Politics & Policy

How Donald Trump Mainstreamed Conspiracy-Mongering

(Brian Snyder/Reuters)

The future of American politics is here, and it’s crazy — maybe literally.

On Tuesday morning, Donald Trump suggested that Ted Cruz’s father, Rafael, may have had something to do with the assassination of John F. Kennedy. “His father was with Lee Harvey Oswald prior to Oswald’s being — you know, shot,” said Trump during a phone interview with Fox & Friends. “I mean, what was he doing — what was he doing with Lee Harvey Oswald shortly before the death? Before the shooting?” The source for the story that Papa Cruz was with Oswald in 1963 is, of course, the National Enquirer.

Just in case you need a reminder, which no one did before recently: In its nine-decade history, the National Enquirer has broken a spoonful of actual news. The other 99.97 percent of its content ranges from quasi-believable tall tales to outright fabrication. Whitney Houston’s daughter was murdered. Marilyn Monroe was gay (as are John Travolta, Bill Clinton, Tom Cruise, and both Will and Jada Pinkett Smith). Oprah has three years to live (that was seven years ago).

And yet the Enquirer has now been cited twice by the Trump campaign, the first time for a bunk story about Ted Cruz’s secret lovers.

But there’s more where this came from. If you prefer your fake scandals with corporate, neocolonial globalists, Trump’s also praised Alex Jones, the bat-guano insane founder of the website Infowars, where there’s a war on for your mind (though if you follow Infowars, you probably don’t have one). Jones has theories about all of the usual subjects — the moon landing, the JFK assassination, 9/11 — and a whole lot of others, my personal favorite being that chemicals put into our drinking water by the government are turning frogs gay.

In December — yes, this most recent December, when he was a declared presidential candidate and leading the field nationally — Trump sat for a half-hour interview on The Alex Jones Show. On the show he called Jones’s reputation “amazing” and promised that, if he is elected, Jones will be very happy with his performance and “proud” of America again. Last week, Jones released a commercial featuring occasions on which Trump has appeared to cite Infowars stories. (And if Jones sees this story, he will no doubt respond to it by reminding his viewers that National Review remains a CIA operation.)

If you want the latest news from Alex Jones’s padded cell, you can usually find it on the Drudge Report, which has also taken to linking liberally to the Gateway Pundit, the blog operation run by professional alarmist Jim Hoft. At one time, Hoft had a reputation for muckraking, and a respectful following among conservatives, if a cautious one; his reporting, even pre-Trump, could be dubious. But in the Trump era, Hoft is competing furiously with Katrina Pierson for the position of Chief Shill. He regularly pens (verifiably false) stories about how Cruz is “stealing delegates.” He regularly retweets Trump’s campaign chiefs Dan Scavino Jr. and Corey Lewandowski and, of course, Trump himself. He refers to “Lyin’ Cheatin’ Ted Cruz” on his blog. No wonder Trump likes to cite him. Between March and January of this year, the Gateway Pundit’s readership more than doubled.

It’s not just out-there institutions that Trump has mainstreamed. It’s individuals.

But it’s not just out-there institutions that Trump has mainstreamed. It’s individuals. There’s Roger Stone, the metrosexual Machiavelli who for two decades plied various dirty tricks on behalf of Republicans, until he was booted from D.C. high society when a swinger’s ad featuring him and his wife hit the tabloids. Of late, the ex-adviser-turned-Trump-surrogate is now threatening to have Trump supporters literally beat down the doors of delegates who leave Trump on subsequent ballots at a contested convention.

There’s campaign surrogate Omarosa Manigault, an Apprentice contestant whose main claim to fame is being, for a time, E!’s “No. 1 Reality TV Bad Girl.”

And there are the various celebrity endorsers Trump has trotted out, who we are now supposed to believe are thoughtful and wise political commentators — like, for example, Mike Tyson, an ex-felon whose crowning achievement was biting off part of a boxing opponent’s ear. There’s a model of prudent judgment.

And don’t forget, amid all of this, the alt-Right.

#related#As Ben Carson might say, the fruit salad of American political life has always had its nuts. And every major candidate has an unsavory individual or two on the fringes of his or her campaign (cf. the Reverend Jeremiah Wright). But Trump’s campaign isn’t just extra crunchy. He’s gathered to his operation every right-wing nut on the continent, like they’re going out of season — and is parading them as confirmation of his excellence. Every quack and kook and conspiracy-monger is riding express on the Trump Train.

There are many ways to think about the Trump phenomenon. This is another: It’s the legitimization of a whole host of institutions and persons reasonable Americans had quietly and rightly shunted toward the edges of polite society — starting, of course, with Donald Trump himself.

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