Tag: Conspiracy theory

The President has lost his Marbles

Trump was never half as smart as he said he was, but even as recently as six months ago he was a lot quicker than he is now. Pretty much every word out of his mouth these days bears witness to his declining cognitive capacities, his inability to control his impulses, and his estrangement from anything resembling reality. He has become a walking, talking poster for the symptoms of early-stage (or not-so-early stage) dementia, but because his politics are so poisonous, his administration so corrupt, and the stakes for the world so high, we continue to talk about him as if he is strategizing instead of clinically devolving.

When I read this item at Axios this morning, I suddenly saw the elephant in the room. The headline is (after his Paris Accord decision, it actually reads like a punchline): “Trump Pitched Congressional Leaders on a Solar-Powered Border Wall.”

Trump floated the idea that the wall could be covered in solar panels and the electricity generated used to pay for the cost.

Trump said his vision was a wall 40 feet to 50 feet high and covered with solar panels so they’d be “beautiful structures,” the people said. The President said that most walls you hear about are 14 feet or 15 feet tall but this would be nothing like those walls. Trump told the lawmakers they could talk about the solar-paneled wall as long as they said it was his idea.

This happened yesterday–after he broke diplomatic relations with Qatar with a Tweet (stranding our military bases in now-hostile territory) and challenged Sadiq Khan to an IQ test. This is from the guy who thinks that climate change is a fraud, solar power is a waste (Solyndra!) and that our energy future is in coal.

What else happened yesterday? A story broke that he made his dopey son Eric steal from a cancer charity on his behalf (that was when he still had all his marbles). We learned that Russia maybe did do a little more to our election than just plant fake news stories. We also learned that Trump has turned on Jeff Sessions of all people, and that he is resentful of all the attention that his son-in-law Jared is getting.

The proverbial anthropologist from Mars would take one look at any of those stories and conclude that Trump is not just an authoritarian agent of Russia but cognitively and emotionally off the rails. If he wasn’t such a monster, his unraveling would be a tragic spectacle.

I know this sounds like a conspiracy theory, but I’m pretty certain that some very important figures in the military, business, the Republican party, and even Congress have noticed this too and have already started discussing how they can ease him out of power and install Mike Pence in his place. I would bet that Mike Pence (who I just learned from Jane Mayer’s DARK MONEY was Charles Koch’s favorite for president in 2012) is an active participant in those conversations–and maybe Jeff Sessions too. And I would further bet that they’ve decided that the best way forward is to give him enough rope to hang himself with–which in his case is his cell phone and his Tweeting compulsion.

Russia stole the election, the president they installed is not only a sociopath but mentally incompetent, and Mike Pence–the Evangelicalist tool of the Koch brothers–is about to become our next unelected president.

Why isn’t everyone else talking about this? Because I’m pretty certain that I’m not the crazy one.

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Anti-Semitism and the Alt-Right

Back in 2008, I wrote a book that took a skeptical look at the phenomenon of paranoid conspiracy theory. Most of it, I learned, still follows the template that was laid down in THE PROTOCOLS OF THE LEARNED ELDERS OF ZION a century ago, which purports to reveal that organized Jewry is using socialism, popular culture, and its vast money power to undermine the moral and economic foundations of the Christian West, with the ultimate goal of ruling over it from a Davidic Superstate in Jerusalem. Dig past the surface of any subsequent New World Order conspiracy and you will soon recognize this same basic narrative, whether the antagonist is international Communism, the UN, race-mixing integrationists, or shape-shifting lizards. Since 9/11, Islamic Jihad and creeping sharia have been squeezed into the template as well.

The alt-right is a loose movement, born on the Internet, that has brought together and catalyzed a lot of the people who subscribe to these conspiracy theories. I see it as a product of a kind of Intersectionality in reverse. For all their differences with each other, its members see themselves as victims of a hegemonic Cultural Marxism that seeks to undermine whiteness, the traditional state, traditional religion, and traditional masculinity, and replace it with a globe-spanning reign of totalitarian political correctness.

Among their number are anti-feminist mens’ rightists, War of Civilization Islamophobes, scientific racists, Christian dominionists, classic anti-Semites, self-styled Libertarians, and even some radical Zionists. Donald Trump, a casual trafficker in conspiracy theories, racist dog whistles, and vulgar sexism, was their chosen candidate in 2016. After his victory, he installed Steve Bannon—the former chief executive of the Breitbart Report, the premier platform of the alt right—in the West Wing of the White House.

The election and its aftermath have been enough to make anyone believe in conspiracy theory, but I don’t and you shouldn’t. As Masha Gessen wrote in The New York Times last week, “the 2016 election was unimaginable…but we seem to have fallen into a trap: The unimaginable, happening out in the open day after day, not only continues to dull our defenses but also creates a need to see a conspiracy big enough, a secret terrible enough to explain how this can be happening to our country.”

Conspiracy theory has more to do with theology or literature than it does with history-as-it-is-lived, which is to say, politics. Conspiracy theory sees history as a well-crafted story, in which every character knows his or her role, and every twist propels the plot forward to a certain end. Jews have often been its antagonists, but we are not immune to the conspiracist temptation ourselves.

After Trump issued a statement on International Holocaust Remembrance Day that undercut Jewish ownership of the Holocaust, many were quick to connect the dots between his election and the cemetery desecrations and bomb threats against JCCs that were being reported in the news. When Trump floated the ridiculous idea that his Jewish enemies were planting false flags to discredit him as an antisemite, many believed that he had proven that he was.

I believe that too, but now I also know that, for whatever reason, an Israeli Jew phoned in some of those bomb threats. We live in a world in which there are Jewish victims and Jewish perpetrators, Jewish by-standers and Jewish allies, and in which some Jew-haters are Zionists and many anti-Zionists are Jews. Reality requires us to hold all sorts of things in our heads at once. The fact that some of them seem to contradict each other doesn’t necessarily mean they can’t all be true. Reality is not an equation.

Most of all, reality demands that we acknowledge that everything that happens isn’t about us. Antisemitism was and continues to be a real thing, but it is not the only thing. At our present moment, Islamophobia and racism loom much larger.

We Have Met the Enemy and It is Us

A critical distinction and one that we should keep in mind as the JFK anniversary approaches: The problem with conspiracy theory isn’t that it believes that the government is not to be trusted.  The trouble with conspiracy theory is its simplism; its simple faith that by holding a mirror up to the power structure its shadow opposite can be discerned–that the enemy isn’t the hegemon we know, but a hidden hegemon that can be known.

Our big trouble isn’t that outsiders (Communists, Fascists, Jewish globalist bankers) have secretly subverted our otherwise flawless system–it’s that the system itself is systemically corrupt.

 


Conspiracy Theories: The Republicans’ Last Refuge

Though the GOP remains the “party of business” in its policies, its outreach to economic populists and neo-secessionist states rightists has created a coalition that includes groups that are openly hostile to Wall Street and other economic elites, that see the Federal Reserve, for example, as a critical node of the Jewish conspiracy. This is an idea that goes all the way back to the Fed’s founding in 1913; it was trumpeted by conspiracy theorists like Henry Ford in the 1920s and the Republican Congressman Louis McFadden in the 1930s; it even played a role in Richard M. Nixon’s thinking, though he was more of a classic paranoid than a conspiracy theorist.

The GOP’s alliance with the Christian right has brought premillennial dispensationalists into its fold—people who believe that the world is not only coming to an end, but that the sooner civil order breaks down, the sooner Jesus will return. Dominionists like Ted Cruz’s father, who believe that the U.S. government should be run on a biblical basis, are increasingly prominent in the GOP. As believers in the “substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11), it’s not surprising that fundamentalists would be especially susceptible to conspiracy theories.

For more, go to The Washington Spectator.

More on conspiracy theories

Here is my third and final Rewire Me post on the neurology of hate, paranoia, and conspiracy theories. As I said on Facebook, I would like to start a campaign to eliminate the term “conspiracy theory” as a descriptive/pejorative for this kind of paranoid thinking. Conspiracies–some of them very big and very evil–do of course exist; it isn’t crazy to believe in conspiracies per se. What is crazy is to believe that one global conspiracy suffices to explain everything. That’s what Fundamentalists and Extremists do.