Unraveling Trump’s Conspiracy Fetish
Aday or two ago, a friend quietly informed me that our “Muslim” president was the figurehead for a cabal controlled by the “treasury reserve” that was manipulating the election while providing Russia with hacking techniques intended to destroy our country. My friend was a supporter of Donald Trump whose critics, he believed, were part of the conspiracy. That the presidential campaign was rigged seemed obvious to him. My friend is not an isolated case. He reflects a more general outlook in which critical events are reduced to machinations occurring behind the scenes that are orchestrated by hidden malevolent forces. In my recent book, The Bigot, I called this ‘conspiracy fetishism’.
Conspiracies have occurred in the past, and they will surely occur in the future. But, for the conspiracy fetishist, all of history is the product of an invisible and inscrutable cabal. The more powerful the conspiracy the more it is hidden from plain sight. The lack of hard evidence only confirms its existence. Everything is (again) happening behind the scenes: intimidation, deception, bribery, and even murder! How else could Obama, who was (supposedly) not even born in the United States, have become president? And isn’t it strange that the state official who verified his health certificate should have died in a plane crash? And what about the president’s refusal to talk about “radical Islam?” “Maybe” he and his lackey, Hillary Clinton, aren’t “really” interested in fighting terrorism?
Is there proof? No need. Inference should suffice. And, if it doesn’t, perhaps inverting the truth will do the trick: “Everyone” knows, after all, it was the Obama administration’s policies that created ISIS; that the president has refused to bomb its strongholds; that he has provided them with weapons; and that, through lack of “vetting” immigrants, he has allowed ISIS terrorists to enter the country in droves.
Arguments to the contrary are just lies and propaganda. Since hard evidence is never available, the fetishist can arrange his “facts” arbitrarily so that they justify his claims. Anyone can have a legitimate opinion on anything. Trump likes to say that he is only raising questions, initiating discussion, and whistle-blowing. But he is actually sparking rumors that heighten paranoia and distinctions between “us” and “them.” There is no need for knowledge or specifics. “Believe me!” he cries—and that should be that!
Conspiracy fetishism provides invisible links between invisible partners in an invisible cabal. Conspiracy fetishism explains everything; the conspiracy fetishist is responsible for nothing. No one is more innocent than the victim of such a conspiracy or more evil than those intent upon confusing simple hard-working people about what they know is true, namely, that a once peaceful, prosperous, and happy community is vanishing: we no longer even know who we really are. Whether immigrants, women, and people of color enjoyed the benefits of that imagined community is again irrelevant. Their recent protests only go to show that they have been manipulated or, more ominously, that they have become part of the conspiracy that commands every powerful institution and—above all—the government bureaucracy.
So immense is the conspiracy, so evil are its aims, that it often has an otherworldly quality. Thus, many prominent fetishists connect Hillary with Lucifer and Obama with the Mahdi or the Anti-Christ. Condemned by the establishment, yet struggling valiantly against its depravity, the conspiracy fetishist feels he is fighting a lonely battle for the truly insulted and genuinely marginalized. His paranoid logic reflects that of the true believer, the rabid xenophobe, or the smug knowit-all. So what? Giving “voice” to their fear and anger, he can see himself as society’s savior— the hero of his own artificially constructed drama. That is why (according to Donald Trump) only Donald Trump can save us now.
Conspiracy fetishism provides invisible links between invisible partners in an invisible cabal. The GOP candidate gives credence to baseless fear every chance he gets.