Trump Ploy

Published: September 16, 2020

By Jim Lichtman
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A recent story in Forbes magazine reports, “Some 56% of Republicans believe that QAnon, a far-right conspiracy theory, is mostly or partly true, according to a new Daily Kos/Civiqs poll released Wednesday…”

Early in his campaign, Trump suggested that Ted Cruz’s father may be linked to the Kennedy assassination. How did he know? He read it in the “well respected” National Enquirer.

However, Trump’s ploy now goes far beyond tabloid stories.

“Could be one of the greatest coups of all time. They’re spying on me. … Obamagate.  I’m fighting the Deep State.”

Why does he make such contemptible claims?

First, he loves controversy. He needs the attention. It’s his oxygen. Second, his “base” loves to see him attack any institution or expert who disagrees with him. And they revel in his belief in the pseudo Deep State.

For Trump, it’s literally “divide and conquer” a democracy from the most powerful office in the country. His overarching scheme is simple: if he can create doubt about any state, institution, or expert, that’s enough to convince supporters.


“Election officials spend a great deal of our time building in security measures,” said Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman, a Republican. “The idea that people could print millions of ballots either within the country or external to the country, just on its face, is not going to pass muster with an election official.”

Conclusion: Trump supporters ignore the facts – even from a Republican – and believe the lie.

But why do so many believe in conspiracy theories in the first place.

Jan-Willem van Prooijen, an associate professor at the Department of Experimental and Applied Psychology of VU Amsterdam, writes, “The mostly right-wing conspiracy theory [QAnon] makes a series of mind-blowing allegations that include Democrat-run centers for pedophiles and Satanic cults. The theory first appeared on various online message boards like ‘8Chan,’ where followers shared ‘breadcrumbs’ — clues — about the dark and powerful forces that supposedly run their country. …

“Putting aside the fact that some conspiracy theories turn out to be true (e.g., Watergate is arguably an example of a real conspiracy), even fact-free conspiracy theories can be followed by people who otherwise behave relatively normally.”

“The toxic influence of the conspiracy theory is no small matter,” writes Justin Ling (Aug. 12), for Foreign Policy Insider, “A QAnon supporter, Marjorie Taylor Greene, has just won her Georgia Republican primary and is almost certain to be elected to the U.S. Congress this November. NBC reported this week that QAnon’s Facebook followers can be counted in the millions, to say nothing of its adherents on 4chan, Gab, YouTube, and other platforms.”

“I have studied the psychological motivators of conspiracy beliefs for many years,” van Prooijen says. “Based on my research, I believe there are three main reasons why people believe in theories like QAnon. First, accepting one conspiracy theory as true makes it much easier to believe in other theories. …

“Feelings of anxiety and uncertainty also help fuel conspiracy theories. Such emotions function as a psychological warning signal, leading people to try and make sense of societal events that frighten them. This helps to explain the widespread (and ongoing) speculation that followed impactful events such as 9/11 or the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.”

Writing for Scientific American, Melinda Wenner Moyer says, “New research suggests that events happening worldwide are nurturing underlying emotions that make people more willing to believe in conspiracies. …feelings of anxiety make people think more conspiratorially…”

Van Prooijen agrees. “Together with Nils Jostmann and Michele Acker, we found that feelings of uncertainty, coupled with the feeling that your life is not fully in your control anymore, increases conspiracy thinking. Studies by others researchers confirm that emotions reflecting uncertainty — such as fear or worry — can increase conspiracy beliefs.

“Ironically, however,” he adds, “conspiracy theories do little to reduce these negative feelings. On the contrary, conspiracy theories only exacerbate feelings of anxiety, laying the foundations for further theorizing.”

“One long-standing question has been whether or not it is a good idea to counter conspiracy theories with logic and evidence,” Moyer writes. “Some older research has pointed to a ‘backfire effect’—the idea that refuting misinformation can just make individuals dig their heels in deeper. ‘If you think there are powerful forces trying to conspire and cover [things] up, when you’re given what you see as a cover story, it only shows you how right you are,’ Joseph Uscinski, a political scientist at the University of Miami, says.”

E.g. After providing substantial evidence to a good friend that the information offered in the documentary, “Plandemic,” is entirely false, they responded: “Is it false and then trying to be proved so, or true and trying to be covered up?,” proving Uscinski’s point.

“…helping citizens distinguish fact from fiction is going to be an increasingly important challenge,” van Prooijen warns. “Debunking conspiracy theories when and where they appear is helpful, but it cannot just be the media or the political leadership who provide this information. We have to understand the psychological triggers and motivations if we want to mitigate the influence and potential dangers of this kind of thinking. Because the truth is that conspiracy theories will always thrive when people feel like they are not in control of their lives, and when significant tension exists between societal subgroups.”

Nevertheless, while a majority of the country relies on evidence from experts, Trump’s choice of deception remains a verbal form of trompe l’oeil – deception of the mind, or to quote the master, himself “What you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening.”


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