Brookhaven, GA, May 13, 2016 – Commentary, by Loren Collins – Donald Trump’s ignorance, his dishonesty, his authoritarianism, his bullying and name-calling, his support for violent retaliation…all of these are incredibly concerning character traits in a candidate for President, aside from whatever his specific political positions may be. (And given how Trump’s policy positions range between ‘vague and noncommittal’ and ‘frustratingly inconsistent’, there’s not much substance there anyway.) But his most concerning characteristic that gets the least media attention is the same thing that was the main feature of his ill-fated 2012 campaign: his gullibility and his proclivity for conspiracy theories.
In 2011, Trump garnered considerable attention by becoming the nation’s most prominent spokesman for the most ridiculous of modern political conspiracy theories, that President Obama, and his family, had been engaged in a fifty-year cover-up about the specifics of his birth. This was not limited to offhand remarks, either; it was practically his entire platform. And even after pushing the President to hold a press conference and release additional documentation debunking the conspiratorial rumors that he had promoted, Trump still, to this day, refuses to concede that he was wrong or that his conspiracies were baseless. He spent months demanding that Obama release his birth certificate, and when Obama did so, Trump simply pretended that wasn’t enough, and that maybe the President’s birth certificate was an elaborate fraud that the state of Hawaii was complicit in.
As to why this is concerning, there may be no better illustration than my own former Congresswoman, Cynthia McKinney. After easily coasting to victory five times, starting in 1992, and serving ten years in the U.S. House, McKinney lost her seat in 2002 to a challenger in the Democratic primary. There were several reasons for this upset, but among the most prominent was her seeming endorsement of certain 9/11 conspiracy theories, suggesting that President Bush had allowed the attacks to succeed in order to profit from the resultant destruction of the twin towers.
Since 2002, McKinney has only descended further into conspiracism. Her Facebook feed is a litany of fringe nonsense, from 9/11 accusations to antivaxxer claims to allegations that the CIA is involved in everything from funding ISIS to collecting DNA via cosmetics. In an interview this past January, McKinney showered praise upon David Icke, a man best known for believing that the world is run by a secret cabal of shapeshifting reptilian aliens. It’s clear that she’s unfit for public office, because her basic judgment skills cannot be trusted. And from the vantage point of 2002, the best evidence of this unfitness was not her politics or her party or her temperament, but her 9/11 Trutherism.
Trump displays the same warning signs, but to a far greater degree than even McKinney did in 2002. He didn’t merely flirt with Birtherism; he was its megaphone. He’s floated various anti-vaccine claims. He believes that global warming is an intentional hoax by scientists worldwide. Just this month, he claimed that Ted Cruz’s father was tied to JFK’s assassin, based on nothing more than a blurry photo and a National Enquirer story. He doesn’t need to descend the same distance to reach McKinney’s level of conspiratorial thinking; he’s already much further along that path than she was in 2002. And he has even defended his ignorance and gullibility, telling NBC that “I only know what’s on the internet.”
This should be concerning because we elect politicians not just to handle the big issues that spark national debates or which get spotlighted in campaign ads. No, we also elect them to manage hundreds and thousands of smaller decisions, the kinds that don’t always make headlines, and for that we have to trust their judgment. We have to be assured that they’re able to educate themselves, to absorb and process new information, and to make rational and informed decisions based on that information. We have to trust that they can think critically, and that they will surround themselves with other critical thinkers as a check on themselves.
Trump fails marvelously at this, just like McKinney. When they look at the world, they don’t see well-intentioned actors and complex systems; they see conspiracies and cover-ups. They surround themselves with other people who see the world the same way, and they rely on sources that believe in the same nonsense that they do. They regularly fall for bad information, and they’re inordinately resistant to correction when they’re proven wrong.
Would it be surprising at all if Trump tomorrow floated the idea that maybe Obama had former Supreme Court Justice Scalia killed, or that the Sandy Hook shooting might’ve been a government false flag operation to push gun control, or that he’s unsure about the safety of fluoridated water or airplane contrails?
(Note: that first example is not a hypothetical. In February, Trump already floated the idea that Scalia was secretly murdered, while appearing on the radio show of uber-conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. Note too that Trump is the sort of person who willingly appears on Alex Jones’ show, and is the sort of candidate who Alex Jones publicly supports.)
If you can even imagine those conspiracies coming out of his mouth, and if you can see what a horrible track record he has in what he has chosen to believe in the past, then you should realize that Donald Trump has no business whatsoever being the Chief Executive of the United States. And if you’re a Georgian who thought Cynthia McKinney’s 9/11 Trutherism made her unfit to be a mere Congresswoman, then you have zero excuse for believing that Donald Trump should be entrusted with the Presidency.
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