Short of announcing Dead Elvis, with exaggerated air-quotes around “Dead,” as his running mate, there’s hardly a square on that card Mr. Trump hasn’t stamped and he did pick Mike Pence to run alongside him.
Mr. Pence is a lung-cancer truther who’s written that “Smoking doesn’t kill,” so, arguably, Donald gets that square as well.
Many in the media have engaged in Cirque du Soleil-worthy contortions in an effort to deflect rampant allegations that they are part of a secret cabal. All the media seems exhausted.
Perhaps this is how serious news outlets this week came to be discussing Hillary Clinton’s “body double” and the secret earpieces that feed her much-diagnosed body answers.
It’s easier and more thematically appropriate in this conspiracy-theory election than delving into the 15 dumb things Donald Trump said just this past Monday. Before breakfast. All of which ranged from “highly questionable” to “thoroughly reprehensible.”
It’s getting harder and harder to remember a time when Mitt Romney’s saying he met with MI6 was judged to be a major political gaffe.
The truth is that the delicacy with which most of the media treat the “controversial racial opinions” of many – yes, many– of Mr. Trump’s supporters is straight from a Jane Austen novel. No one wants to call their vigorously expressed (in person and polls) opinions about black people, Mexicans and Muslims “ugly,” so they’re close to going with “plain.”
Donald Trump’s free-association platform is indeed difficult to cover.
It’s like trying to pin down a rabid orange squirrel, running on his self-proclaimed business acumen, who’s strangely shy about disclosing his tax returns but really wants to show you his nuts.
To do it with any integrity you need to forget “All the news that’s fit to print” New York Times, and “America’s Newspaper,” The Washington Times.
For the duration of this election, every paper in America should just change its motto to “There’s no polite way to say this” … and go to town.Report Typo/Error