The Coming Conspiracy Election

These are odd times. Ashley Feinberg at Gawker reminds us that he’s still at it:

It’s common knowledge that Michelle Obama, wife to President Barack Obama, is actually a transgender woman. Joan Rivers then joked about this a few months before her (all too convenient) death. Now, prompted by the negative response to a recent cartoon comparing the First Lady to Melania Trump, Alex Jones decided to hit us with the truth.

To quote Jones precisely:

Don’t forget, the famous comedian Joan Rivers said, “Of course everyone knows she’s a tranny.” She’s dead serious: “Yeah, she’s a man.” Deader than a doornail in a routine operation – where, basically, she had fire poured down her throat and was a fire-breathing goblin.

[Evil voice] Dead on arrival. Shoot your mouth off, honey. You will die. Mua ha ha ha. Liberal. Ha ha ha ha.

Feinberg then notes this:

Jones goes on to call out George Clooney for being a women-enslaving maggot before finally returning to the topic at hand, saying, “I mean, I used to laugh at this stuff, but man – it’s all about rubbing our noses in it. And I think it’s all an arranged marriage. It’s all completely fake and it’s this big sick joke because he’s obsessed with transgender. It’s like some weird cult or something. I think Michelle Obama is a man.” But does Jones really, truly believe the things he’s saying?

“I really do. I really do. I believe it.”

Well, that clears everything up – but no one takes Alex Jones seriously – except last December there was this:

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump appeared on Alex Jones’ program, where Trump praised Jones as having an “amazing” reputation and promised, “I will not let you down.” Jones is America’s leading conspiracy theorist – he believes the government was behind 9-11 and several other catastrophes.

Jones’ website has called him “one of the very first founding fathers of the 9-11 Truth Movement,” which believes the government was behind the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Jones has also pushed conspiracy theories about the Oklahoma City bombing, the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster, the Boston Marathon bombing, and several mass shootings.

Trump seemed comfortable with that:

Jones and Trump heavily praised each other during the December 2 interview. Jones claimed Trump has been “vindicated” about his false 9-11 U.S. Muslims celebration claim, said “90 percent” of his audience supports Trump, and told the candidate he’s “shown your knowledge of geopolitical systems.” Jones went on to say that Trump is “a true maverick,” and “what you’re doing is epic. It’s George Washington level.” Trump returned the favor, telling Jones: “Your reputation is amazing. I will not let you down.”

Jones concluded the interview by saying to Trump, “You will be attacked for coming on. We know you know that. Thank you.”

That also clears everything up. Trump is a sucker for conspiracy theories. He loves them. Maybe he believes them. Or maybe he just finds them politically useful. Trump, however, in spite of Jones’ amazing reputation hasn’t trotted out Jones’ full range of insights:

Space Shuttle Columbia: Jones claimed that “globalists” were involved in the 2003 disaster, stating on his website: “I said that there was a very good chance that the globalists would do something horrible concerning the latest Colombia mission. Understand, the psychological warfare technicians do not even need to publicly blame Iraq for the Columbia disaster. It will serve as a distraction in the global press during the final weeks of war preparation in the Gulf. It will serve the dual purpose of unifying the country behind President Bush as he grandstands.”

New World Order’s Extermination Plans: Jones believes that a New World Order (NWO) of secretive global elites is working behind the scenes to rule the world through an authoritarian government. A summary of the Jones film ENDGAME explains that the NWO plans to “exterminate 80% of the world’s population, while enabling the elites to live forever with the aid of advanced technology.”

That one is an old chestnut – it’s the damned Rothschild family and the Jews, as the John Birch Society liked to point out back in the fifties – but Jones also keeps up with the times:

Boston Marathon Bombing: Jones and his website have labeled the Boston Marathon bombing a “false flag cover-up” carried out by the government.

Aurora and Sandy Hook Shootings: In 2013, Jones said the two mass shootings were staged: “You saw them stage Fast and Furious. Folks, they staged Aurora, they staged Sandy Hook. The evidence is just overwhelming. And that’s why I’m so desperate and freaked out. This is not fun, you know, getting up here telling you this. Somebody’s got to tell you the truth.”

2011 Tucson Shooting: After Jared Lee Loughner murdered six people, and wounded then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), Jones told Rolling Stone: “The whole thing stinks to high heaven … This kid Loughner disappeared for days at a time before the shooting? My gut tells me this was a staged mind-control operation. The government employs geometric psychological-warfare experts that know exactly how to indirectly manipulate unstable people through the media. They implanted the idea in his head by repeatedly asking, ‘Is Giffords in danger?'”

These items are of course related – the ultimate aim of all that was to take away everyone’s guns so the population would be helpless and finally enslaved – as with those secret FEMA Camps:

Jones sells a DVD titled “Police State 4: The Rise of FEMA” which claims that “Jones conclusively proves the existence of a secret network of FEMA camps, now being expanded nationwide. The military-industrial complex is transforming our once free nation into a giant prison camp.”

Right, but even Glenn Beck gave up on that one after one of his fans took him seriously and killed those policemen in Pittsburgh – the guy had a link on his website of Ron Paul discussing those FEMA-managed concentration camps with Glenn Beck, on Fox News, which finally let Glenn Beck go. These conspiracy theories can be dangerous.

If so, then why was Donald Trump hanging around with Alex Jones a few months ago? The New York Times’ Toni Monkovic looks into that:

Donald Trump has dominated polling among Republicans for the better part of a year, as he has delighted in reminding people. But there’s one poll that you probably haven’t heard about and that he doesn’t talk about.

Not surprisingly, it shows him in the lead. But the twist is the time frame: It’s from April 2011, and it reveals a little bit about how we got here.

Heading into the 2012 campaign, Mr. Trump led a Public Policy Polling (PPP) survey of GOP primary voters at 26 percent, with Mike Huckabee at 17 percent, Mitt Romney at 15 percent and Newt Gingrich at 11 percent. Similarly, a Wall Street Journal/NBC poll earlier that month showed Mr. Trump near the top as a “surprise contender.”

There was a reason for that:

PPP wrote that 23 percent of GOP voters “say they would not be willing to vote for a candidate who stated clearly that Obama was born in the U.S.,” and among “the hardcore birthers, Trump leads with 37 percent, almost three times as much support as anyone else.”

That was his thing, the Birther thing, and that was really working for him, but then things went south:

On April 27, President Obama released a copy of his long-form birth certificate to reporters.

On April 30, Mr. Obama mercilessly mocked Mr. Trump at the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner.

A night later, Mr. Obama announced that an American raid had killed Osama bin Laden.

Mr. Trump’s poll numbers collapsed. “As Trump got more and more exposure over the last month, Republicans didn’t just decide they weren’t interested in having him as their nominee – they also decided they flat don’t like him,” the PPP pollster Tom Jensen wrote at the time.

Two weeks later, Mr. Trump declared he would not run, citing his “passion” for business and a new contract with NBC for “Celebrity Apprentice.”

He was gone, but the anger of many GOP voters remained. Rick Santorum, not Mr. Trump, wound up being the insurgent who gave the party establishment fits.

Santorum, however, had no conspiracy theories, and Santorum lost the nomination to Mitt Romney, who also offered none. That left an untapped resource, and a guy who knew how to tap it, and a fresh opportunity:

The New York Times article on his farewell from the race suggested that the most noteworthy element of his flirtation as a candidate was “a media culture that increasingly seems to give the spotlight to the loudest, most outrageous voices.” Stuart Spencer, a former political strategist for Ronald Reagan, was quoted as saying, “The media made him, the media kept him, the media kept promoting him.”

Mr. Trump also demonstrated his willingness and ability to mine racial and ethnic resentment. In 2011, Mr. Trump said, “China is raping us.” Four years later, he said Mexico was sending rapists to the United States.

In the run-up to the Trump candidacy of 2016, Gabriel Sherman reported in New York magazine that an employee of Mr. Trump, Sam Nunberg, later fired for racially charged Facebook posts under his name, measured the base’s pulse.

“I listened to thousands of hours of talk radio, and he was getting reports from me,” Nunberg recalled. What those reports said was that the GOP base was frothing over a handful of issues including immigration, Obamacare and Common Core. While Jeb Bush talked about crossing the border as an “act of love,” Trump was thinking about how high to build his wall.

But maybe more than anything, Mr. Trump showed in 2011 how he would deploy conspiracy theories, associating with conspiracy purveyors like Alex Jones, a syndicated radio host. Among many examples in the last year, The Times wrote in March, Mr. Trump “reposted information on Twitter from the website Infowars, hosted by Mr. Jones,” to support his unsubstantiated claim that thousands of Muslims in New Jersey cheered the Sept. 11 attacks.

That’s how we got to where we are, but given how Donald Trump is now running neck and neck with Hilary Clinton in the national polls, Monkovic is more interested in who believes this nonsense, and offers this:

The political scientists Joseph Uscinski and Joseph Parent, who wrote the book “American Conspiracy Theories,” say that those on the left and the right believe in conspiracies roughly equally. But education can matter: “Forty-two percent of those without a high school diploma are high in conspiratorial predispositions, compared with 23 percent with postgraduate degrees.”

One of the highest correlations for Trump support is being white without a high school diploma. People with postgraduate degrees are increasingly leaning to the left.

But there are other factors:

Mr. Uscinski and Mr. Parent found that high-stress situations like job uncertainty “prompt people to concoct, embrace and repeat conspiracy theories.” Other research shows that conspiracy theories can be a coping mechanism for uncertainty and powerlessness. (Another predictor of strong Trump by county is a high proportion of working-age adults who aren’t working.)

And this is simply odd:

One study found that conservatives who believe in conspiracy theories know more about politics than conservatives who don’t. This correlation was not found for liberals. Presumably, these politically engaged conservatives would be more likely to vote in primaries.

Well, maybe that’s not so odd. These politically engaged conservatives, who know how things actually work, think the system is rigged in this way and that, and of course they’re right. Donald Trump reminds them of that, often, and loudly. Others shrug and work with the rules as they are. These politically engaged conservatives, like the angry Bernie Sanders fans, don’t shrug. They fight back, and this conspiracy thing is spreading:

Last week, Public Policy Polling revisited Mr. Trump’s attraction to conspiracy theories. Among voters who viewed him favorably, PPP found that 65 percent think President Obama is a Muslim; 59 percent think he was not born in the United States; 27 percent think vaccines cause autism; 24 percent think Justice Antonin Scalia was murdered; and 7 percent think Ted Cruz’s father was involved in the assassination of President Kennedy. (We should probably allow for the possibility that some survey-takers wanted to poke or provoke with their responses.)

Trump tapped into that – no one else would – but the real problem is elections:

Many Americans believe they’re often decided by cheating. In The Los Angeles Times in 2014, Mr. Uscinski and Mr. Parent wrote:

“Near equal numbers of Republicans and Democrats (between 40 percent and 50 percent) said fraud would be very or somewhat likely. Each side believes that if they lose, cheating is to blame, and they believe it about equally. Nobody likes losing, but it appears hard for about half the country to accept that they lost fair and square.”

The birther movement, which essentially gave life to Mr. Trump’s political career, is an example; it argues that President Obama did not actually win his elections because he was ineligible to be president.

That way of thinking suggests a possible out for Mr. Trump if he loses in November: accusations of cheating by the other side. Those wishing for him to be humbled may be disappointed. Could he really lose if he never accepts the loss?

Heather Parton doesn’t quite agree:

For the same reasons I don’t buy into a lot of superstitions or supernatural stuff, I tend not to buy most conspiracy theories. And with the decentralized, totally idiosyncratic local nature of our election system, the idea of massive voter fraud in favor of a particular candidate in one election is ludicrous.

I suppose this thinking has been around forever but it does seem to me that we’re seeing an uptick in people believing that there are puppet masters conspiring behind the scenes when I think our problems with corruption stem from much more abstract concepts like systemic incentives. I tend to believe that most people have many different motivations and usually believe they’re righteously ethical in their behavior. But that’s just me.

Millions of people will never believe that Trump lost legitimately in November, if in fact he does. And the conservative movement will continue to profit from this lie as they have been doing forever. And yes, the same phenomenon now exists on the Democratic side. Good times. 

She’s referring to what just happened in Nevada – angry Bernie Sanders fans getting nasty – and adds this:

If you don’t like Nevada’s byzantine delegate selection process there’s a legitimate way to fix it besides doxing local officials. Go to the meetings and volunteer for the committees that do all the work of local and state party elections. The woman who received death threats isn’t an elite member of the oligarchy; she’s the day manager at a local restaurant – which was also inundated with threats. The people who make these rules are mostly volunteers doing their civic duty which consists of years and years of boring, tedious meetings in their off hours. It’s open to anyone. All you have to do is join the party. There aren’t even any dues.

Party electoral processes are something everyone is empowered to change right there in their local communities. It’s not sexy but it’s very doable. If you start now, by the next presidential election you could have made a real difference.

She seems to be saying the conspiracy theories are far worse than stupid – they’re lazy and irresponsible and more than a bit whiney. They’re an excuse for not doing the hard and necessary work to get what you want, so she has another theory of what’s going on here:

The unexpected success of the two political outsiders, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, in this presidential primary season has everyone grasping for some kind of explanation that would easily explain it. The most commonly held assumption is that people are angry and cynical about the two political parties, which is undoubtedly correct. If the two campaigns share any characteristics, it’s that they absolutely loathe the political establishments of the party to which their preferred candidates have attached themselves, however tenuously. This should not come as a huge surprise to anyone since the gridlock and torpor that has characterized our national politics for the past several years is not exactly inspiring.

But many commentators have also concluded that the reason the two campaigns captured the imaginations of so many people is that both candidates are addressing deeply felt economic distress among the American electorate. The country is only now starting to awaken from the paralysis and fear that gripped the public during the epic financial crisis and that is bound to have reverberations. Moreover, that crisis served as an educational wake up call for a whole lot of people who recognized that the system was no longer working very well for the benefit of ordinary people even as it’s working fantastically well for the one percent. And a lot of those ordinary people are sick of it.

Bernie Sanders is responsive to that concern in a very direct almost obsessive way and it makes sense that someone with his economic worldview would capture the imagination of at least some part of the electorate. There is no mystery about Bernie Sanders’ outsider appeal.

The real mystery is the other guy:

Here we have a card-carrying member of the one percent, a man who flies around on his own 767, has married one gorgeous supermodel after another, brags non-stop about how he’s gamed the system for his own advantage and millions of average working Americans can’t get enough of him. What gives?

That’s a good question, but the answer has nothing to do with any conspiracy theory they hold:

Donald Trump’s supporters aren’t actually motivated by economic frustration at all. Indeed, it’s ridiculous on its face. Whatever Trump’s talents, he’s an heir to a real estate fortune and a fame whoring celebrity brand name in a suit not a brilliant captain of industry. His economic message, to the extent it actually exists, is that foreigners are robbing Americans blind and he’s going to get the money back and give it to his supporters and everyone will live happily ever after.

The idea that this is responsive to the deep economic anxieties of the average working Joe is a stretch. But it is very responsive to another set of anxieties that’s been plaguing many members of the right wing for decades and went into overdrive with the election of President Obama. That would be the ethnocentric anxieties of white conservatives who are feeling emasculated by the emergence of a multi-ethnic, multi-racial majority.

Ethnocentric anxieties can lead to all sorts of conspiracy theories, and do, but she looks at a new statistical summary of the attitudes of these voters by Jason McDaniel and Sean McElwee and discovers this:

In our newest analysis, we examine the feelings expressed by Trump supporters towards a variety of groups in America. The results are pretty clear: compared to supporters of other Republican candidates in the primary, Trump supporters really dislike many groups in America. For these voters, Trump’s blend of casual racism and muscular nativism is the core of his appeal. 

That precedes any specific conspiracy theory, and after a deep dive into the data, she concludes with this:

The Trump voter is not attracted to their man because he wants to renegotiate trade deals. They are attracted to him because he bashes China, insults Mexicans, demonizes Muslims, degrades African Americans and worships government authority to keep all of them, and more, in line. His aggressive misogyny is just an added bonus.

So forget conspiracy theories:

These statistics validate the common sense observation that while it’s very tempting to see this embrace of political outsiders in both parties as springing from the same phenomenon, beyond a general exasperation with the political establishments they are very different phenomena. The Sanders movement is clearly motivated by an economic argument. The Trump movement, something else entirely.

The bad news for Trump in all this is that these voters are no longer a majority in America. The good news for Trump? The mainstream media thinks it’s Barack Obama’s fault.

And that’s why Michelle Obama, wife to President Barack Obama, is actually a transgender woman, really a man as everyone knows, who had Joan Rivers murdered, and why North Carolina had to pass that odd bathroom law, and why Donald Trump keeps popping up on Alex Jones’ show. He loves conspiracy theories. Maybe he believes them. Or maybe he just finds them politically useful. Maybe it doesn’t matter. He does know how lazy people are. He can work with that.

And did you know that Hillary Clinton murdered Vince Foster? This will be a conspiracy election.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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