Opinion: Donald Trump and conspiracy theories

Raul Rebane.
Raul Rebane. Source: Kairit Leibold/ERR

Donald Trump's theories about the deep state, media, climate warming and other things are alive and well also in Estonia, Raul Rebane says in Vikerraadio's daily comment.

Looking at tensions and emotions, last week was extraordinary. There are a lot of nervous people about. Marriage referendum obstruction is ongoing and uncensored. The Reform Party suffered damage to its reputation over thee of its MPs' unfortunate amendment proposal. Chairman of the Conservative People's Party (EKRE) Martin Helme refused to accept the president's invitation to discuss the political situation, hurling strong personal insults toward the president instead.

However, talking about effect on Estonian politics, President Trump's supporters attacking the Capitol takes the cake.

I kept an eye on various channels and comments during the attack that often spoke of conspiracy theories. It was suggested that conspiracy theories being widespread on social media is one important reason why people who believe them decided to assault one of the most important symbols of democracy.

What is a conspiracy theory? Put very simply, it is a version of events explained through a secret agreement or conspiracy. There have been thousands throughout history and many have made people do crazy things. A hypothetical Jewish conspiracy for world domination was what set off Adolf Hitler and cost millions of lives.

There are those who believe that the Earth is flat, Freemasons are behind everything, the ferry MS Estonia was sunk by a submarine, as well as people whose hobby is determining when the world is going to end. Some conspiracy theories can be very dangerous. For example, ignoring the coronavirus could cost one their life.

There are entire catalogues of conspiracy theories spread by U.S. President Donald Trump. He has suggested that a vaccine causes autism, he denies climate change, talks about the U.S. deep state, suggests that wind turbines cause cancer not to mention all manner of unsubstantiated theories about his political competitors. Media conspiracies against him also occupy a dominant position. Since November, Trump's number one topic has been election fraud and how it was stolen from him.

Trump's theories about the deep state, media, climate warming etc. are all live and well in Estonia. Martin Helme confirmed his continued support for Trumpism last week. However, there are people outside EKRE who believed that Trump does a lot of things right despite his at times strange statements.

The attack on the Capitol derailed the train. Trump's image took a nosedive that started in the Republican Party and also reached Estonia. Now, the whole world including people in Estonia saw just how dangerous Trump's behavior and the behavior of those like him can be.

It was a startling experience and naturally people started imagining what would happen were the scenario repeated here. People being brought in, riled up using lies and conspiracy theories up to a point where things take a turn for the physical. Just like what happened in Washington.

Believing in conspiracy theories will end up affecting one's life. A survey was carried out in Russia two years ago on the main conspiracy theories people there believe. Among the ten most influential was an alleged homosexual conspiracy to destroy Russian values. This idea is also very much present in Estonia, alongside Trump's theories, and a version of it will likely be put up for referendum soon.

Because believing in conspiracy theories is similar to a cult's faith in its religion, most people will continue to believe them. Someone who believes that the Earth is flat will not change their mind when they see a globe. Those who are convinced that e-voting is rigged will continue to believe it. However, the question where they draw from to maintain that faith is still relevant. Trump, Russian and social media are all vital sources of information.

An elderly gentleman called the editorial of Kuku Raadio the day after U.S. presidential elections to say with conviction in his voice that the election was fraudulent. "I saw it on Russian television where they showed exactly how it's done!" the caller said. What more is there to add.

However, I believe that a broader shift has taken place when it comes to Trump. His guiding and protecting hand is gone and most people are cut off from his ideas. Many of his supporters are surely left feeling very empty, like the Bolsheviks after Lenin died. I think that the believers will understand the reference better than younger readers.

Conspiracy theories have always been and will come again. But their spread is definitely slower and less effective without support from the president, party leader, prophet, messiah or the media. We are entering the post-Trump era and it will be different from what we've seen for the last four years. It is simply a matter of time before it manifests in real life.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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