In 2011, when Donald Trump first started saying that Barack Obama wasn’t born in the United States, I figured that this was just Trump’s weekly attempt to get his name into the media because he was already beginning to sound like the candidate he would become in 2016.
For that matter, when Trump expressed his support of Alex Jones and his agreement with Jones in an Infowars interview in December 2015, I figured Trump was just trying to separate himself from the rest of the GOP candidate pack, particularly when he agreed with Jones about the threat from the shadowy New World Order, the secret global cabal which robbed hard-working Americans of their daily bread.
Now I’m beginning to wonder, however, whether we actually elected someone to lead this country who really does walk around with these crazy conspiracy theories dancing inside his head. Is there the slightest chance, for example, that an individual who served as Chief Executive of the United States could actually say that the late Associate Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was ‘murdered’ while he lay in his bed?
Could Trump say something that crazy? He did.
It turns out that a bit of doubt about Scalia’s passing was created by the way the initial media report carried the story based on a misquote of the individual who came into Scalia’s hotel room and found him lying in his bed obviously completely and very dead. The man who discovered Scalia was the owner of the hunting ranch where Scalia was a guest and was quoted as saying that Scalia was in his bed with a pillow ‘over his head.’
In fact, the man who first came into Scalia’s room said the pillow was lying up against the headboard and had folded itself over Scalia, but that’s what happens when you lie face up in front of a pillow which is behind your head. And when law enforcement agents then showed up, they didn’t find anything suspicious in how Scalia or the pillow were observed in the bed.
Now you would think that a guy who by the time Scalia died was already beginning to move in front of the 2016 GOP primary pack would be a little bit careful about what he said about something as newsworthy as the unexpected death of an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. You might think he would be particularly careful how he talked about an event which was already being described in conspiracy-theory internet outlets as a strange or crime-related death.
But what if, let’s just suppose that Trump actually believed Scalia was murdered because that’s what he heard or read on some alt-right, conspiracy-theory site?
Two months after the Scalia episode, by this time Trump was sailing through the 2016 primary campaign, he was asked which experts he consulted to help him understand foreign affairs. Remember how Sarah Palin couldn’t name a single newspaper she read? Trump said he learned everything about foreign policy by “watching the shows.”
The individual whose military and foreign-policy decisions could change the lives of billions of human beings would make these decisions after ‘watching the shows?’
Trump wasn’t asked to list those shows, but like everyone else I assumed he was talking about the programs where some anchor like Chuck Todd or Wolf Blitzer throw questions at a group of so-called ‘experts’ on cable TV.
But what if Trump was referring to Infowars, or Breitbart, which are two of the more respectable internet programs peddling daily conspiracy theories, believe it or not? QAnon didn’t appear under that name until 2017, but there were plenty of QAnon-type online message boards and forums before then.
Hold this thought for a minute while I briefly digress.
Back in 1993 I happened to be going cross-country on a Greyhound bus when the Waco siege took place and 82 members of the Branch Davidian sect along with four ATF agents died. There was endless discussion about the event as our bus made a long haul between Denver and Salt Lake, and the basic sentiment was that a decision had been made in D.C. to wipe out the Branch Davidians because they represented some kind of ‘threat.’
Not a single passenger on that Greyhound was willing to give the government the benefit of the doubt. The government was too powerful, the government was bad, and if you picked you opened up your mouth, the government would squash you like a bug.
The passengers on my bus were what we might politely call the hoi polloi. They were poor people for whom life hadn’t been, particularly kind. And they didn’t trust the government to take care of them or respond to their needs.
These are not the people who comprise the literate, educated, liberal class. These are not the kind of people who read The New York Times. These are not the kind of people who believe that government can and should be used to provide opportunities for the underclass, the unemployed or the poor.
To the contrary, these are people who know goddamn well that their present condition is a function not of luck or chance but can and should be blamed on some shadowy ‘elite’ which cares only for itself and certainly not for them.
The good news is that I don’t think such folks comprise even a large minority of the American population, and they certainly haven’t been able to provide Trump with any kind of winning margin in the national popular vote.
What conspiracy-theorist believers do represent is an endlessly attractive subject for the Fake News.
I love when I overhear two people discussing something and one says to the other, “so I did my research…” which means he or she read some nonsense on a website and because it wasn’t just what someone else told them, it has to be true.
The world wide web isn’t an information superhighway. It’s an information dead end.