Resist the impulse to consider your political foes less than human; it’s the key ingredient in every system of exploitation and discrimination, every wartime propaganda campaign. Those who pull the strings from behind the curtain fund both political parties because the more we divide ourselves, the more we conquer ourselves. Read on for an exploration of what lies behind all the conspiracy theories out there, and why we can’t let them distract us from the deeper threat to our divided nation.
Was the Apollo moon landing “fake news”? Is FEMA building secret concentration camps in Death Valley? Was Lee Harvey Oswald the fall guy for a CIA/Mafia/Castro plot to assassinate JFK?
Once considered the laughable obsessions of a fruitcake fringe, conspiracy theories have gone mainstream – the fallback political strategy of candidates without platforms, programs or policies.
Is the federal government coming for our guns? Was Donald Trump cheated out of his re-election victory? Are liberals grooming our kids to be sex slaves?
Millions of mainstream Americans find scenarios like these more compelling than the fictional dramas of TV and Hollywood. And why not? After watching Spiderman and Rambo fighting make-believe villains all these years, us regular folks finally get a chance to strap on an AR-15 and play the hero!
Of course, those who have learned to peek behind the curtain can see how the purveyors of right-wing conspiracy are manipulating their marks to rake in money and rack up power. This is the real conspiracy, we tell each other, shaking our heads in amusement or alarm over the gullibility of the MAGA masses.
But behind the paranoid hysterics of Q-Anon and the exposés of Daily Kos lurks an even more insidious conspiracy. Deeper than the Deep State, more menacing than the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers combined, it’s never mentioned on Fox or CNN. But if you pay attention, it’s not hard to spot. Just look for its telltale footprint: an ever-growing schism between left and right, liberal and conservative, Democrat and Republican.
Yes, I’m talking about the conspiracy to divide America. The billionaires of the One Percent don’t really care whether women can legally obtain an abortion, or whether alt-right militias can openly carry AR-15s. It just gives them a kick to feed the flames of controversy. They fund both political parties because the more we divide ourselves, the more we conquer ourselves.
Both liberal and conservative voters are victims of trickle-down economics, de-regulation and privatization, union-busting, health-care profiteering, corporate globalization and military budget bloat. But the more we vilify and dehumanize each other, the less resistance the dark-money PACs will face in their quest for full-spectrum global dominance.
Howard Zinn succinctly summed up the conspiracy behind the conspiracies in his classic A People’s History of the United States: “The American system is the most ingenious system of control in world history . . . One percent of the nation owns a third of the wealth. The rest of the wealth is distributed in such a way as to turn those in the 99 percent against one another: small property owners against the propertyless, black against white, native-born against foreign-born, intellectuals and professionals against the uneducated and un-skilled. These groups have resented one another and warred against each other with such vehemence and violence as to obscure their common position as sharers of leftovers in a very wealthy country.”
Some conspiracy theories are no doubt true. I have my personal pet favorites, and I’m sure you do too. But allowing them to divide us plays into the hands of the master conspiracists who profit from every conspiracy, left or right, real or fabricated, plausible or absurd.
The classic example is the racial divide. As Ibram X. Kendi explains in How to Be an Anti-Racist, until the lucrative slave trade took off in the 1400s, skin color was a secondary consideration, overshadowed by religion, social class, family lineage and political fealties. The theory of racial inferiority was born as intellectual propaganda to justify European enslavement of Africans and the colonization of the global South.
But it wasn’t till after slave revolts overthrew the slave-masters of Haiti and shook colonial America that “whiteness” was invented as an incentive to unify whites in the suppression of “blackness.” Poor whites were still exploited and excluded by the landowning class, and many whites still labored in indentured servitude. But their skin color gave them a psychological stake in maintaining the caste system of slavery.
This strategy has served the masters well ever since. Today, as the One Percent openly consolidate their grasp on the accumulated wealth of the global economy, that delusional psychological advantage called “whiteness” becomes ever more precious to those who see their share of the leftovers slipping away.
I’m sure some conspiracy theorists truly believe their theories, even the most unhinged lunacies of Q-Anon. Those who prop up a shaky identity with a populist ideology will probably cling to their delusions to the last stand, clutching their AR-15s as the cops close in. But others are just playing along, gorging themselves on the dividends of political division. Once they realize that the One Percent will throw them to the sharks without a qualm once they’re no longer useful, their loyalties will shift pretty quickly.
I can’t prove that a satanic cult of wealthy child-molestors isn’t preying on the children of America. It’s an allegation that goes back at least as far as the 1995 book The Trance-Formation of America. What I can prove is that the children of numerous other countries fall victim every day to the corporate-friendly foreign policy of the United States – starving under economic sanctions against Venezuela and Iran, killed and maimed by U.S.-supplied weapons in Palestine, dying of climate-driven floods, droughts, and diseases throughout the global South.
Of course, these are not the offspring of white conservative Americans. But what the conservatives are slow to understand is that their loyalty to the corporate-funded right wing is a one-way street. As soon as it becomes profitable to sacrifice middle-class white children to the satanic gods of global dominance, the One Percent will not hesitate. And in fact, the collapse of the middle class into near-feudal peonage is well under way, and climate change is accelerating the process. The question is how long rural poverty and climate disaster can be credibly blamed on people of color, LGBTQ folks, and “liberal” culture.
Our competitive system thrives on rivalry, from high school football to the free-market free-for-all to winner-take-all elections. That makes us easy prey when the Pentagon decides to go to war, or when politicans want to distract us from their crooked deal-making by turning us against each other.
But those who oppose us are not our enemies. No matter how they slander us, ridicule us, abuse and threaten us, those who have been duped into betraying their own best interests have more in common with us than they know. And given the current stalemate in our polarized body politic, our only realistic hope of a liveable future is that sooner than later they will wake up and realize it.
So whenever you hear a liberal disparaging the intelligence or patriotism of a Trump voter, remember the conservatives you’ve heard disparaging yours. Don’t help the conspirators build their wall of separation. Resist the impulse to consider your political foes less than human; it’s the key ingredient of every system of exploitation and discrimination, every wartime propaganda campaign.
Just ask yourself: who wins and who loses when the billionaires have their way? Who profits from the conspiracy of “divide and conquer” that victimizes us all, black and white, Red and Blue alike? And what could happen if the 99 Percent ever came together to demand a change?
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