Readers of the LA Times have written to the editor expressing their concerns over Trump’s latest Twitter tirade (“Can America survive four years of Trump’s conspiracy theories?” LA Times, 3/7/2017):
To the editor: What has Trump ever proclaimed that has had its basis in truth? Here is the leader of the free world having his sanity questioned. It is no longer as simple as pundits boo-hooing because their side lost. It’s a question of whether our country can survive the next four years with Trump in charge.
Trump did finally say one thing that I have to agree with him on, albeit not in the same context: This is McCarthyism. Our country is gripped by suspicion and oppression.
Remember that Donald Trump is a big fan of conspiracy king Alex Jones, who believes every violent event in America—from 9/11 to Sandy Hook to Aurora to the Boston Marathon bombing—is a false flag perpetrated by the government, and who endorsed Trump and even had him on his show (in which Trump called Jones’s reputation “amazing”).
So keep that in mind when I tell you this: Conspiracy theories are inherently anti-democratic. They are designed to be that way. Conspiracy theories are not honest inquiry into muddy waters hoping to glean understanding from a confusing series of events; rather, they are reverse-engineered from predetermined conclusions using only evidence that, at a glance, support the claim. They take disparate elements that might be true and insist there are patterns between them that cannot be coincidence. They are meant to prove that the world is a set-up.
They are anti-democratic because the extreme and unfortunately common cases are not simple stories of faked moon landings or aliens at Roswell, but rather complex narratives that attempt to prove that all institutions are shams, commandeered by the rulers of the world in order to oppress everyone else. They exist to prove, for example, that the Bush administration orchestrated the 9/11 attacks. No new information will ever dissuade them from what they believe; it will simply be incorporated into the already-existing narrative. They preach, over and over again, that every facet of government and that every media outlet (except, of course, like-minded radio hosts and website editors) is nothing but propaganda.
And the problem is that there are kernels of truth to some of these claims. Conspiracy theories take those kernels and expand them toward infinity.
They’re anti-democratic because they’re designed to convince their consumers into believing that they are constantly under siege. The government is going to take their money and their guns, is going to make you practice Islam, is going to let Mexican rapists and Muslim terrorists kill you and your friends and family. Christianity will be outlawed and white people will be sent to FEMA camps for re-education. Free speech will be abolished by the illiberal left. The media is wildly leftist and in cahoots with government, 100% compliant with what they say.
Imagine these people, these Trump voters who believe the lies of right-wing radio, of right-wing websites, of right-wing television, and what life must be like for someone who, for eight years, honestly believed that their president was a foreign-born Muslim who hated white people and America. Who gutted the military because he wanted the country to be more susceptible to terrorist attacks. Imagine what kind of person you have to be and what kind of life you have to lead where none of your exposure to the world outside three feet in front of you made you doubt for a second the insane things you believe.
And now imagine being that person and having a president who goes on television and on Twitter and says, “It’s true. Everything you’ve believed all these years is true.”
And now imagine being that person and feeling like all the media you’ve consumed all these years has finally been vindicated, because the president of the United States and one of its major political parties now openly supports your worldview. It means everything they hate, in varying degrees, about liberals, leftists, ethnic minorities, women, LGBTQ people, foreigners, atheists, Jews, and Muslims has been confirmed.
So no, I don’t think the America we thought existed before Trump’s ascension can survive four years of his tacit endorsement of non-reality. What we’ll look like on the other side is something I can’t guess, and can only imagine I don’t want to know.