As Trump rambled through his speech, he first brought up a familiar theme — that when Republicans win elections the results are legitimate, but when Democrats win elections they can only be produced by some kind of sinister manipulation:
There were a lot of close elections that were — they seem to, every single one of them went Democrat. If it was close, they say the Democrat — there’s something going on, fella, you gotta, hey! You gotta be a little bit more paranoid than you are.
What exactly would it mean to “be a little more paranoid”? He’s telling his listeners that they should disbelieve any result they don’t like, just as he did in October 2016 when he began telling supporters that Democrats were preparing to steal the election. Under pressure to state clearly that he would accept the outcome of the election, he finally said, “I will totally accept the results of this great and historic presidential election — if I win.”
That wasn’t the only area of conspiracy theorizing Trump got into Tuesday night:
If you have a windmill anywhere near your house, congratulations, your house just went down 75 percent in value. And they say the noise causes cancer, you tell me that one, okay? Reeowwr, reeowwr, you know the thing makes, it’s so, and of course it’s like a graveyard for birds.
For the record, the noise from wind turbines does not cause cancer. Also, you cannot cure rickets by holding a raw pork chop on your head between midnight and 1 a.m., and if you stood on the North Pole and spun around really fast counter to the Earth’s rotation, you would not go back in time.
When Trump is at his most deranged like this, it’s hard to know how much of what he’s saying he actually believes, but it’s probably more than none of it but less than all of it. What he does seem to believe, however, is that keeping conspiracy theorists theorizing is an important part of his political success.
Don’t forget that what transformed Trump from a reality show buffoon into a Republican political figure was his championing of the racist “birther” conspiracy theory. Throughout his 2016 campaign and his presidency, he has regularly brought up or invented conspiracy theories of various types, and for the conspiracy-minded, there has never been a better president.
Which is why at every Trump rally you can see large numbers of people holding signs referencing QAnon, the theory that there exists a global conspiracy of satanic pedophile cannibals — I’m not kidding — which includes figures like George Soros and Hillary Clinton. But Trump and Robert S. Mueller III (in this convoluted conspiracy, Mueller is allied with Trump) are working together to expose and destroy it.
It’s important to appreciate that the conspiracy theorist doesn’t just believe a set of outlandish stories. He has adopted an entire way of thinking about the world, one in which there are always a dozen layers of lies concealing the hidden truth. The fact that most everyone believes something becomes evidence that it’s probably false. Trump constantly feeds into this worldview not just by offering a steady stream of preposterous lies but by characterizing settled questions as deep mysteries whose truth is waiting to be uncovered.
For instance, after learning that Mueller’s report did not recommend that he be prosecuted for conspiracy with the Russian government, Trump insisted that a new investigation must begin. “I hope they now go and take a look at the oranges, the oranges of the investigation, the beginnings of that investigation [ . . .] where it started, how it started, who started it [ . . .] Where does it go, how high up in the White House did it go?”
Yes, he quite clearly said “oranges” three times when he meant “origins,” but the point is that we know that the investigation into the Russia scandal began when an Australian diplomat alerted the FBI that a Trump campaign adviser, George Papadopoulos, had told him Russia had dirt on Clinton and was in communication with the Trump campaign about it. There is no mystery.
I doubt Trump sincerely believes that Soros pays for caravans of asylum seekers to head to the United States, or that Ted Cruz’s father helped kill JFK. But everything in his political career up until now has taught him that encouraging conspiracy theories works for him. He also knows that with approval ratings in the low 40s, keeping his supporters excited is absolutely vital to his chances of reelection. They have to feel not just that they want Trump reelected, but that making that happen is of the highest urgency, so much so that if he doesn’t win, the forces of darkness will be a giant step closer to carrying out their evil plan.
Which is why we can expect Trump to propagate bizarre conspiracy theories about whoever the Democratic presidential nominee turns out to be. Kamala Harris has brain implants controlled by the Chinese government that could turn her homicidal at any moment! Elizabeth Warren is the secret head of a global crime ring! Bernie Sanders is part of a weird Vermont sex cult!
Whatever Trump comes up with will be dutifully fact-checked and refuted, but to his audience, those refutations will only provide more proof that the conspiracy is true, since the “establishment” is trying so hard to suppress it. And the only way to thwart the menacing conspiracy centered on the Democratic nominee is to reelect Trump. That’s what we’re in for.