Tuesday, May 29, 2018


I'm grateful to Julie Davis and Maggie Haberman of The New York Times for telling their readers that President Trump's "spygate" talk is irresponsible conspiratorialism:
As a candidate, Donald J. Trump claimed that the United States government had known in advance about the Sept. 11 attacks. He hinted that Antonin Scalia, a Supreme Court justice who died in his sleep two years ago, had been murdered. And for years, Mr. Trump pushed the notion that President Barack Obama had been born in Kenya rather than Honolulu, making him ineligible for the presidency.

None of that was true.

Last week, President Trump promoted new, unconfirmed accusations to suit his political narrative: that a “criminal deep state” element within Mr. Obama’s government planted a spy deep inside his presidential campaign to help his rival, Hillary Clinton, win — a scheme he branded “Spygate.” It was the latest indication that a president who has for decades trafficked in conspiracy theories has brought them from the fringes of public discourse to the Oval Office.

Now that he is president, Mr. Trump’s baseless stories of secret plots by powerful interests appear to be having a distinct effect. Among critics, they have fanned fears that he is eroding public trust in institutions, undermining the idea of objective truth and sowing widespread suspicions about the government and news media that mirror his own.
But why is it believed? Davis and Haberman quote Erick Erickson:
Erick Erickson, the founder of the conservative website RedState, who once described Mr. Trump as a “walking, talking National Enquirer,” said the president’s invented stories also speak to the public’s desire to have an easy explanation for events it cannot control.

“A lot of people really want to believe a conspiracy because it’s a lot easier to think a malevolent force is in charge than that our government is run by idiots,” Mr. Erickson said in an interview.
But "our government is run by idiots" is also "an easy explanation." It's the easiest explanation for everything that's wrong with America, or for everything conservatives don't like, and it easily elides into "our government is run by malign forces that want to do harm to everything I love."

The most important preacher on this subject was Ronald Reagan. He used to compare government to a baby with a perpetually full diaper:
“I’ve never seen a temporary tax. Government is like a baby—it’s got an alimentary canal at one end and no sense of responsibility at the other.”
He liked to say that "the nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I'm from the government and I'm here to help." And in his first inaugural address, he spoke about the nation's economic woes and said, "In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem." Ever since, his fans have trimmed off the first four words of that sentence. To them, it's an absolute truth: government is not the solution to any of our problems; government is the problem.

Government is the innocent baby that can't help itself. Government is the well-intentioned helper that's just going to screw everything up. Therefore, government is always the problem.

But Reagan was in government. Didn't that make him the problem? Nope. Republicans have gotten around that notion by suggesting that they're not really part of the government -- they're a rebel force fighting the real party of government, the Democrats. More recently, some Republicans have argued that other Republicans are part of the evil government party -- the others are RINOs or, more recently, swamp creatures -- while their accusers are genuine anti-government forces (who happen to work for the government too, but never mind).

It's a baby step from "government is always the problem" to "government is full of evil people conspiring to thwart the will of Real Americans." Erickson is wrong, but he pointed us in the right direction.

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