WORTH REPEATING: A Conspiracy Of Dunces


Illustration by Javier Jaén. Trump: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg, via Getty Images via New York Times

NEW YORK TIMES: Context matters here: The ’90s was the decade of Oliver Stone’s “J.F.K.,” “The X-Files” and late-night Roswell documentaries — the decade in which conspiracism, safely removed from the exigencies of the Cold War and domestic upheaval, became a form of kitschy entertainment. It was an antipolitics well suited to a cultural era that favored irony and disillusionment and put quotation marks around words like “believe.” Richard Linklater’s 1991 film, “Slacker,” one of Generation X’s founding documents, has a very funny scene in which an awkward young man buttonholes a woman in a bookstore in what appears at first to be a pickup attempt, but turns out to be a numbing disquisition on Kennedy assassination theories.

It’s perfect — a conspiracy theorist might say a little too perfect — that Alex Jones began his slacker-movie-poster-1991-1020200910career in the mid-’90s from the same Austin cable-access facility where Linklater edited “Slacker.” (Linklater, a fan, later cast him in two movies.) Jones may have risen to prominence with his post-Sept. 11 claims that the United States government blew up the World Trade Center, but his worldview really belongs to the conspiracism of the previous decade, with its comic-book universe of black helicopters and New World Order eugenics plots. In this universe, the Clintons constitute a galaxy of their own: Jones insists that Hillary is a “quadruple international spy,” a “demon” incarnate and a gravely ill epileptic whose handlers are trying to keep alive long enough to win the White House for Tim Kaine, a “puppet” who will “cover up for all the previous crimes the globalists have committed.”

Does Jones really believe all that? More important, does Trump? The most straightforward answer may be that conspiracy theories are popular, and Trump tends to like things that are popular. Conspiracy theories, like Trump’s post-truth provocation of a campaign, are less a coherent politics than a form of political entertainment. They impart a sense of excitement and order to a world where things usually happen for boring and arbitrary reasons. They are an easy belief system masquerading as a courageous one, befitting a fundamentally low-effort candidate. Trump’s default response, when asked about one out-there theory or another, is: “We’re looking at that.” It’s the quintessential Trump formulation, with its blend of attentive flattery and barely concealed lack of interest, its blithe irresponsibility. MORE