Donald Trump is losing the Presidential campaign. Polls indicate he is heading for a landslide defeat. But Trump thinks he is the greatest winner of all times. So he has an explanation. The biggest worldwide conspiracy of all times is stealing the election from him.
Last week in Florida, he said, “Hillary Clinton meets in secret with international banks to plot the destruction of U.S. sovereignty in order to enrich these global financial powers, her special interest friends and her donors .... The political establishment that is trying to stop us is the same group responsible for our disastrous trade deals, massive illegal immigration and economic and foreign policies that have bled our country dry.... The Clinton machine is at the center of this power structure .... This election will determine whether we are a free nation or whether we have only the illusion of democracy, but are in fact controlled by a small handful of global special interests rigging the system.”
Several separate historical lines lie behind Trump’s theory. First is his own belief that he never can lose a vote. When his show “Celebrity Apprentice” did not win Emmy awards in 2012, 2013, and 2014, he claimed the votes were rigged: “I should have many Emmys for the Apprentice if the process were fair”. When Ted Cruz won the Iowa caucus, Trump said: “Ted Cruz didn’t win Iowa, he illegally stole it.” Before the presidential debates, he said the Democrats were “trying to rig the debates” by scheduling them opposite NFL games. Now he claims the biggest election of all will be rigged to deny him victory.
Second, this fits into the broader Trump line of conspiratorial thinking. His claim that Obama was not born in America implied a wide conspiracy to keep his real origins secret. He has said that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was murdered, that Ted Cruz’s father was involved with Kennedy’s assassination, that the 9/11 attackers’ wives and girlfriends were “were put into planes and they were sent back, for the most part, to Saudi Arabia”, that the federal government sends Syrian refugees to Republican states, that the federal government funds illegal immigration, that the number of illegal immigrants is three times as large as is usually reported, that the Center for Disease Control covered up an Ebola crisis in the US in 2014, that the 5% unemployment rate announced in August was “one of the biggest hoaxes in modern American politics”, and on and on.
But several threads in the fabric of American conspiracy-mongering come from other Republicans. Sarah Palin popularized the idea, now a central piece of Trump’s campaign, that the media are not to be trusted. She complained about the media constantly during the 2008 campaign, and popularized the term “lamestream media” in 2009. Republicans have been complaining that the media are biased against them for decades, despite the fact that major newspapers overwhelmingly tilted toward Republican candidates until the 1990s. Trump has simply raised the level of vituperation, so that reporters are now verbally attacked by his supporters at his rallies.
A second Republican conspiracy thread developed around climate change. Many prominent Republicans, notably Senator Jim Inhofe, have said that global warming is a “hoax”. He has variously implicated the United Nations, Hollywood elites and the media in promoting this hoax. Since scientists all over the world and nearly every political party in every country support the idea that human action is causing climate change, believing that this is a hoax means believing in an enormous worldwide conspiracy encompassing politicians, scientists, media, and universities.
Finally, Republicans at the state level have used imaginary concerns about voter fraud to legitimize their efforts to restrict voting. Although only a handful of instances of voter fraud have been found anywhere in the US, Republican-controlled state legislatures have passed voting restrictions, claiming they are needed to prevent fraud. Restrictions in North Carolina, Wisconsin, Kansas, Texas, Ohio and Michigan were all struck down this year by the courts.
Republican voters have been well prepared by their political leaders to believe wild theories which make them victims of vast conspiracies. A significant majority of Republicans said they believed that Obama did not legitimately win the elections of 2008 and 2012. In 2012, half of Republicans were sure that the Democrats had engaged in voter fraud.
Trump has been saying the November election will be rigged for many months. But it’s not just Trump talking. His surrogates have taken up this claim. Rudy Giuliani said on Sunday, “If you want me to tell you that I think the elections of Philadelphia and Chicago are going to be fair, I would have to be a moron to say that.” Newt Gingrich also accused Democrats of cheating, and Senator Jeff Sessions said on Sunday, “They are attempting to rig this election.”
This talk is dangerous for America. When Trump loses, many of his supporters will believe they were cheated. They may follow the predictions of Trump advisors, like Roger Stone, who said in August that there will be a “bloodbath”, and that Trump should promise to shut down the government if Clinton wins. Milwaukee Sheriff David Clarke tweeted that it’s “pitchforks and torches time”.
Then the Grand Old Party will be responsible for an American disaster.
Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, October 18, 2016