Op-Ed – By JP Sottile
With each passing day the 2016 presidential campaign looks more and more like an angry subreddit moderated by a genetically engineered “double-y chromosome” man-child constructed from the DNA of David Icke and Alex Jones.
Although it’s easy to dismiss this long, strange electoral trip as a passing political malady rising from America’s fever swamps, there are plenty of good reasons to get into the tin foil millinery business.
For a start, the main contest pits a Republican “Birther” who is allegedly popular with “Truthers” running against a notorious Democratic triangulator who many inside her own party believe not only jury-rigged the primaries, but also won with help from her conniving cronies in the mainstream media.
On the other side, the indefatigable Alex Jones is Donald Trump’s loudest and most confrontational alt-media megaphone. The matchmaker behind Alex and Donald’s brash bromance is “on-again/off-again” Trump confidant and all-around dirty trickster Roger Stone. Stone is now a fixture on Jones’s Infowars. Together they form a Trumpian tag-team ever-ready to body-slam any globalist who gets in Donald’s way. And they’re selling a few t-shirts, too.
Meanwhile, a former acting CIA Director pegged Trump as an “unwitting” stooge of a power-hungry former KGB agent (codename “Putin”) who, if you believe the Cold War rebooters, runs Russia like he’s a cat-stroking Bond villain. Apparently, Putin desperately needs to place a stooge in the White House to achieve his plans for world domination.
Then again, others wonder if Putin’s stooge is, in fact, actually a Manchurian candidate surreptitiously paving the way for Hillary Clinton’s ultimate victory. That plot was supposedly triggered by the husband (codename “Bubba”) of the Manchurian Candidate’s opponent (Agent HRC) during a “friendly” phone call just weeks before Trump began his political suicide mission to blow up the GOP.
What we know for certain is that since securing the nomination Trump has self-destructed like an orange-hued Mission Impossible tape. Are his jaw-dropping “mistakes” merely the execution of a sinister plot to elect an otherwise unelectable candidate? And does this plot bring us closer to the alien lizard apocalypse?
Well, Hillary Clinton’s campaign chair has long lobbied the government to finally open its vault and reveal what it knows about extra-terrestrial visitors to planet Earth — a wish that Hillary says she’ll grant if elected. So, cue the Twilight Zone music and maybe we’ll find out.
And, in the latest plot thickening development, an actual former CIA “Operations Officer” named Evan McMullin threw his hat (and his trenchcoat) into the crowded presidential ring. Doesn’t it just stand to reason that #NeverTrumpsters would promote an unknown Mormon spook who used to pick out people for rendition or assassination and, amazingly enough, who also once worked as a Goldman “sacks of cash” collector?
Frankly, Mr. McMullin’s “stage right”— or “staged” by the right — entrance fits perfectly into an election year narrative that could be written like a ransom note with letters cut out of Hillary Clinton’s missing emails.
And if all of this doesn’t have you reaching for a shiny hat to protect your aching head, then consider how the cognitive dissonance of these narratives and counter-narratives might be making this election something more than an exercise in futility or a mere choice between two competing evils.
That’s because the real story of this election is how the media’s regurgitative approach to journalism serves up all of Trump’s poorly digested red herrings to a truth-starved population. Trump croaks out cranky tropes like an alt-right toad, and the cable newscyclers eat it up and spit it back out again.
It’s the logical outcome of their profitable fixation on a man who’s made more baseless claims than a professional auto accident insurance scammer. And the rubbernecking media obsessively obliged him while also paving his path to the nomination with an unprecedented supply of “free” media coverage.
But now that obsession is transforming this election into a referendum on sneaking suspicions, conspiracy theories, and the strange epithet of “trutherism.” The term “truther” is usually applied to anyone who refuses to buy the official story of 9/11. But “truther” is kinda strange because it turns the word “truth” into a term of derision and disdain. It’s the type of disdain that’s long been reserved for the CIA-generated phrase “Conspiracy Theory.”
“Conspiracy Theory” was the CIA’s response to growing doubts about the Warren Commission’s lone-nut, magic bullet, “move along, there’s nothing to see here” spin on the public execution of President John. F. Kennedy. Stoked by lawyer Mark Lane’s landmark book Rush to Judgment (1966) and by the increasingly high-profile investigation of New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison, the CIA desperately needed a counter-conspiracy strategy to fight the public’s growing doubts.
What they got was a masterpiece of disinformation.
The counter-narrative approach was outlined in “CIA Document #1035-960.” The stated aim of the memo was “to provide material countering and discrediting the claims of the conspiracy theorists.” And that it did. Most importantly, they married the words “theorist” and “theory” to “conspiracy.” By performing that simple semantic trick they weaponized “doubt” and turned it back on the doubters.
And it succeeded beyond Langley’s wildest dreams.
Not only did it generate doubt about the copious evidence compiled by Garrison (who the New York Times dismissively labeled a “theorist” in the headline of his 1992 obituary). And not only did it give sheepish journalists an easy way out of asking hard questions about the assassination. But it also cut off inquiry into just about anything that needed to be tidied-up with an “official story.”
From the Gulf of Tonkin Incident to the October Surprise to CIA cocaine trafficking to the public executions of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy and dozens of other evidence-laden “conspiracies,” the “conspiracy theory” label became a one-size fits all solution to the problem of public doubt about official cover-ups, illegal wars, and political corruption.
And now — in this era of mortal doubts about politics, endless war, banking hijinx, media manipulation, and even the “American Dream”— we suddenly find ourselves drowning in a sea of conspiracy theories.
As of the writing of this story, you can put “Trump Conspiracy Theory” into the Google machine and it’ll spit out “About 30,600 results.” But that’s just the tip of the iceberg (which, according to Trump, isn’t really melting because global warming is a hoax perpetrated by the wily Chinese). If you click on “More news for ‘Trump Conspiracy Theory’” you’ll get 1,930 results just in the “recent news” category!
Among the mountain of stories filed by hundreds of news sources, the GOP’s profligate nominee has inserted “conspiracy theory” directly into the headlines of stories about Orlando Massacre, the outcome of the forthcoming election, the founding of ISIS, the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, Syrian refugees, and dozens upon dozens more. When it comes to spouting disinformation, Trump is a psychological warrior’s dream come true.
Strangely enough, the only theory he’s avoided talking about is the Birther movement he helped to create. Then again, Trump implies that Obama’s true allegiance is to Muslim terrorists for whom, the assertion goes, he’s working for as a secret agent inside the White House. Maybe that’s where Putin got the idea?
Trump did ratchet-up the cognitive dissonance when he threw the Kennedy Assassination into the swirling mix of tropes clogging up this campaign. Amazingly, Trump not only got away with peddling the National Enquirer’s flaccid, evidence-free “conspiracy theory” about Senator Ted Cruz’s father’s alleged link to Lee Harvey Oswald, but Trump actually went to secure the nomination shortly thereafter.
It’s a truly strange outcome given the media’s near-deafening silence regarding a host of well-researched, evidence-based, and compellingly written books on the assassination. Just ask David Talbot, James Douglass, and dozens of other journalists and academicians. They will all tell you that there is a de facto blackout of their work. And they will also tell you that the “conspiracy theory” or “theorist” label is a mortal wound in the mainstream press. But Trump suffered no such problem after peddling a specious “theory” published by a paper associated with journalistic quackery.
Like so many of his bloviations, Trump firmly planted the Kennedy assassination out in loony land. He also reinforced the idea of Oswald as the assassin. And he established himself as America’s most infamous and recognizable conspiracy theorist. But, just to take a page from The Donald’s playbook, maybe he unintentionally exposed himself as America’s ultimate crisis actor.
There’s no doubt that Trump’s campaign is an ongoing crisis. And he sure seems like he’s playing a character. And he’s falsely flagging the political landscape with cranky conspiracies, specious accusations, and “yuuuge” helpings of phony baloney. And, most importantly, his tendentious shtick threatens to “conveniently” take real investigations with real evidence about real-life criminal conspiracies down in flames with him.
The problem is not that Obama is a secret Muslim. The problem is that he’s lorded over a mostly-secret, extra-judicial program to kill military-aged Muslim males with drones.
The problem is not Muslims’ “infiltration” of the West. The problem is that America’s War on Terror is catalyzing an unprecedented global humanitarian nightmare.
The problem is not that the media is lying about Trump’s imploding campaign. The problem is that the media ignored the damning conclusions of the U.K.’s Chilcot Report and the troubling details of the long-anticipated “28 Pages” on Saudi involvement in 9/11.
The problem is not that China and Mexico have “clever” leaders who hoodwink Americans out of their economic birthright. The problem is that the executives of American corporations used that cheap labor to pad their executive compensation packages instead of paying middle-class wages to workers at home.
And the biggest problem of all is that real criminal conspiracies — like the “perfectly legal” scam of the hyper-financialized boom-and-bust-and-bailout economy — get hopelessly lost in the miasma of falsely flagged blather coming out of Trump’s gold-encrusted cakehole.
To be fair, he identified and exploited the quite real crisis of the two-party system. But his wacky act is making it easier and easier to discount his valid criticism of the Iraq War, of high-priced political puppetry, of anti-Russian hysteria, and of the selling out of American workers. Even worse, the quite real grievances of his supporters may get dismissively labeled as “conspiracy theories” even as he rides off to enjoy a great life as one of the world’s biggest celebrities.
Perhaps Robert De Niro nailed it when he likened Trump to a latter-day Travis Bickle. De Niro — whose performance in Taxi Driver made Bickle a cultural icon — said that after Bickle’s crazy pronouncements and the film’s climactic bloodbath, “the irony at the end” is that Bickle “is back driving a cab.” Could that be Trump’s final act? Could Trump the crisis actor simply return to television with a bigger, more devoted audience than ever before?
Oddly enough, Travis Bickle was based on the diaries of Arthur Bremer — the man whose assassination attempt paralyzed presidential candidate George Wallace in 1972. Bremer said he was motivated by fame rather than by a political ideology … kinda like Trump, no?
Coincidentally, Trump has drawn comparisons to Wallace. And he was outraged by the recent release of another assassin —John Hinckley, Jr. Often ignored is the fact that the Hinckley family had a political relationship with the family of then-Vice President George H.W. Bush. Not ignored was Hinckley’s desire to impress Jodie Foster which, according to the official story, is why he shot Ronald Reagan. It was an obsession he got from watching — wait for it — Taxi Driver. It all still seems pretty darn spooky.
Fortunately, Trump hasn’t falsely flagged that conspiracy … yet.
We will add one more to the conspiracy