When Donald Trump was first running for president more than 4 years ago, the first article I wrote about his campaign for the presidency was, “Could The US Really Elect A Conspiracy Theorist?” Naturally, I asked the question because I thought it was both possible and absurd. I knew from previous coverage on CleanTechnica that Trump had the tendency to believe in conspiracy theories, or at least promote them. He had repeatedly pushed the conspiracy theory that global warming was a hoax created by China, which didn’t make any sense on several levels, but you can probably still hear some people claim today. He was also obsessed with the idea that wind turbines are harmful to humans, and in 2013 he retweeted an absurd infographic about “Wind Turbine Syndrome,” tagging Dan Scavino in the tweet. (Dan Scavino is currently Assistant to the President and White House Deputy Chief of Staff for Communications.) The infographic was actually a joke to troll wind turbine haters, but Trump didn’t seem to get it.
Trump pushed numerous conspiracy theories during the Republican primaries. Of course, he also rose to political prominence pushing the absurd and racist idea that Obama wasn’t American and that he was a Muslim socialist, despite all evidence to the contrary.
Working in the blogosphere since 2009, I saw years ago that wild conspiracy theories could become very popular via social media and niche blogs. I saw that some people would get addicted to conspiracy theories and websites or Facebook pages that pushed them. I thought it was concerning, but I didn’t think it would lead here.
We have a crisis on our hands at the moment, and the only question is how far the crisis goes. For the first time in US history, with no hope at all of winning the election legitimately, Donald J. Trump won’t concede. That would be crazy but “meh” under normal circumstances, but it is not normal circumstances. I have a number of Trump voters in my periphery — they think the election was stolen. Or, at least, they are telling themselves and others that. It is absurd. It is beyond absurd. And it is disturbing. But it is the truth.
As I wrote recently, Facebook is full of nonsense, but Facebook, Twitter, and other insulated echo chambers are where people are getting their information these days. Fake news — real fake news — was a major tool used by Russia and others in the 2016 campaign. As we started talking about that, Trump co-opted the term and started calling real news fake news. People who have studied how dictatorships are created threw out the red flags. But that didn’t stop anything. We’ve had a drumbeat of “fake news” for 4 years, all while people have been sucked in more and more to truly fake news. Trump voters have absolutely no regard for fact checkers. Otherwise, I don’t think it’s psychologically possible they could have voted for him again. He has spread disinformation or misinformation more than 20,000 times since he became president.
Now, Donald Trump has decisively lost the election. It’s not even close. It’s nowhere close to the 2016 election. If Trump behaved like Clinton, he would have conceded a week ago, or at least a few days ago. Instead, in the past hour, he has tweeted, “WE WILL WIN!” This is crazy. Pure crazy. But the scary thing is that he has his followers believing that votes for Biden don’t count, that all manner of cheating has occurred even thought there’s no evidence of any of it — which is why Trump has lost in court 10 times already about this matter. His personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, held a press conference at a rundown landscaping shop between an “adult book store” called Fantasy Island and a crematorium to present supposed evidence, at which point an alleged sex offender said that poll watchers weren’t allowed to stand close enough to the people doing the actual work of getting votes counted. This is crazyland talk. Republicans at every level of governance and involvement in the election process have said it’s absurd. But how many Trump voters realize it’s absurd?
How many Trump voters — fed conspiracy theories for years — realize this is just another false conspiracy theory?
There are people around Trump who know better, but their lust for power is overriding their decency, honesty, and concern for peace and for the ideals of American democracy.
No matter where things head from here, we have a serious problem in our democracy that we have to resolve. Democracy’s two core foundations are widespread availability of information (provided through a free and independent press) and political engagement. We have a complete cancer destroying the former. People are living in an alternative universe in which white is black and red is green. Absurdly, people who are rocking the foundations of American democracy are claiming that they are the saviors of said democracy and are having an election stolen from them.
What do we do about it?
It’s easy to say that someone needs to regulate Facebook and Twitter much better. But there are problems with that solution. First of all, people will always be able to spread nonsense. It’s not like there’d ever be a “truth police” or “no exaggeration police,” and we wouldn’t want that. Furthermore, even as the platforms have gotten into limited self-regulation to try to remove posts inciting violence, the right-wing activists and followers who thrive on these platforms have launched another, Parler, and are flocking there. Who is going to self-regulate when the social network is owned and run by true Trumpie conspiracy theorists who are hot for revolution?
One of the greatest threats to our society is that we are deeply divided and living in dramatically different worlds. I talk on the playground with a nice lady who thinks some demonic socialists are somehow going to turn the United States of America into Cuba. I can’t comprehend how you end up in such an out-of-touch mindset, but people do. At the same time, she and others are backing a dictator-wannabe as he takes an axe and a chainsaw to the true foundations of our democratic republic, as he refuses to accept the outcome of an election that is not even close and refuses to hand over the keys to the White House three days after the results of the election became mathematically irrefutable. Across social media are fake examples (photos and videos) of election fraud. Truly fake news is as powerful as ever while millions or tens of millions of voters will not believe the fact-checking, rigorous major media networks that actually approach the topic objectively.
What do we do?