The most troubling aspect of Donald Trump’s presidency for most rational observers isn’t necessarily the policies he advocates. While they are awful by any objective standards, his (few) legislative achievements can be reversed when the next president is elected. It is however Trump’s war on truth that is the most unsettling — his relentless lying and fueling of conspiracy theories that undermines the presidential office and is destroying the fabric of civil society in America.
As Jonathan Chait in New York Magazine notes, this has essentially changed the face of conservatism to the point where the line between conspiracy theories and right wing politics no longer exists. He writes:
Trump of course built his political brand by stoking a conspiracy theory about Barack Obama’s birthplace. Trump’s birtherism gave him the authentic connection to the conservative base that made his many past ideological heresies forgivable. He has continued to spread wild and baseless rumors: Antonin Scalia may have been murdered, Ted Cruz’s father may have helped assassinate President Kennedy, millions of illegal votes allowed Hillary Clinton to win the popular vote, Russia did not try to help him win the election.
These bizarre lies are not merely a symptom of Trump’s idiosyncratic verbal diarrhea. They grow out of a long tradition of paranoia that once lurked on the margins of American politics. Paranoid thinking can be found on both the far right and the far left. But while left-wing paranoia remains mostly confined to the margins — Jill Stein’s candidacy acted as a magnet for the left-wing sort — the right-wing variety has made deep inroads into Republican politics.
The recent revelation that Trump may have had a hand in pushing the fake news story about the murder of DNC worker Seth Rich on Fox News lends a lot of weight to this notion. If a mainstream news organization is engaging in ludicrous conspiracy theories at the behest of the President of the United States, then the country is truly in unchartered territory. Continues Chait:
As the party has moved farther and farther right, it 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. The boundaries have extended farther and farther over the the decades, and under Trump they have taken a noticeable leap. Trump brought into his administration Michael Flynn, an enthusiastic purveyor of exotic theories — Al Qaeda has built a secret trail with signs leading its followers to infiltrate the southern border, Hillary Clinton is implicated in sex trafficking, and so on. Trump openly courts crackpots like Alex Jones. Conspiracymongers like Mike Cernovich and Roger Stone have regularly broken scoops from the Trump administration, indicating a closeness to power that they never enjoyed before.
There were many points during the 2016 election when it appeared Trump was well on the way to a complete obliteration by Hillary Clinton. I wrote often that this would finally spell the end of the insanity Trump was subjecting the country to, and the Republican party would fall apart due to the enormous damage he had done. This, I believed, would be good for conservatism in the long run as it would have to come to the realization that lying to people isn’t good strategy, and fueling conspiracy theories made everyone worse off in the long run, not just liberals.
Of course the exact opposite happened, and the alternate reality Trump and his minions created to spite liberals is now the dominant political paradigm. And sadly, we all have to live in it.
Ben Cohen is the editor and founder of The Daily Banter. He lives in Washington DC where he does podcasts, teaches Martial Arts, and tries to be a good father. He would be extremely disturbed if you took him too seriously.