January 1, 2017 9:35 pm -

Paul Rosenberg looks at the mainstreaming of the paranoid style in the Age of Donald:


For several decades now, belief in conspiracy theories has been on the rise, as trust in institutions has declined. But Donald Trump’s candidacy supercharged that rise like nothing before it, and his impending presidency promises much more of the same. Conspiracy theory acts as a connecting bridge between the flood of false statements Trump constantly makes and the larger looming threat of a slide into authoritarian rule.

Not all conspiracy theories are created equal:

Of course, some conspiracies are chillingly real — Watergate, the Iran-Contra boondoggle of the Reagan years, the Tuskegee experiments, etc. — and others may be difficult to assess. So it’s helpful to focus more on the conspiracist mindset that persistently sees such conspiracies where they don’t exist, disregards all contrary evidence and ignores or severely distorts the broader historical context that helps make sense of what really happened. Such a focus reveals broader patterns, rather than getting dragged down into minutiae.

And not all leaders need to go full-blown conspiranoid to keep their followers fearful and angry:

While Trump hasn’t explicitly embraced [the Pauk Weyrich] paranoid worldview — he’s more of a broad-brush, big-picture blowhard — it fits well with what he has said, and with the alt-right movement that has supported him so vigorously. It was further reflected in a cluster of three racist or ethnocentric conspiracy theories that were critical to Trump’s rise: His “birther” attack on Obama’s legitimacy as America’s first black president, his false allegations of a Mexican government scheme to send “rapists and murderers” to the U.S., and his multiple anti-Muslim conspiracy narratives, including the false claim that “thousands” of Muslims in New Jersey celebrated the destruction of the Twin Towers on 9/11.

Rosenberg also looks at fake news and research conducted by Joanne Miller, and the surprising fruit of their research:

“On the ideology side and the trust side, we would have expected conspiracy theories to come more from the right, because they were still on the losing side of politics,” Miller said. The role of knowledge is less clear-cut, though it does appear that high-knowledge/low-trust conservatives played a larger role in spreading conspiracies and fake news stories, while lower-knowledge voters may have played an unexpected role in winning key states.

But even more surprising “was just the amount of it — the fake news that largely peddled in conspiracies,” Miller said. “The sheer amount of it is new, absolutely.” There are long-term trends involved, they pointed out, such as declining trust in institutions, erosion of the institutions themselves and the democratic norms they uphold, and the emergence of a coherent authoritarian worldview, as described by Marc Hetherington and Jonathan Weiler in “Authoritarianism and Polarization in American Politics.” But all these factors converged to produce a phenomenon larger than the sum of its parts.

You owe it to yourself to read the entire thing.


D.B. Hirsch
D.B. Hirsch is a political activist, news junkie, and retired ad copy writer and spin doctor. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.