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The Conspiracy Theories Surrounding the 2016 Presidential Elections

Introduction

            In the recent decades, the American political climate has been dominated by conspiracy theories. For the last few years, conspiracy premises have become an essential element in the American political culture. Politicians have learned the trick of shaping and basing their arguments and priorities on conspiracy claims, which the media is quick and eager to cover. Hofstadter (1964) describes the American politics as having taken a paranoid style since every idea and policy seems to revolve around these unproven claims. However, it is essential to point out that conspiracy ideologies are not a new phenomenon in American politics but have been in existence since time in history. For instance, the early American split up with the British people from the fear emanating from a conspiracy by the King. In the current society, which is enjoying advances in communication technology, the prevalence and spread of conspiracy ideologies is on the rise.  With the emergence of the latest communication technology, the internet is playing a significant role in the distribution and accessibility of conspiracy theories.

It is sad that people are so eager to listen and believe these theories which are impacting adversely on their attitudes towards political governance. Van Prooijen & Jostmann (2013) posit that people are most likely to accept conspiracy ideologies that align with their political interests and those that oppose the ideas of their opponents. Some of the most recent conspiracy theories that have gained prevalence and impacted significantly on the United States democracy are those surrounding the 2016 presidential elections. During this period, conspiracy ideologies became the foundation on which issues were argued and candidates were evaluated. All the presidential candidates were alleged to have been involved in far-reaching conspiracies or of spreading such unfounded ideas. Even after the elections, there are waves of plots that still dominate the American politics such as the alliance between Presidents Trump and Putin. Therefore, an investigation on the conspiracy theories circulating during the 2016 election period is of high significance since it will enhance people’s understanding of how such ideologies impacted on the democracy of America.

It is argued that the 2016 presidential election was the most dominated with conspiracy theories in American history. During this period, the American political climate could be said to be paranoia since every presidential candidate was either accused of getting involved in conspiracy theories or being a propagator of unfounded ideologies. Uscinski (2017) explains that it is through conspiracy theories that Donald Trump gained popularity in the 2016 presidential race. Even before declaring his interests to run for the presidency, Trump has always embraced conspiracy theories to criticize various government operations and policies. While conspiracy ideologies have always been prevalent in the United States’ politics, they dominated all aspects of the 2016 presidential elections. It is argued that the prevalence of conspiracy ideologies in the 2016 elections was partly contributed by the popularity of new entrants in the political field, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, who adopted a conspiracy theorizing approach in their campaigns (Uscinski, 2017). Below is a discussion of some of the conspiracy theories that were associated with the 2016 presidential elections.

What is a Conspiracy Theory?

            Conspiracy ideologies can be defined as unsubstantiated claims that might or might not be true but in one way or another, end up impacting on a nation’s political climate and democratic governance (Moore, 2015). It is essential explaining that such theories are never concerned with small crimes but rather, with events that tear the inner fabric of the society. Such incidents might include global financial scams, interference with democratic institutions and their operations and mass brainwashing, to name but a few. For instance, the theory that the Russian government collaborated with president Trump to hack the Democratic National Party’s emails is a conspiracy theory that may have significantly impacted on democratic presidential elections. Van Prooijen & Jostmann (2013) assert that all Americans believe at least one conspiracy ideology. Such theories are rampant especially during periods nearing elections because politicians use them to influence and win the hearts of the citizens for support. However, Walker (2014) is quick to explain that America has become a nation of paranoia because conspiracy has become the norm of the day. Evan (2016) support Walker’s arguments that conspiracy ideologies are growing prevalent in democratic societies and are adversely influencing governance. The emerging communication technologies such as the internet and other online platforms have made it easier for politicians and other influential people to spread various conspiracy-related ideas to their advantage.

Why do Americans believe in Conspiracy Theories?

Wood, Douglas & Sutton (2012) emphasize that the best way to understand why people believe conspiracy ideas is to perceive these theories as political opinions. Political views always arise as a piece of new information that enhances people’s understanding and interpretation of significant events. Therefore, Americans who are eager to interpret and understand their political climate will readily accept and believe these theories. However, Wood, Douglas & Sutton (2012) assert that an individual’s political alignment significantly influences their choices of what to trust or not. In other words, a Democrat will accept and even propagate conspiracy theories that support his or her party and will refute that that protect the interests of the Republicans and the vice-versa. For instance, before Trump won the 2016 elections, the Democrats had a very positive view of the economy while the Republicans criticized it. However, after he won, the Republicans now perceive the American economy positively while the Democrats have taken a sour outlook. Note that there have been no significant changes with the American economy since 2016, but the opinions are shaped based on political alignments. Therefore, it is clear that Americans are not brainwashed to believe in conspiracy theories but readily accept those that confirm their preconceived ideas and seem to protect their political party’s interests.

The Mexican ‘Rapists’ Conspiracy

During his campaigns, Donald Trump accused Mexican refugees as being rapists, murderers, and pawns.  He also claimed that the Mexican immigrants who were fleeing poverty from their home country were ISIL secret agents. In his various pledges to the American people, he promised to send these undocumented immigrants back to their homeland once elected as the president. Uscinski (2017) explains that many conspiracy theories are propagated by the disadvantaged groups blaming the powerful and influential people, mainly government officials. However, this theory has taken a reverse model, with a powerful man (a presidential candidate) accusing the weak in the society (refugees and minorities). In an interview with the NBC News, Donald Trump claimed that the Mexican government was smarter than the U.S. leaders by sending its bad people who are not only drug dealers but murderers and rapist to America.  Just as he promised, president Trump is focused on reforming the immigration laws to send these refugees back to their country. The Trump theory that Mexican refugees are harmful and dangerous to Americans has been believed by many people, especially Republicans who support his move to build a physical wall on the America-Mexican border.

The Celebrating Muslim Conspiracy  Ideology

In one of the most outrageous conspiracy theories during the presidential campaigns, Trump denounced Muslim Americans calling them radicals and traitors. Trump claimed that he had personally witnessed many Muslims make merry after the 9/11 attacks while watching the television. Sarlin (2016) explains that such images were never broadcasted during the terror attacks. It is believed that Trump was referring to an old MTV documentary which contained a few teenagers in Newark whose religious identity was unidentifiable and may not have been rejoicing the incident at all. However, Trump remained firm in his claims and during another interview with ABC journalist, he insisted that he had seen the celebrations On TV (Sarlin, 2016). Such theories have painted Trump as a politician who dislikes, hates and undermines the minority groups in the American society. It is believed that he uses such approaches to protect the interests of his political party and earn their support not only in the elections but also in the implementation of various policies (Uscinski, 2017).

Benghazi Conspiracy Theories

Another conspiracy ideology surrounding the 2016 presidential election was that the Obama administration, specifically Hillary Clinton was aware of the Benghazi attacks but did nothing to prevent them. A study conducted by the Farleigh Dickinson University to estimate how many people believed the conspiracy theories that were circulating during the presidential campaigns revealed that among many of the ideologies, people trusted most the Benghazi saga.  Despite a thorough investigation of the Benghazi events by the House Select Committee which found no evidence to support this theory, Trump campaigners went ahead and shared an image that accused Clinton of having murdered a U.S. ambassador, referring to Christopher Stevens (Bump, 2016). Bump (2016) asserts that the unfounded claims which were propagated by the Republicans under the leadership of Trump did so much damage to Clinton’s reputation. The Benghazi conspiracy theory significantly influenced the minds and attitudes of many Americans towards Hillary Clinton. Many Republicans believed that Clinton as the secretary of state had ignored her duties leading to the death of U.S officials hence an exhaustive House investigation was inevitable. On the other hand, many Democrats viewed the attack as a tragedy, and thus a House examination was just a plot by the Republicans to damage the reputation of their candidate during the crucial period nearing the elections (Bump, 2016).

The Wall Street and One Percent Conspiracy Theory

During the debate held on 4th February at the University on New Hampshire, Bernie Sanders explained his opinions about the deteriorating U.S economy. He argued that the richer are amassing more wealth at the expense of the poor who are working for more extended hours for little pay. In his theory, he stated that the economically disadvantaged people in the society are working for more extended hours but are reaping no benefits since all the generated income is for the top 1 percent. Uscinski (2017) asserts that Bernie Sanders also relied on conspiracy theories just like his competitor Donald Trump to influence and persuade Americans to support him. However, a study to investigate this theory revealed that the wages have remained stagnant since the 1970s. Authentic data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics disclosed that the average weekly hours for junior employees in the private sector had declined since the 1960s.  However, research on the gap between the rich and the poor support Sander’s theory that the wealthy Americans are amassing more wealth. However, it is not clear whether the increasing wealth among the wealthy Americans is emanating from the many hours of work by the poor as claimed by Sanders, or from expanded investments..

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