Will Trump Become Conspiracy Theorist in Chief?

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tags: election 2016, Trump



Joseph E. Uscinski is an associate professor of political science at the University of Miami’s College of Arts and Sciences and the co-author of American Conspiracy Theories with Joseph M. Parent.

Given the current electoral landscape, there is a significant possibility that Donald Trump will become the next president of the United States. With his tendency to publicly endorse or condone conspiracy theories, how might he lead the country?

Conspiracy theories scapegoat a group and accuse them of committing evil acts. When this powerful rhetorical device is used by the state against the vulnerable, they become dangerous because the scapegoating is now backed by the threat or use of force.

If we look outside the U.S., Hitler, Stalin and Mao propagated conspiracy theories targeting vulnerable domestic groups. This led to the deaths of millions. The current Castro and Kim Jong-un regimes in Cuba and North Korea, respectively, use conspiratorial rhetoric to maintain control. ...

In the U.S., conspiracy theories resonate most when they originate from the least powerful and accuse the most powerful. Those without power use conspiracy theories to close ranks, stay alert, point out potential dangers and call for action against a more powerful opponent. In modern party politics, this has usually taken the form of the out-of-power party accusing the in-power party of conspiring.

For example, as President George W. Bush left office, the public became less interested in theories that pinned 9/11 conspiracies on him and instead became fascinated by the new president’s birth certificate.

Using a time series of 120,000 letters to the editor of major newspapers, we have shown that this pattern goes back at least to the 1890s. After reading these letters and picking out the ones that espouse a conspiracy theory, we found that during the years a Republican is in the White House, conspiracy theories about the right occupy about 16 percent of our conspiracy theory letters each year, but they decrease to 5 percent when a Democrat is in the White House.

Conspiracy theories about the left occupy about 6 percent of our yearly sample during Republican administrations, but increase to 15 percent during Democratic ones. This trend is the same for both elite and nonelite letter writers. Who controls the White House invites conspiracy theories to themselves and their party. ...




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