From Conspiracy Theories to Conspiracies

Not all conspiracy theorists are unhinged paranoids—even when they insist there was a loosely organized if not sometimes incoherent effort to destroy Donald Trump’s candidacy beyond the bounds of “normal” politics and later a renewed and unprecedented endeavor to abort his presidency.

After all, did anyone believe that in the year 2017 the losing side in an American election would immediately dub itself the “Resistance”—channeling the World War II nomenclature of the guerrilla campaign against the Nazi occupation of France? Or that the defeated candidate Hillary Clinton would formally embrace the imagery of liberationist patriots fighting a Nazi-like Trump’s occupation of the United States?

One ingredient for removing a president would entail a nonstop effort by the opposition to use the courts, the legislative branch, the investigatory agencies, and the administrative state to discredit, undermine, and remove an elected government. In modern terms, that might entail opponents suing to challenge the legitimacy of the election, perhaps by charging in court that according to “experts,” voting machines were dysfunctional and thus some state tallies were null and void.

The effort might embrace trying to subvert the Constitution by pressuring state electors not to honor their constitutionally defined responsibilities to vote in accordance with the popular vote in their respective states. It might also include an effort to introduce articles of impeachment in the House.

A resistance might sue under the 25th Amendment to find the president non compos mentis, accompanied by a popular campaign to clinically diagnose the president as mentally unfit or physically decrepit. Or a resistance might use the courts to seek the removal of an elected president on grounds he was a rank profiteer and had violated the Emoluments Clause of the U.S. Constitution—or to file suits with cherry-picked liberal judges to delay and stop the president’s executive orders. On the petty side, an organized effort to discredit a president would range from boycotting the Inauguration to deliberately holding up and delaying confirmation of his appointees.

In fact, in just Trump’s first year we have seen all these things and more.

Pop Culture Provocations
Any “resistance” aimed at removing a president would also involve the proverbial street and popular culture. A good way might be to implant to such a degree the idea of killing or harming the president that it would become something more than just a sick fantasy, but become contextualized as an act of near patriotism across the broader culture. Celebrities accordingly might dream out loud at rallies of blowing up the White House. Or a movie star might announce to his audience his hopes for a repeat of a John Wilkes Booth-style assassination. Or a state legislator might post hopes that someone would kill the president. Or a rapper might release a video in which the president is shown shot. Or a comedian on camera might hold up a facsimile of the bloody severed head of the president. Or a New York troupe might perform public plays in which the president each evening is ritually stabbed to death.

We might also see and hear ad nauseam from actors and other celebrities expressing desires to beat him to a pulp, or hang him, or shoot him—all the insidious efforts not of those easily disregarded as unhinged, but of those with public personas, and with the effect of incrementally normalizing violence against the president. Late night comedians might vie with each other in their profanity and scatology, ridiculing the president with references to him fellating a foreign leader. Who knows, a secret service agent might even post a brag that she would not be willing to “take a bullet” to defend the likes of this president. Or a left-wing zealot might think shooting Republican congressmen was doing his part to thwart the evil Trump agenda.

All that, too, transpired in Trump’s first year.

Blue, anti-Trump states might seek to nullify federal law, in the fashion that the states of the Old South insisted that they were not subject to federal jurisdictions. California, for example, might declare itself a sanctuary state, a declaration that would forbid federal immigration agents from enforcing fully the law. Or the states might incessantly sue the president’s administration on everything from immigration to environmental policy—such that every two weeks California is ritually filing a new suit in a friendly court to curtail federal government jurisdiction over state residents. The California governor might declare the president an immoral agent who had no fear of God, as grandees in his state talked of Calexit, a secession from the president’s United States. Or the California legislature might dream of subverting the new federal code curtailing state tax deductions in adolescent ways that would earn any taxpayer who tried such a con an IRS indictment.

In fact, in just Trump’s first year, we have seen all those efforts transpire as well.

Control the Media, Control the Narrative
In historian Edward Luttwak’s semi-serious
Coup d’état: A Practical Handbook, control of the media is essential to abort a leader’s term. Ideally, a resistance should hope to so influence or enlist popular television, radio, electronic media and print journalism to ensure that 90 percent of all coverage of the president would be classified as negative. Reporters would issue fake news reports, ranging from stories that the president deliberately phoned a foreign leader and threatened invasion, or in racist fashion had insulted minorities by removing the bust of a black civil rights icon from the West Wing. Some reporters would use on-air obscenity and scatology in expressing their hatred of the president, in efforts to normalize the once abnormal. The more theoretical would ponder the need to jettison disinterested reporting, claiming that the danger of Trump justified biased coverage. The deep-state media might brand as believable a fake-news, tell-all book about the secret and private lives of the Trump inner circle.

All of that happened in 2017. And it’s still happening.

What better way to derail a presidency would there be than to allow a blank-check special counsel to search out alleged criminal activity on the part of the president? We have seen FBI Director James Comey confess that he deliberately leaked, likely illegally, confidential notes of a meeting with president Trump to the media, with the expressed intent of creating a “scandal” requiring a “special counsel”—a gambit that worked to perfection when Comey’s close friend, former FBI Director Robert Mueller was appointed.

To facilitate those efforts, the counsel would appoint to his team several attorneys who despised the very target of their investigation. In fact, many special investigators have given generously to the campaign of Trump’s past political opponent Hillary Clinton and in at least one case had worked previously for the Clinton Foundation. Note that after nearly a year, the Mueller investigation has not indicted anyone on collusion charges and is unlikely to. Rather, in special counsel trademark, low-bar fashion, it is seeking to indict and convict suspects for not telling the whole truth during interrogations, or violating other statutes. As Peter Strzok—once one of the FBI’s lead investigators in the Mueller investigation—concluded of the “collusion” allegation to his mistress Lisa Page: there was “no big there there.”

The FBI itself would have earlier trafficked in a fraudulent document funded by the Clinton campaign to “prove” Trump and his team were such dangers to the republic that they required surveillance under FISA court warrants and thus should surrender their constitutional rights of privacy. The ensuing surveillance, then, would be widely disseminated among Obama Administration officials, with the likely intent that names would be unmasked and leaked to the anti-Trump press—again, in efforts to discredit, first, the Trump campaign, and later the Trump transition and presidency. A top official of the prior Department of Justice would personally consult the authors of the smear dossier in efforts to ensure that its contents would become useful and known.

In fact, all that and more has already transpired.

Subversion as Plain as Day
Key officials of the prior government would likewise weigh in constantly to oppose the subsequent Trump agenda and demonize their own president. Samantha Power, Susan Rice, and Ben Rhodes would warn the country of the threats posed by their successor, but fail to disclose that they had previously requested to view FISA surveillance of the Trump team and to unmask the names of U.S. citizens which predictably soon appeared in media reports. Former Secretary of State John Kerry, according to the Jerusalem Post, assured a prominent Palestinian government leader, “that he should stay strong in his spirit and play for time, that he will not break and will not yield to President Trump’s demands.” Kerry reportedly further assured the Palestinian representative that the president may not be in White House for much longer and would likely not complete his first term. In sum, the former American secretary of state all but advised a foreign government that his own president is illegitimate and thus to be ignored or resisted in the remaining time before he is removed.

If any of these efforts were undertaken in 2009 to subvert the presidency of Barack Obama popular outrage might well have led to criminal indictments. If Hollywood grandees had promised to do to Barack Obama what they boast doing to Donald Trump, the entire industry would have been discredited—or given the Obama investigatory treatment.

Indeed, in many cases between 2009-2017, U.S. citizens the Obama Administration found noncompliant with its agendas became targets of the IRS for their political activity or monitored by the Justice Department. The latter included reporters from the Associated Press and James Rosen of Fox News. Many a journalist’s sources were prosecuted under the Espionage Act of 1917.  In another case, a filmmaker had his parole revoked and was scapegoated and jailed to advance a false administration narrative about the death of four Americans in Benghazi. Still others were surveilled by using fraudulent documents to obtain FISA court orders.

Everyone should be keen to distinguish conspiracies from conspiracy theories. The above are real events, not the tales told by the paranoid.

In contrast, unhinged conspiracy theorists, for example, might obsess yet again over the machinations of multibillionaire and leftist globalist bogeyman George Soros, and float wild yarns that he would fly to Davos to assure the global elite that he considers Trump “a danger to the world,” while reassuring them that the American president was “a purely temporary phenomenon that will disappear in 2020—or even sooner.” . . . 

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About Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is a distinguished fellow of the Center for American Greatness and the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. He is an American military historian, columnist, a former classics professor, and scholar of ancient warfare. He has been a visiting professor at Hillsdale College since 2004, and is the 2023 Giles O'Malley Distinguished Visiting Professor at the School of Public Policy, Pepperdine University. Hanson was awarded the National Humanities Medal in 2007 by President George W. Bush, and the Bradley Prize in 2008. Hanson is also a farmer (growing almonds on a family farm in Selma, California) and a critic of social trends related to farming and agrarianism. He is the author of the just released New York Times best seller, The End of Everything: How Wars Descend into Annihilation, published by Basic Books on May 7, 2024, as well as the recent  The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won, The Case for Trump, and The Dying Citizen.