The Cause of Conspiracy Theories

I missed this when it came out a little over a week ago, but Ross Douthat has this taxonomy of who and why so many Republicans believe in Trump’s election fraud theory. It’s especially good because it doesn’t simply dismiss these people as crazy. In order for us to move forward as a country, we need to become more generous in our attempts to understand people who believe this and other seemingly crazy things. We should realize that half the country hasn’t simply suddenly gone crazy. Trump’s persuasive power to his supporters comes from somewhere.

I would expand on Douthat’s argument in one way, however. Douthat writes about how liberals think that “the only appropriate response to these ideas is condemnation and a kind of quarantine — to be achieved, presumably, through better Facebook algorithms, the comprehensive political defeat of the Republican Party and some sort of ‘have you no sense of decency, sir’ courage from news anchors and political leaders whenever right-wing paranoia re-emerges.” Although Douthat argues this solution won’t work, I would go further and say that it’s precisely this “solution” that makes the problem that much worse. The Republican says to himself: ‘Why would Facebook need to censor claims of fraud if they’re not true?’ ‘Why does Facebook think that it has the right to control what I do and don’t see on its platform? Why are they treating me like a child?’ And so, in the first place this feeling of being condescended to fuels their attachment to a man who speaks like they do, who thinks like they do, and who, most importantly, doesn’t condescend to them. But, in the second place, the Republican asks himself: ‘if they’re willing/able to censor and control what I see, what else might they be willing to censor and control? Why wouldn’t they have the power to manufacture the results of the election?’ In other words, it is precisely this attempt to manufacture conspiracy theories out of existence that provides more fuel for their fire.

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