The presence of conspiracies is almost inevitable when it comes to politics. That's not just a reality in the United States, of course; we've recently seen in China that the ruling party is more than happy to steal away into the night with those whom it dislikes, especially in the business sector. Elsewhere, in Egypt we also have political conspiracies that occasionally fuel public opinion; and in England, a video circulating about the Scottish Referendum late last year was significant enough that it actually led to a police investigation.
Needless to say, while there are such things as conspiracies, it is also true that the term "conspiracy theory" is often weaponized by the media. We see the term being frequently employed (and whether or not entirely justified) when any particular argument needs to be unabashedly smashed to atoms, in the absence of a long winded deconstruction. Thus, occasionally there are justifiable positions which become relegated to the lunatic fringe, as a result of their association with such "conspiracy theories".
But as far as conspiracies are concerned in the modern Western World, perhaps one of the most overlooked--though arguably, also one of the most important elements--has less to do with proving or disproving any given conspiracy theory, and everything to do with people's attitudes toward them.
Arguably, this is no more apparent anyplace than it is with the presidential campaign of Donald Trump.
Many politicos brimming with contempt for Trump's variety of political "plain-speak" had been waiting, patiently, for The Donald to place his foot firmly in his own mouth. Given enough time, it had long been presumed, he would set a trap for himself; which is precisely what appeared to have happened with Trump's announcement last week that he, if elected, would ban all people of Muslim faith from entering the United States. Even Trump's fellow conservatives largely decried the statement, along with the expected backlash from the political left which included statements from Obama's Whitehouse calling the real estate mogul unfit for the role of Commander in Chief.
And yet, despite the expected backlash, something many would have considered unthinkable managed to happen regardless: following the announcement, Trumps numbers have actually risen in U.S. polls, show his numbers rising in the days after he made the statement.
Many would view this as evidence of racial intolerance amidst the populace which identifies themselves as the political right, and to an extent, there is some justification for this. Still, we must recognize that very few elected officials with the Republican Party have (or would) come out with endorsements for Trump's extreme position. Obviously, Trump's attitudes say less about the party he associates himself with (this time around at least... let's not forget his support for Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign in the past), reflecting instead the attitudes and ideals of those in the public sector who support him.
Perhaps the question, then, should be what do many of Trump's supporters believe?
Let's be clear from the outset: there are a lot of diverse opinions about Trump right now, especially among his supporters. It is with little doubt that many among them would not consider themselves to be racists, nor any of the other less-savory things which have become associated with Trump (a guy who obviously terrifies both the political left, as well as the right). Among the more moderate Trump supporters we probably see a man who is the true "non-establishment" candidate, and one who appears to be just as tired of political correctness and doublespeak as many outside the political game are.
However, there is a side to Trump's political circus (I hesitate to think of it a "machine", really) which undeniably taps into the realm of conspiracies. And I mean undeniably. Let's take a look at a few of these.
Earlier this year on September 17, 2015, Trump had been speaking at a town hall session in New Hampshire, in which an individual in the crowd asked a (now famous) question of Trump:
“We have a problem in this country. It’s called Muslims. We know our current President is one. You know he’s not even an American.”
“We need this question,” Donald retorted, then allowing the man to continue.
“Anyway, we have training camps brewing where they want to kill us. That’s my question, when can we get rid of ‘em?”
In truth, it’s unclear in this instance whether the “problem” the man had been referring to was the “training camps” themselves, or, as one might infer from the (erroneous) point he makes about President Obama himself being of the Muslim faith, the idea that Muslims were behind them. Regardless of the ambiguity the question presents, Trump replied, “We’re going to be looking at a lot of different things. A lot of people are saying that, a lot of people are saying bad things are happening out there.”
Maybe Trump’s own ambiguity was in response to the uncertain nature of the question that preceded it. Regardless, neither position is the kind of thing that would be entertained, let alone tolerated, at a town hall being operated by any other candidate presently in the running, whether liberal or conservative.
The moment was captured by CNN's cameras, as depicted in the clip below:
Of course, as revealing as this exchange is with regard to the conspiracy-driven politics we see forming the base of Donald Trump's presidential campaign, perhaps nothing could have made it clearer that Trump's goals are riding on belief in conspiracies than his recent appearance on Alex Jones' radio show, during which Trump gave an unprecedented half hour long interview:
Strange as it is to see any politician leading in the polls, and appearing on the Alex Jones show, perhaps the strangest thing about Trump's appearance is Jones' own soft-balling of the issues. When asking Trump about such things as small government, we appear to see Trump arguing that a larger government may be needed during his administration. Also, despite Jones' obvious attempts at seeing whether Trump was "committed" to the cause as a Republican candidate, we have seen in days since the InfoWars interview that Trump has made allusions to an Independent bid via his Twitter account, in response to criticisms he received.
Trump's campaign is largely dismissed by those in the political mainstream, having been referred to repeatedly as a "comic book" or "reality television" campaign. However, the support base he has managed to build is very real, and the conspiracy-themed element that is underlying much of that support is undeniable. In addition to the belief in conspiracies amidst many of Trump's supporters, his own chaotic presence in the current electoral cycle has led to speculation among some (and a conspiracy theory in itself) that Trump is an "operative" whose meteoric rise is intended to destabilize the Republican base, thus awarding the 2016 election to Hillary Clinton who, according to the latest polls, is still leading Trump by a significant margin.
At such times, we are reminded somewhat of the ancient Chinese proverb--or curse, as it were--which goes, "may you live in interesting times."
One thing, if nothing else, does remain clear: these are certainly interesting times.
Image by Gage Skidmore via Flickr.