Conspiracy theories are undermining democracy

A lot of wacko, hard-to-believe conspiracy theories are witnessed during one’s lifetime. Most thoughts come and go away with no residual effect. But, in today’s politically divisive times, many conspiracy theories are causing long-term damaging effects.

Evidence abounds that many people who watched Oliver Stone’s 1991 movie JFK actually believed there was a government orchestrated conspiracy to assassinate President Kennedy. Research reveals the movie’s plot was confirmation to those believers who had a predisposed anti-government attitude.

Joseph Uscinski, University of Miami’s Professor of Political Science — considered the foremost expert on conspiracy theories – contends the disinformation (deliberately deceptive) and misinformation (incorrect or misleading) statements spouted gives people “exactly what they already believed” (Rolling Stone, Oct. 14, 2021).

This means people who deny the Holocaust existed are those who were seeking such a belief. Uscinski’s research reveals people who believe in conspiracy theories have high levels of psychopathy and narcissism.

We know 27 psychiatrists and mental health experts assessed former President Donald Trump as having an abnormal personality and chameleon-like behavior. Trump’s conspiracy theory that former President Obama wasn’t born in the US was deliberately deceptive; Trump recanted his birtherism falsehood in 2016.

On Dec. 23, 2019, Trump claimed “the noise of wind turbines causes cancer,” believed by followers who detest wind turbines. Trump’s notion that global warming was created by the Chinese to make America non-competitive was just the salvo needed by people who dislike China.

It is reported by CAP Action that – as of May, 2020 — Trump is responsible for 20 conspiracy theories.

QAnon alleged Democrats were Satan-worshipping pedophiles who conspired against Trump during his term of office. Uscinski notes “QAnon is driven by people who just hate the entire establishment” and “these are people who want to tear down the system because they feel alienated from it” (ibid).

The Jan. 6 bipartisan congressional public hearings have revealed the insanity of Trump’s stolen-election conspiracy, which caused 147 Congressional Republicans – obviously without any inductive or deductive reasoning skills — to be duped and vote to overturn 2020 federal election results. Trump’s malicious false claim has hoodwinked roughly 70% of Republicans (PolitiFact, June 14).

Uscinski feels conspiracy theories are undermining democracy. His solution: “The Republican Party should not be allowing Trump and the Democratic Party should not be allowing Maryanne Williamson . . . those people should be removed from the ballots. Congress also needs to hold their members accountable for engaging in this sort of stuff. (Ted) Cruz and (Josh) Hawley should have been booted from the Senate for their actions. . . . They (political parties) need to hold themselves accountable” (ibid).

Candidates for the Tue., Nov. 8 election need to be asked, point-blank, their belief or rejection of multiple conspiracy theories. Voters also need to know if elected will they promise to call out politicians of their own party who make disinformation and/or misinformation statements. Their answers and future actions to these straight-forward inquiries should drive responsible voting, give us honorable legislators and save our democracy.


Steve Corbin is a professor emeritus of marketing at the University of Northern Iowa.


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