A Brief Note on Donald Trump and the Power of Conspiracy Theories
President Trump is the first leader of the United States who is a fully borne, sputtering conspiracy theorist. He made his political debut announcing that there were secrets waiting to be uncovered to the deceived masses, and that he was the man to expose the long history of criminal politicians manipulating the people to their own ends. He was very successful stating these things, several of which he later abandoned (and continues to do today, inventing, referring to, and then discarding those which are no longer politically expedient). There is good reason too, other than his genuine ability to sell ideas to a willing public. We live in an age of mistrust, of “alternative truths” which make the real world more of a flickering image that we must fill in to our own extremes. This is just one of the man’s contributions to the world, and it is perhaps the most disturbing.
In 1985 a man named A. Ralph Epperson wrote a book called The Unseen Hand: An Introduction to the Conspiratorial View of History (https://www.abebooks.com/servlet/SearchResults?isbn=9780961413507&n=100121503&cm_sp=mbc-_-ISBN-_-used) where he outlines two separate understandings on how people view history. There is the Accidental View of History, which is that nothing happens for any reason at all, everything is unrelated, and that humans have no real involvement in what goes on in the world (this makes me consider the standard conspiratorial tripe about space invaders and UFOs, wondering if that ship did crash, maybe it was just some poor alien scientist who lost control and crash-landed in the desert outside Roswell, New Mexico. Imagine the poor guy, shaken and probably badly injured, with bulldozing military vehicles racing up and grabbing the creature, then slicing him open and experimenting on him in some sanitized laboratory, ultimately committing the horrific acts the conspiracy theorists imagine those space monsters want to commit on them).
While the accidental view of history is certainly limited (and nowhere near as absolute, except with complete fools), the Conspiratorial View of History takes up the predictably opposite perspective, that everything that ever happened has been planned from the beginning, and that there are secret rulers (name them: government or triads or secret societies or cartels or those same space aliens we experimented upon), and that this plot has been undertaken since man first organized the beginnings of civilization thousands of years ago. This view believes that everything–everything!–from wars and economic downturns, to an unhappy childhood birthday party where the clown showed up drunk is caused by the same wicked cabal that wants to keep everyone ignorant of the truth.
Epperson outlines three ways to expose a conspiracy in his book, which then goes on and attempts to do this, creating a jagged but eventually comprehensible narrative about how and why everything has happened (he does focus almost exclusively on the United States, but that can be forgiven considering how widespread the conspiracy genre has become in the American publishing world). The first way comes from whistle blowers, most of whom die mysteriously, clearly, conspiracy theorists believe, to silence them. And while no doubt this is true in some circumstances, giving weight to such beliefs, they ignore the fact that some conspiracy-minded individuals are actually insane, on drugs, or hallucinating, and they snap sometimes and kill their families and themselves instead of the “men in black helicopters.”
The second way to expose a conspiracy, Epperson says, is through people who are not even aware they are involved, through those cogs in the wheel who start to think something about what they are doing just isn’t right. They may explore this view themselves, sometimes at great danger (if the conspiracy is real), and often they are simply fired and written off as kooks, which is increasingly easy to do in this age of intentionally partisan media bias.
The third way is one worth quoting. Epperson says it is “for researchers to uncover conspiratorial designs in the events of the past. Your author is one of those researchers.”
It is very easy to do what Epperson claims he is doing. It is hardly any different than writing realistic fiction (which is sometimes far more believable than some of the ideas conspiracy theorists come up with.) But one can take the skeletal framework of an event that troubles them and make connections on their whiteboard, scribbling lines and connections the deeper they get into it.
Which brings me back to Donald Trump. The ‘birther’ conspiracy. His claims about 9/11. His non-stop defense of himself against a conspiracy on the left (which, we should admit, actually sort of exists in a bureaucratically limp-wristed way, tied up with paperwork and the halfhearted severity the seekers bring to the table) and, more notably, his turning the same conspiracy theory around and involving himself in one as a counterpoint. This is what paranoid conspiracy theorists do. They develop a pre-emptive plot to avert their perceived opposition. Since they live in a world where they believe everyone is out to get them and they react in the same manner as their invented or exaggerated rivals.
Donald Trump has been accused of “collusion” with a foreign power. So was Barrack Obama. George W. Bush. Clinton. Bush before him–certainly Ronald Reagan. Hell, we can go back to Dwight D. Eisenhower and look at Robert Welch, the founder of the John Birch Society, a right wing secret society designed to combat the secret societies they saw overtaking the world, and his book The Politician (https://www.abebooks.com/servlet/SearchResults?isbn=&an=welch%20robert&tn=politician&n=100121503&cm_sp=mbc-_-ats-_-used), where he claims that Eisenhower was merely a stooge of Soviet Communists.
It is this last claim that really needs to be called into question, about any of these men, regardless of your political affiliation or biases. Why are these leaders always being controlled by someone else, someone outside? Why can’t a person who has worked so hard and is clearly intelligent enough to convince people they are right for national leadership, why can’t they be the true bad guy? What makes us think, to simply take the most recent example, that it is not Donald Trump himself who is in charge of the great conspiracy–that other nations colluded with him? If he is the ringleader of the secret plot (and remember, this is the “conspiratorial view of history”) then he did not collude.
Americans have a strange mentality when it comes to national leaders they despise. They are never in charge, never really pulling the strings. They are always under someone or something mysterious’ thumb, having their strings pulled. They are only following orders. We ascribe this weakness, this inability to lead to our leaders, which further unravels our national unity and states of mind.
I am not here to state that there is no such thing as conspiracies. Of course there are. Hell, I’m not even fully willing to discount UFO stories because I honestly don’t know. I just wonder about the string theory connections of those increasingly complicated boards declaiming new thoughts on the nature of truth. Do we invent our own reality? Or . . . or . . . is it already planned for us? I suppose we all must research our own lives a little more thoroughly if we want to glean any vague semblance of passing truth.