America is a nation of conspiracy theorists. Every new president dawns its own unique culture of conspiracy theories. Some of these theories have truth to them, others are completely and utterly absurd. With Clinton it was the death of Vince Foster, the general rumors about the so-called “Clinton Body-Count,” and the theories around what Clinton was doing in Mena, Arkansas while he was Governor. With Bush, it was the theory about 9/11 being an inside job, his dealings with the Saudis, and the war for oil/Project for a New American Century stuff. With Obama, it was the “Obama is a Muslim” conspiracy theory, the Birther conspiracy theory that said that Obama was born in Kenya, the so called “Death Panels,” and the Benghazi obsession. And with Trump it has been the Russia conspiracy, the conspiracy theory that spawned a thousand other conspiracy theories from the Steel Dossier to theories about Trump being a Russian agent to him laundering money for the Russians, and so on. We also have my favorite which is “Fake Melania,” a theory promoted on the View that says that Melania Trump has been switched out with a body double. We are a nation of rabbit hole followers, a nation of obsessives, but the odd thing is that this conspiracy culture, over the past two years, has entered right into the bloodstream of the establishment media. Where once these conspiracy theory hobbyists were kept on the edges of the politics, it is clear that they have been creeping further and further towards the center.
It is my view that this shift started to take place after the election of Barrack Obama. The nation was broken straight in half by that election. The reactions to it were as varied as the reactions to the OJ Simpson verdict. Non-white Americans and white hipsters saw Obama’s election as a total victory. The white christian America that had been a core element of this country since its founding, had been conquered. The time of the old white America was finished, and the “America of the future” lead by the “coalition of the ascendant” would rule forever and ever, amen. Obama represented the triumph of the overall millennial mindset: support for gay marriage, opposition to the Iraq war, the rise of the tech savvy elite (much was made of Obama’s use of online campaigning), and the embrace of a white minority status among urban whites. But for the average rural white Christians American, Obama’s election represented the exact opposite. It represented disillusionment and the felling that they had lost their country, which they implicitly saw as being a white Christian country.
The election of Obama was the moment that the non-hipster, rural white Christian population became a break away faction of America rather than the center of it. For since 1945, the rural white Christian American had felt himself to be at the center of American life and much of American culture, like the Andy Griffith show, supported that image of themselves. The election of Obama proved to large numbers of rural white Christians that they were not only no longer the center of America life but that they were no longer really part of the country at all. This is why one of the main slogans of the Tea Party movement was “take our country back.” You don’t need to take something back that is already yours or that you already feel a part of. Thus, with white rural Christian America now thinking of itself as “strangers in a foreign land,” the conservative media figures, politicians, and intellectuals who are supposed to represent this group of people began to reflect that same mentality. For the Conservative media nexus and Republican political culture, there was no longer anything of benefit to be gained by acting or talking like “normal politicians” or “normal news broadcasters.” But these politicians and media figures also knew that they couldn’t give their base what they wanted. They knew that they could not activate their base on their core issues of concern which were things like immigration and ending the culture of censorship, so instead they broke out of the normal media landscape and reached to their audience’s feelings of discontent and distrust through giving them conspiracy theories. “You aren’t losing your country because Republican business interests have aligned with Democratic social justice organizations to bring in waves of cheap foreign labor or because corporate interests are gobbling up more and more of the American rural way of life or because drug companies are getting your cousins and uncles and nephews hooked on opioids. No, you are losing your country because Obama is a Muslim and a Kenyan.” The elites are more than willing to give you this kind of vulgar racism if they think it can distract your attention away from what they are doing.
The Democrats are doing the exact same thing with the Russia issue. A large number of white American liberals know a lot about the ins and outs of the Mueller investigation. Why? Because Rachel Maddow has been beaming it into their heads for the last two years. Instead of looking at Trump’s foreign policy, instead of defending their party and their media culture against the Neo-Con infiltration that has taken place within it, they have instead gone down the rabbit hole of Mueller and the Russia conspiracy. It is true that the Democratic party has gotten more radical in terms of domestic policy but that is because the only people who haven’t been spending all of their time focusing on the Russia conspiracy, the progressives, are the only ones who have been making policy. While Maddow has been running around with her hair on fire about Trump being a Russian agent, progressives have been pushing for medicare for all and the Green New Deal and developing networks of funding to make sure that candidates that their candidates get into office. That is why, seemingly over night, the party has swung drastically to the left on everything from healthcare, to the idea of “socialism”, to the environment, to racial issues, and so on. Because while the boomer Democrat was losing their mind about Russia, the progressive Democrat was pushing policy. This is why the Democratic plan to distract their base with a conspiracy actually failed because the activist base decided to push their own policies instead of getting entirely wrapped up in the Russia conspiracy.
It is important to understand how conspiracy theories can be utilized to lead you down paths that are not in your benefit, but I also think it is important to try and think about what it means that America is a nation of conspiracy theorists. America’s wide scale belief in conspiracy theories shows a profound distrust among the American public of all of their institutions: government, media, business, religious, academic, and so on. Americans have always been skeptical of people in power, that is something that comes with having a representative democracy. When citizens have to make decisions on who is going to rule over them, they tend to develop a critical eye towards the politicians that they are going to be voting for. No one wants to be a sucker. But there is a profound difference between having a skeptical eye towards a politician and his policies and having an out and out distrust of politicians in general and our entire political process in particular. When you don’t trust the political institutions that rule over you, then you begin to think that maybe they are stabbing you in the back, maybe they are doing things in secret that are against your interests as soon as they get into power. That is the fuel for the creation of conspiracy theories. Because America has traditionally been a free country when it comes to the expression of speech, we have always had conspiracy theorists, but only once in our history has this kind conspiratorial mindset taken over American politics at its very heart and that one time was in the 1850’s, right before the Civil War. It is no coincidence that the conspiracy theories about the last two presidents have been about legitimacy, Obama not being legitimate because of his supposed foreign birth and Trump not being legitimate because of Russian interference. When large numbers of Americans no longer feel that the rule of the other party over them is legitimate, watch out, trouble is coming.
The end of the Mueller investigation will not mean the end of this conspiracy theory, but rather its alteration. It will survive by doing the same exact thing that all other conspiracy theories do to survive. It will claim that someone interfered with the investigation, that someone “got to Mueller,” that maybe Mueller was part of the conspiracy himself, that the Russians control Mueller and maybe the Attorney General as well. Too many people like believing in this conspiracy theory for it to simply vanish into thin air. The mainstream left-wing press has hyped up an entire generation of liberal Bircherites. Good luck convincing them that the show is over now.