Which brings us to today’s political environment and a true conspiracy that Americans face: the propagation of conspiracy theories by elites themselves. Populism has flourished on both left and right over the past decade in the ecosystem of mistrust for institutions, siloed partisan media and political polarization. The development has become ripe for exploitation by powerful figures, from the current president of the United States, who has, in the past, embraced wild theories including the falsification of former president Barack Obama’s birth certificate and the supposed role of Sen. Ted Cruz’s father in Kennedy’s assassination, to hosts on MSNBC, who entertain claims that President Trump or someone in his Cabinet is a Russian agent or that the wealthy sex offender Jeffrey Epstein was murdered. The result is a nearly constant stream of conspiratorial ideation as a tool of influence.
Why should we care? In a society based on the free flow of ideas, twisting information to create suspicion and rage among the powerless is morally akin to swindling poor people out of their savings. It is also a dangerous threat to a democratic society that requires trust and transparency to function.
If there is a true conspiracy afoot today, it is in the current paranoid style of American power, cynically wielded to manipulate the most vulnerable citizens.