Chris Cillizza notices a real problem and ‘both sides’ the hell out of it before his piece even starts (“We are all conspiracy theorists now,” The Washington Post, 3/9/2017):
Talk to a supporter of President Trump and, at some point in the conversation, you are likely to hear some version of this riff: “The mainstream media is fake news. They ignore all the good things Trump is doing because they hate him and wanted Hillary to win. That’s why they spend so much time on this ridiculous Russia story and not enough time investigating whether Trump Tower was actually wire-tapped!”
Talk to an opponent of President Trump and, at some point in the conversation, you are likely to hear some version of this riff: “Russia has something on Trump. Michael Flynn, Jeff Sessions, Paul Manafort and the president’s own unwillingness to badmouth Vladimir Putin and Russia all make clear that he is being secretly controlled by a foreign power. He needs to be impeached!”
Can you spot the difference between the two examples? I’ll give you a hint: the first one is a lie Trump made up because he’s facing increasing pressure about his and his administration’s dishonesty about, well, everything. The second is a reaction to reports in the media that Trump’s administration has been in contact with Russian officials even though they keep denying it and lying about it.
And there’s another important difference between the two: conspiracy theories on the right often come from the Republican party itself. And if they don’t come directly from the party, they come from the party’s satellite institutions like the NRA and Fox News. And even if they don’t invent the conspiracies, they have no problem uncritically re-transmitting them if they fall into a narrative the right wants to push. Obama birtherism? Obama a secret Muslim? The war on Christianity? Climate change denial? Government gun snatching? Abolishment of free speech? Importing terrorism? All media has a liberal agenda? The Republican party doesn’t shush conspiracies when they aren’t already endorsing them.
You can’t really say that about Democrats. You can’t find party officials who say 9/11 was an inside job, or that Bush knew about it and did nothing. Any conspiracy theories that are even mildly popular with the left don’t get sucked up and spit out again by the highest-ranking Democrats. You won’t find Democrats on Alex Jones’s show the you would Donald Trump or Rand Paul—and you won’t find them supporting his ravings. You won’t find Democrats who think a military training exercise is a nefarious plot to take over Texas, the way Republican Governor Greg Abbott did when he ordered the National Guard to keep an eye out, or the way Ted Cruz went to the Pentagon looking for answers.
Republican voters unsurprisingly buy into conspiracies more often than Democrats. Take this 2013 PPP poll, which found that 61% of Romney voters surveyed believe global warming is a hoax, that 38% believe in the New World Order, that 26 believe Saddam Hussein was involved in 9/11, and that 22% believe Obama is the antichrist. Or how about this other PPP poll from 2013 which shows that 62% of Rrepublicans surveyed believe Obama was trying to take away their guns, that 21% believe the government does false flag operations, and that 44% believe Obama was planning a way to stay in office. And before you even go there and try to ‘both sides’ this deal, that first poll found that only 13% of Obama voters believe the government allowed 9/11 to happen compared to Romney voters’ 8%.
And you know what? I don’t buy into the idea that Trump is Putin’s puppet—and my own opinion is that a lot of people who say that are trying to get under Trump’s skin, as they did with the “President Bannon” business—but I don’t see how concern and even a little hysteria about his and his administration’s repeated contact with Russia, especially since they seem to not want to talk about it at all, is at all comparable to diving head-first into an evidence-free story about how Obama himself ordered Trump Towers to be tapped. There’s nothing to support Trump’s claim there, but there are a lot of reasons to doubt his insistence that there’s nothing to see.
So no, Chris, we’re not all conspiracy theorists. Speak for yourself. And he should, because his insistence that both sides are equally bad is its own kind of conspiracy theory—one that you could never convince Chris of otherwise, no matter how much evidence you put in front of him. Sound familiar?