The internet is so effective at the promulgation of conspiracy theories we almost think it might have been made for that purpose. Marshall McLuhan suggests that each of our technologies simply extend our own abilities, just as a spear extends the hand axe. The ability that the internet is perhaps the best at exacerbating is our propensity to gossip. This takes the form of tabloid-like stories, celebrity news, and, on the darker web of largely ignored blogs, conspiracy theories.
One of the more interesting theories having to do with the presidential race that is going the rounds of the internet is that Donald Trump is a ringer for the Clintons. Justin Raimondo first makes the argument in his blog that Trump is known to be a good friend of the Clintons, and the argument goes that in secret meetings—they always seem to be necessary for conspiracy theories—they asked him if he would trade his reputation, such as it is, for Hillary Clinton’s presidency. What Trump has to gain from this other than the usual kickbacks he would get from bribes that any president could give him, Raimondo does not explain.
What this theory strives to explain, and this is a rather admirable and perhaps even cute goal, is how Trump could both make such mind-numbingly stupid proclamations and be someone who ran a few semi-successful businesses which were bailed out by inheritance. For his success we have to ignore the government handouts and illegal and semi-legal activities.
What is more interesting about the Trump phenomenon is his tendency to resort to bizarre non-sequiturs and racist bombast. For instance, Trump has told the American viewing public that immigration is both good and bad, depending on the year is making the statement, that government subsidies are needed or are superfluous, again depending on when he is being interviewed. Lately, however, as he has thrown his toupee into the ring of republican candidacy, his rash and by times inarticulate statements have grown more strident.
On refugees, Trump said, speaking about himself in the third person, that “Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.”
On immigration he has made more than a few inflammatory statements about Mexican migrants: “I will build a great wall – and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me – and I’ll build them very inexpensively. I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.” He is also credited with, “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending the best. They’re sending people that have lots of problems and they’re bringing those problems. They’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime. They’re rapists and some, I assume, are good people, but I speak to border guards and they’re telling us what we’re getting.” He tells us, that “We have to have a wall. We have to have a border. And in that wall we’re going to have a big fat door where people can come into the country, but they have to come in legally.” Of course, riding the bandwagon of anti-muslim racism, he wants a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.”
On Asians, he said, “When these people walk in the room, they don’t say, ‘Oh, hello! How’s the weather? It’s so beautiful outside. Isn’t it lovely? How are the Yankees doing? Oh they’re doing wonderful. Great.’ They say, ‘We want deal!’”
His background in science is not any better. He has made more than a few statements that incited a fear of vaccines, and thus allied himself with the most scientifically illiterate of the conspiracy crowd. “No more massive injections. Tiny children are not horses—one vaccine at a time, over time.” When Global Climate Change is mentioned he is ready with, “NBC News just called it ‘The Great Freeze’ — coldest weather in years. Is our country still spending money on the GLOBAL WARMING HOAX?” Many of the republican party flirt with conspiracy theories, especially if they are about science matters, but he has also taken part in the birther preoccupation: “Do you know that Hillary Clinton was a birther? She wanted those records and fought like hell. People forgot. Did you know John McCain was a birther? Wanted those records? They couldn’t get the records. Hillary failed. John McCain failed. Trump was able to get him to give something — I don’t know what the hell it was — but it doesn’t matter.”
Some of these topics are ostensibly in the domain of politics, but Trump also makes crass and denigrating statements about people, especially successful women: “If I were running ‘The View’, I’d fire Rosie O’Donnell. I mean, I’d look at her right in that fat, ugly face of hers, I’d say ‘Rosie, you’re fired.’” He said that Fox News’ Megyn Kelly was angry enough that “You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes. Blood coming out of her wherever.” When addressing rape, he claimed he knew the reason that sexual assaults in the military were so high: “26,000 unreported sexual assults [sic] in the military—only 238 convictions. What did these geniuses expect when they put men & women together?” At his most creepy, even though he later claimed it to be a joke, he claimed, “I’ve said if Ivanka weren’t my daughter, perhaps I’d be dating her.”
The very extremity of his utterances begs the question if he were trying to deliberately throw the chance at the presidency away. Raimondo’s suggestion opens us to two possibilities. He could be wrong and Trump really is the willfully ignorant, racist, homophobic, misogynist con-artist that he seems to be. His statements might just be more sales patter in a long series of huckster jabs so that middle America will nominate him for the republican party. Afterward, he might modify some of his statements, and try to win the presidency. The memory of the viewing public is short enough that his strategy might work, and it could be that before long he’ll be making renovations in the White House, a great seat from which to run his latest reality show.
The other possibility is that they are right, and Trump is trying to sabotage the republican ship in order that the democrats might sail on to win the day. The odds are against him, for American politics, like that of many two party countries around the world, tend to seesaw from one party to the next. The last time a democrat followed a democrat in power was 1836. A doubled republican party is of more recent vintage, which was when George Bush Senior was elected in 1988. The historical odds don’t favour the democrats. Perhaps, Raimondo’s argument goes, the democrats need Trumps buffoonery to swing the vote, since it will likely be too close otherwise.
With so many republican candidates thinning the vote by running for nomination, some are sensing that they are spreading the electorate too thin. They are asking for others to stand down so Trump doesn’t get the nomination, since that will probably mean losing the presidency to the democrats. Of course, coming from a philosophy of take-advantage-when-you-can, none of them will step down and with the tragedy of the commons workings against them they will likely ensure Trump becomes the frontrunner. In which case, we might as well get used to Trump’s huckster style and poorly-managed Tourette’s: “The final key to the way I promote is bravado. I play to people’s fantasies. People may not always think big themselves, but they can still get very excited by those who do. That’s why a little hyperbole never hurts.”