Wednesday, August 02, 2017


Jonathan Chait looks at allegations that President Trump was personally involved in pushing the Seth Rich-Wikileaks murder theory, and he concludes that we've reached a watershed moment:
More disturbing is the apparent seamless integration of the White House with the fever swamp. This represents a historical milestone of sorts. Trump’s administration has fully erased the boundary between legitimate conservatism and the most disreputable paranoid discourse on the far right.
Chait acknowledges that the right has a history of conspiratorialism going back to the heyday of the John Birch Society, and he notes that in recent years conservatism "has grown increasingly skeptical of facts and knowledge emanating from Establishment sources (the mainstream media, academia, the Congressional Budget Office, and so on) and increasingly open to kooks." But he adds, "The boundaries have extended farther and farther over the the decades, and under Trump they have taken a noticeable leap."

Have they? It seems that way -- no previous GOP president or nominee would have appeared on Alex Jones's show and praised the host. No previous nominee rose to fame embracing a conspiracy theory like birtherism.

But I don't think the right is much more conspiratorial now than it was, say, ten or fifteen years ago. The conspiracy theories might be more elemental and tawdry these days, but the older ones were just as divorced from reality.

Recall that Trump's most recent Republican predecessor built his presidency on the notion -- hinted at even if he never explicitly expressed it -- that Saddam Hussein was involved in the 9/11 attacks, and therefore was an appropriate target of the warfare initiated after those attacks. Also recall that George W. Bush's administration expended a great deal of effort combating a nonexistent epidemic of illegal voting by Democrats; Republicans at the state level, and now once again at the federal level, have been fighting this chimera since Bush left office.

And while the most prominent congressional Republicans have mostly avoided conspiracy theories (apart from the ones cited above), they've counted on conservative media outlets and kooky back-benchers in safe seats to promote crackpot ideas that keep the base voting Republican. Obama is a socialist living out the "anti-colonialist" dreams of his dead father! The Constitution is on the verge of being superseded by Sharia law! Islamist terrorists and incurable epidemic diseases are regularly crossing our Southern border! Does it matter whether the nice, responsible-seeming GOP senator on Meet the Press on a given Sunday ever articulates these notions himself, if belief in them is what persuades the voters in his state not to vote for the Democrat?

Trump is a more unabashed conspiratorialist than previous top-level Republicans. But the party is not much more conspiratorial than it's been throughout this century. It's been awful for a long time.

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