the angry conspiracy vote, a primer
Recently, researchers working for The Economist tried to see whether they could guess who American voters tend to support only based on how many conspiracy theories they tend to believe. No points for guessing that the most conspiracy-prone were pro-Trump, although if you guessed that there are quite a few conspiracy theorists backing Clinton and Gary Johnson has the fewest among his base, nicely done. From this, echoing countless other political pundits’ think pieces, the researchers concluded that we’re seeing the rise of the feelings-first, post-factual democracy, as if the conspiracy vote was something completely new and unprecedented at this scale in politics. If you’ve ever studied American history, however, you know that once upon a time, the 19th century equivalent of InfoWars had its own political party, and the GOP’s anti-immigrant stance mirrors the 1850’s Know Nothings.
Just like Mark Twain used to say, history doesn’t repeat itself, but it certainly does rhyme, and this is the case with the conspiracy vote. American history is positively lousy with powerful pundits warning voters of Illuminati agents in government, and occult Masonic orgies where the fate of the nation was being decided to advance a new world order, so much so, they refused to retract their support from outright, admitted hoaxes they perpetuated in the first place. And really, we don’t have to go back to the 1800s, a time when presidential candidates acted like, well, Trump, only to have their nastiness kindly glossed over by textbooks, to find the influence of angry conspiracy theorists on a major political party. While The Economist didn’t find a strong predictive link between Mitt Romney’s base in 2012 and belief in all sorts of conspiracies, you could see the influence of pundits like Alex Jones on the Republican party platform around the time of his nomination.
Yes, the Putin cosplay loving Alex Jones had an outsized role in this election and has probably seen a huge boost to his snake oil-hawking business, that exists as a case study in crank magnetism. Aside from now famously calling Clinton and Obama literal demons from Hell and hosting pro-Trump rallies at the RNC, he’s been busy telling his audience that the California drought is caused by either HAARP, chemtrails, or both in a plot to make people believe in global warming then do something evil with that, that a public war game announced months in advance is actually a real New World Order military takeover, or at least a dress rehearsal for one, that local zoning law debates are a nefarious plot by the Illuminati to create a totalitarian global regime, and that while not doing all these evil things, the global elites relax with a harem of eugenically bred sex slaves. Although in fairness, that last one was a greatest hits remix of a conspiracy theory about MKULTRA.
But despite his now national prominence, it would be a big mistake to call him some sort of mastermind behind the raging nuclear dumpster fire that is Election 2016. Jones is a businessman and he’s merely capitalizing on selling things to the people who are so incapable of explaining why their opinions aren’t being met with universal approval, they turn to conspiracy theories rather than face being wrong. And that’s really what it all comes down to in the end. Conspiracy theories make people feel smart, like they’re in on some sort of secret knowledge “the sheeple” don’t have, and precent the distress that comes with having to change one’s view by letting the believers say “I’m not wrong, it’s a lie perpetuated by a conspiracy against people like me!” And worse, a conspiracy theory gives its adherents an easy set of targets to hold responsible for all their problems instead of having to navigate a whole world filled with shades of legal and financial gray areas.
Instead of being a working stiff with little power to influence the far too often greedy and reckless global elites who indirectly dictate your fate and have been busy creating an inequality chasm over the last three decades, making it incredibly hard to join them, you are now armed with the truth to bring them all down in a burst of public rage and fury. Trump’s supporters have found their bogeyman in minorities, SJWs, and well intentioned, yet smothering left wing political activism, just like the Know Nothings found it in Catholics and Irish immigrants, and — not to go Gowdin on you — Nazi Party faithful found it in Jews and Marxists, mashing them all into a cabal in urgent need to be stopped before they enslave the world to their sinister, totalitarian whims, crushing anyone in their way.
This false simplicity coupled with the lack of having to reevaluate one’s views is a compelling message sold by countless Alex Joneses since the invention of mass media. We’re just more aware of it today because we’ve pretty much perfected mass media delivery at this point. Conspiracy voters are not the new, catastrophic, democracy-eroding menace pundits present them to be. They’ve been with us since the advent of democratic nations, and while scandalous, bigotry-spewing politicians like Trump, Berlusconi, and Johnson are treated at some bizarre anomaly, they’re nothing new as far as history goes. They’re just those parts of history that rhyme. That said, the conspiracy vote also encouraged witch hunts, war, and economic malaise as populist rage pursued its bogeymen instead of fixing real problems, so just merely dismissing them as a historical recurrence and leaving it at that is every bit as much of a disservice as treating them like a fifth horseman of the apocalypse.
But then again, for full disclosure, I have been accused of being a nefarious conspiracy debunker for mainstream science, and The Economist is owned in part by the Rothschild family, so if you disagree with everything said in this post, here’s some fodder to say that I’m in on this whole thing for all sorts of malevolent reasons and am working for the New World Order to discredit Jones and Trump on the Illuminati payroll, running this blog to throw you off in your quest…