Regarding those who see the world through the lens of conspiracies, well, the world can seem a dark and suspicious place, one steeped in a distorting paranoia, buttressed by conviction. To begin to analyze it is to wander deep into the weeds of dysfunction, and yet it represents a resilient thread that runs through American society. For those who are not denizens of this geography, it can seem delusional, a strange fiction created out of whole cloth.
Two brief examples: The collapse of the Twin Towers (9/11) was, according to the conspiracy narrative, an “inside job,” meaning it was perpetrated by the federal government. True believers point to the manner in which the towers collapsed, pancaking, caused by massive explosive charges placed at keys points in both structures. To subscribe to this scenario requires a suspension of disbelief; nevertheless, its adherents are many and can trace their lineage back to “Who Killed JFK?” And there’s the reprehensible theory, which has found countless adherents, that the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, in Newtown, Connecticut, was staged and the victims — small children and school personnel — actors. Those who orchestrated this elaborate fraud, it’s alleged, were anti-gun people wanting to disarm America.
Which brings us to the White House and Donald Trump. For reasons that continue to confound and perplex, the president is a conspiracist. The resulting chaos this creates is impactful and seems perpetual. How Trump reacts to events is to impose an alternative reality or set of facts that seem irrational, discordant and counterintuitive. Were he a civilian, his early morning tweet “storms” would be discounted as untethered rants. But he’s the president and his words matter.
Consider his history:
In the run-up to Trump announcing his candidacy, he carried water for the conspiratorial birther movement, insisting that Obama was not born in America and therefore an illegitimate president. Trump insisted he had sent investigators to Hawaii to search for his birth certificate.
During his campaign he often said that the election was “rigged.” The how was never explained. To rig an election in favor of one candidate would require an elaborate conspiracy, one so extensive that it defies comprehension.
During the campaign, Trump denigrated the media, calling its reportage fake. Again, to fake a news story, one that appears electronically and in print, would require a conspiracy by editors and journalists that puts the lie to this allegation.
When Trump won the presidency but still lost the popular vote, he claimed voter fraud, suggesting that 3 million people were bused to the polls to cast ballots for Hillary. After his inauguration he immediately formed a commission to investigate “rampant voter fraud.” It was soon dissolved.
Trump believes in what is called the “Deep State,” defined as those countless career government employees who are acting in concert with the intention of bringing down his presidency. Believing this makes manifest a deep-seated paranoia.
Another example would be Trump’s conviction that a corrupt FBI and Department of Justice are conspiring to undermine his presidency. In a rational world, the DOJ investigation, led by Robert Mueller, into Russia’s successful effort to place its thumb of the scales of our 2016 presidential election, thereby helping Trump get elected, has a hair-on-fire urgency. There is, of course, the question as to whether there was any collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians, which is still being investigated and characterized by Trump as a “hoax” or a “witch hunt,” all part of a conspiratorial piece to bring his presidency down.
Most recently, there is “Spygate” (Trump’s word). With not a shred of supporting evidence, the president has demanded, on Twitter, that the Justice Department investigate whether the FBI “infiltrated” his campaign. He said such “spying” would be a larger scandal than Watergate.
He opines repeatedly that the special counsel’s investigation has turned up no evidence of collusion with Russia, and is attempting to harm the Republicans’ chances in the midterm elections this fall. A reckless allegation.
Tangentially, a verifiable and far-reaching conspiracy, studiously ignored by Trump, is that Russia did attempt to interfere with our 2016 election. This is a conspiracy hiding in plain sight and considered a blatant attack on our democracy.
Chris Honoré is a Daily Tidings columnist.