Election 2016 could just as well be called Conspiracy 2016. There certainly seems to be a conspiracy to drive the more level- headed of us ’round the bend and back again.
You would almost expect the bulk of those theories to come from the side of that “nasty woman” who once spoke of the “vast right-wing conspiracy.” And yet …
Yes, there are the rumblings about Vlad the Puppeteer, The Donald being either a liberal plant or the Illuminati’s choice to “usher in Armageddon,” and Bernie Sanders’ campaign being sabotaged from within, but it seems the far more colorful and abundant theories are coming from the right … or at least the Trump-right.
From the old saws about Vince Foster and others to global bankers, body doubles, cyborgs and the California drought, it’s been nothing short of perplexing for the non-conspiracy- minded.
Some of the weirdest:
♣ Hillary Clinton pays homage to the government’s involvement in the 9/11 attacks in her campaign logo.
Men’s Journal says: “Conspiracy theorists point to the fact that the red arrow in the logo moves left to right, the same direction as the planes were moving when they hit the towers. Also, the right side of her logo has more red in it, corresponding to the first tower burning. Those are some pretty thin straws.”
But, but … Hillary!
♣ Hillary (or Ted Cruz) is a reptilian alien intent on world domination.
Wait … I thought that was Barack Obama. At least that’s what all those websites told me … that and he eats babies.
♣ Obama will cancel the election so he can stay in office.
Didn’t we go through this before with Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush?
But seriously, it’s not a completely awful idea …
♣ Ted Cruz is the Zodiac Killer … oh, and his dad helped kill JFK.
As further proof that facts no longer matter, Cruz, who as an adult happens to vaguely (and I do mean vaguely) resemble a sketch of the Zodiac Killer, was born in 1970. The first murder attributed to Zodiac was in 1968, so … uh, I think we can cross him off the suspect list.
As for Rafael Cruz’s supposed link to Lee Harvey Oswald, PolitiFact found that by 1963, the elder Cruz had already been an ardent anti-communist for several years, and multiple experts on the period found no evidence of Cruz-Oswald ties.
Hard-line partisans and conspiracy theorists (who, studies say, tend to be those on the most extreme left and right) cast aspersions on fact-checking and those who insist on truth … it’s not their “truth,” after all. Damon Linker posited in The Week that the atmosphere that led to what we’re dealing with now is a result of a decades-long effort by conservative media to undermine the authority of the mainstream (read evil liberal) media. Climate change, the Clintons, vaccines—they all become ripe for misinformation and the sowing of doubt.
“Why? Because the trustworthiness of the authorities that make the claims has been under direct and continuous attack for the past several decades—and because the Internet has given a voice to every kook who makes a contrary assertion. What we’re left with is a chaos of competing claims, none of which has the authority to dispel the others as untrue.
“That sounds like a recipe for relativism — and it is, but only (metaphorically speaking) for a moment, as a preparatory stage toward a new form of absolutism. Confronted by the destabilizing swirl of contradictory assertions, many people end up latching onto whichever source of information confirms the beliefs they held before opening their Web browser. Instead of relativistic skepticism they’re left with some of the most impenetrable dogmas ever affirmed.”
This election year seems to be the wackiest as far as conspiracy theories go, at least in my limited memory, but it’s certainly not the first to feature them. (As far as presidential races in the U.S., that might have been the 1800 election and the Illuminati—yep, them again—conspiracy with Thomas Jefferson to destroy … well, everything.)
Jesse Walker, books editor at Reason and the author of The United States of Paranoia: A Conspiracy Theory, wrote in the Washington Post:
“Even the most plain-vanilla presidential races are filled with conspiracy talk. Pundits speculate about secret deals. Reporters chase down candidates’ financial ties and look for quid pro quos. Activists parse speeches for secret messages—‘dog whistles’—pitched at frequencies only certain constituencies can hear. Pretty much everyone acknowledges that such small-scale conspiring takes place. And pretty much everyone acknowledges that larger conspiracies are sometimes at work, such as Richard Nixon’s sabotage and surveillance operations in 1972. In each party’s base, rumors circulate every four years. Under certain circumstances, some of those rumors might find their way to the lips of campaign officials.”
Most of these theories are easily debunked and/or laughed off and are relatively innocuous. One, though, is dangerous: the “rigged election” claim. Whether it’s the claim of Clinton shenanigans at the polls, or of Russia influencing the election in Trump’s favor, it’s a recipe for unrest.
Wendy Weiser, the Brennan Center Democracy Program’s director, told Politico that election security can be further improved, “but insinuations of widespread fraud and rigged outcomes are completely unfounded. That heated rhetoric just undermines faith in American democracy, which works because people have confidence in its legitimacy. That confidence is something that should not be casually and baselessly tossed aside.”
Because elections are overseen on state and local levels rather than a centralized federal system, the chances of widespread fraud occurring are exceedingly slim. It does happen sometimes, but is far more likely to occur with absentee ballots than in person (such as the Hudson Hallum case of 2012), and even then, it’s not much of a factor since it’s localized. With unconnected county and state election commissions overseeing the process, even hacking would require an awful lot of work to have more than an infinitesimal impact on a national race. Remember, the more moving parts involved, the less likely a conspiracy theory is to be true.
Of course, requesting evidence of actual election fraud (especially that of voter impersonation) is just asking to be sprayed with spit once the conspiracy theorist’s mouth starts foaming. Point out that Loyola Law Professor Justin Levitt found only 31 such instances in over 1 billion votes cast between 2000 and 2014 and you’re likely to require a change of clothes.
An umbrella and a raincoat would be advisable for at least the next week. And you might want to pray for drought.