Conspiracy theories old and new

One of the defining features of American political discourse in the 21st Century is the almost unstoppable rise of political lying. Throughout the Obama presidency an ecosystem of right wing think tanks, commentators and of course Fox News has propagated everything from willful distortions of events and selective readings of policy to outright fabrication. Donald Trump recognised the political potential of this when he became the centre of the ‘birther’ movement, which alleged that Barack Obama was not born in the USA and was ineligible to be president. Conspiracy theories in American politics have deep roots, however and one of this week’s podcasts explores this. In 1951 Senator Joseph McCarthy accused Truman and the Democrats of ‘twenty years of treason’, claiming that every event since Roosevelt’s election in 1932 had been part of a plot against America. The end goal was to enable communist regimes to take power internationally and to allow a cabal of hidden communists to seize power in the White House. When McCarthy acused Dean Acheson and George Marshall of having been complicit with Stalin (a ludicrous assertion, had it been meant with any seriousness), he selectively interpreted key moments in their wartime and post war service, such as Marshall speaking with Stalin at the Yalta Conference (quite what McCarthy believed generals should do at wartime conferences remained unclear). There are uncanny similarities between the conspiracy theory playbook of the 1950s and the 2020s, and a dearth of meaningful social or economic offers to the Republican base in either time period. It seems sensible to conclude that fear and paranoia and wild accusations have filled the emotional space that policy once inhabited. Between Hoover and Reagan, the Republicans never had a coherent economic argument of their own. During the 1980s, despite the shortcomings and failings of Reaganomics, they were able to tell a particular story about the functioning of the state and the cause of America’s ills, in essence that government was the problem. The era of deregulation that followed led to an economic catastrophe in 2008 which America has yet to emerge from. Again, the party exists without any meaningful economic offer to the millions who they purport to serve, other than discredited trickle down economics that nobody takes remotely seriously. In the absence of a message of hope or the promise of a more balanced and equitable society, a culture of paranoia, Qanon, anti mask conspiracies run riot (quite literally). Here is the latest podcast, exploring McCarthy, the Korean War and anti Communist conspiracy theories:

Korea, McCarthy and Anti Communism

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