Scilluminati: Conspiracies On the Rise
by Aeshna Chandra on Friday, February 26th, 2016
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia passed away on February 13 during a stay at a Ranch in Texas. Scalia’s opponents, often people on the far left, were quick to publicly celebrate his death. However, his personal friend Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a left wing liberal as well, mourned his death and celebrated their friendship. His political allies lauded his accomplishments without mentioning how he was key in kickstarting the regressive politics of the past few decades. A quick Google search could have convinced a casual observer that everything from political assassination to age could have caused the 79 year-old’s death. If one looked closer at the dreaded comments section on any given website, “those damn liberals” would be pegged as the culprit in the—allegedly under-investigated—death. It seems however, as a February 23rd Dallas Morning News article discussed, that obesity, heart disease, and diabetes, all long term medical issues, were the likely causes of the natural death of the judge.
On February 17th, Pema Levy of Mother Jones, a political commentary website, compiled a list of conspiracy theories about Scalia’s death. The list consisted of conservative radio hosts and bloggers arguing that Obama organized a hit in order to remedy the far-right approach of the Supreme Court. Others claimed that Hillary Clinton was the orchestrator in order to further her own political agenda. My personal favorite was Donald Trump, during his visit to Michael Savage’s radio show The Savage Nation, saying, “It’s a horrible topic, but they say they found a pillow on his face, which is a pretty unusual place to find a pillow.”
Conspiracy theories are not only limited to conservatives as America often believes—though their best ones question Obama’s birth certificate (also advocated by good old Donnie), climate change, and, more recently, accuse Trump of being a Democrat plant in the Republican primary. As New York Times columnist and Princeton economist Paul Krugman explained in May 2008, “Unlike the crazy conspiracy theories of the left—which do exist, but are supported only by a tiny fringe—the crazy conspiracy theories of the right are supported by important people: powerful politicians, television personalities with large audiences.” Anti-vaxxers, those who believe that Bush organized 9/11, and critics of the 2000 Supreme Court ruling about the popular vote are common among liberal conspiracy theorists.
In my opinion, the radicalization of America in recent years has contributed to the more prevalent acceptance of these nutcase ideas. Yes, the country was very radical in the ‘60s and ‘70s, when questioning JFK’s cause of death was popular. However, in a world where geologists have lost authority to the average citizen about global warming, where Donald Trump is an authority on administration of birth certificates, where 90210 actress Jenny McCarthy is the source of information for many parents about vaccines, one can hardly argue that we have grown more rational and moderate as a country.
The “fringes” that Krugman discusses have expanded and warped into a surprisingly large number of voters today. A New York Times article from January 28th profiled this “polarization,” showcasing studies done by analysts from NYU, Yale, Berkeley, Stanford, and Princeton that demonstrated an increasing schism between holders of opposing views. According to the article, “From 1960 to 2010, the percentage of Democrats and Republicans who said that members of their own party were more intelligent than those in the opposition party grew from 6 percent to 48 percent; the percentage describing members of the opposition party as ‘selfish’ rose from 21 percent to 47 percent.” Our nation’s villainization of the opposite party is integral to why we feel the need to say anything and everything to justify our own beliefs, whether or not that anything and everything is correct or appropriate.
The rise of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump on the left and right, respectively, confirms this development. More moderate candidates such as Hillary Clinton and John Kasich are consistently attacked for not being radical enough to enact change. The extremism of Sanders or Trump have skewed the mind of the American voter: moderate is no longer the norm, and compromise has become as taboo as it was formerly embraced. In this race to push America even further to each end of the spectrum, the middle has become demonized.
But back to conspiracy theories: they are simply one symptom of the larger problem. People are desperate to justify any aspect of their political views that others see as problematic. Presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson is simply one example of this idea. According to Think Progress, in the past few years, he has compared President Obama to Hitler, called marriage equality a “Marxist plot,” equated homosexuality to bestiality, and labeled women who get abortions slaveholders. Trump is notorious for saying whatever he wants to get his way. According to the BBC, Sanders fans, who are generally younger and therefore more active on social media, have become hated for attacking social media users on other candidates’ pages.
The center marks the point where left and right meet. We become less thoughtful as we move away from collaboration out of sheer desperation to push our own ideas. Liberals who celebrate Scalia’s death are the same as conservatives who revel in the suffering of illegal immigrants and Muslims simply because of ideological differences. Humanity has succumbed to political animalism, but more than that, we have lost rationality and logic, without which, we can never hope to reconcile our differences to form a productive, enjoyable relationship, as did Scalia and Ginsburg, or even to increase our maturity level to beyond that of a peanut.
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