Birthers, truthers, conspirators, prognosticators, snake-charmers, charlatans, psychopaths: In the ever colourful, dizzying, nauseating, fun, frightening, amusing rollercoaster-ride freak show of the United States presidential election, not a single dull moment to catch your breath and wonder.
The big bad bully bugbear called Donald Trump is not the exception to the US political culture that makes this madness exude frightening entertainment.
To the contrary, he is the rule to which we have the exception in the form of the elegant, composed, gentle, kind, cool, humane, handsome, and totally presidential looking figure of Barack (lovely-looking) Obama, who just the other week gave Benjamin Netanyahu and the Israeli war machine so large, so generous, so astronomical in number that next time the Zionist killing machine goes on a rampage and starts slaughtering Palestinian children en masse in Gaza or elsewhere we can no longer even hope to count their bodies. They will just eviscerate them.
Imagine how many hungry people you could feed with $3.8bn a year for 10 years – the amount of innocent US taxpayers’ money Obama has decided to give to Netanyahu.
My guess is you can partially eliminate hunger in the world, certainly in the US, with that kind of money instead of feeding the insatiable lust of Zionists.
“According to the US Department of Agriculture”, we read in reports, “13.1 million children under 18 in the US live in households where they are unable to consistently access enough nutritious food necessary for a healthy life.”
Could a fraction of those billions Obama gave to Netanyahu with which to murder more Palestinian mothers and children perhaps be allocated here to feed these hungry kids in the United States? Is that not a matter of, as they say, “national security”, too, perhaps?
Like a Hieronymus Bosch painting
So is Trump the real America or Obama? The world is free to choose: A sociopath racist billionaire, fascist wannabe or else a smooth operator, handsome and cool psychopath arms dealer who comes to the White House Press Room and jokes and laughs with high school kids before going back to the Oval Office to authorise the gargantuan expansion of the Israeli killing capacity for another 10 years beyond his own terms at the White House.
What a deranged person would do anything like that? Crying publicly for victims of gun violence one day and enabling a murderous machinery of death and destruction the next?
Have you looked at Hieronymous Bosch’s triptych The Garden of Earthly Delights lately? That’s how the US electoral scene looks these days: So many strange and yet ordinary atrocities you don’t know which way to look and how to understand and define them.
Flights of fancy
Would it be surprising then that in this election we are entertained and frightened in equal measures by conspiracy theorists running amok with one wild theory or another?
Who can blame them? How else make sense of this complete carnival of dangerously armed looney tunes congregating around the macabre fanfare of “Democracy in America?”
Conspiracy theories are flights of fancy and delusional fantasies run amok. But they are also a healthy sign of a public defiance against the establishment media and their conventional opinion-makers left, right, and centre.
In a recent article for The New York Times, Zeynep Tufekci opted for an unfortunate metaphor to make a very apt observation about the prevalence of conspiracy theories in the US: “Conspiracy theories are like mosquitoes that thrive in swamps of low-trust societies, weak institutions, secretive elites and technology that allows theories unanchored from truth to spread rapidly. Swatting them one at a time is mostly futile: The real answer is draining the swamps.”
How do you drain that swamp? Bad metaphor – though putting finger on a crucial issue.
Conspiracy theories of the sort that suggest Hillary Clinton is demented and has a body double, or 9/11 was an inside job, or the CIA conspired to kill John F Kennedy, etc, are actually healthy signs of a robust banality that passes as “American democracy”.
Conspiracy theories are the revenge of the nerd, the salt and pepper of an otherwise tasteless and dangerous game we live in the US, and to which we subject a helpless world.
How else can you make sense of a political culture in which an apartheid settler colony can demand and exact astronomical funds to build bombs with which to maim and murder people half way around the globe – instead of letting them be used to feed a nation’s own hungry children?
Normative complacency of the elite media
Conspiracy theories are the signs of the dire absence of any serious civic discourse – a vivacious uprising against the systemic mendacity of manufacturing consent for business as usual. They are the public fantasy of revolt against the assumption that the ruling elite is getting away with murder.
Yes, conspiracy theories are flights of fancy and delusional fantasies run amok. But they are also a healthy sign of a public defiance against the establishment media and their conventional opinion-makers left, right, and centre.
We should all read and be jolly and entertained by these lovely gothic tales, not because those who spin them have unearthed some hidden secret, but because they are a jovial barometer of public fantasy thumbing its nose or flying the bird at the normative complacency of the elite media.
Conspiracy theorists are like court jesters, like Lear’s Fool, for example, or Kyoami in Akira Kurosawa’s screen adaptation of it in his Ran.
They speak in tongues. They make mockery of the ignorance the dominant narrative makes normative and reasonable. They are like Sancho Panza in Don Quixote, Leporello in Don Giovanni: they offer comic relief and by telling a ludicrous tall tale reveal a much deeper truth.
It is easy and necessary for The New York Times or any other liberal normaliser of this moral depravity called “American democracy” to make fun of conspiracy theorists, but little do they know these little jesters playing at their court are today the only ones who dare happily to declare the emperor of journalistic integrity has no clothes.
Hamid Dabashi is Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University in New York.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policies.