Early on into Donald Trump’s presidency, a new term entered the lexicon: Trump Derangement Syndrome.
Incredibly, this term wasn’t invented to describe supporters of a candidate who ran against corruption and whose first move as President-Elect was to settle a $25 million fraud lawsuit for his sham university. Rather, the term was meant to describe people who were so filled with hatred toward the new president for no good reason that it clouded their judgment. Trump’s opposition wasn’t incensed by his active animosity toward blue states, nor his frequent flirtation with white supremacy, nor, eventually, his catastrophic response to COVID-19; they were suffering from TDS, a mental condition that makes Trump seem Bad when in fact he is Good.
One of the symptoms of TDS most often cited by right-leaning pundits is “Russiagate,” the belief that there is something fishy about Team Trump’s many peculiar, clandestine interactions with Russian officials in the lead up to leaked DNC emails flooding the internet at the eleventh hour before the 2016 election. Some liberals took this belief too far and used it to try to explain Hillary Clinton’s loss entirely, while other folks, like acclaimed documentarian Alex Gibney, simply want it on the record to make the picture of how Trump actually won more complete.
All across the right, however, from the president on down, it was popular to mock it.
This whole Russia Probe is Rigged. Just an excuse as to why the Dems and Crooked Hillary lost the Election and States that haven’t been lost in decades. 13 Angry Democrats, and all Dems if you include the people who worked for Obama for 8 years. #SPYGATE & CONFLICTS OF INTEREST!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 26, 2018
Now, here we are, after four years of conservatives describing Russiagate as a farfetched hoax by Democrats to avoid any blame for losing an election, and the MAGA faithful is currently trying to blame Trump’s likely 2020 defeat on . . . a series of farfetched hoaxes.
From the people who spent years sneering at Russiagate-believers, may I present: Everything I Don’t Like Is a Conspiracy: The Musical.
This is 60 million of your neighbors pic.twitter.com/Pg8KH6pgiZ
— Timothy Burke (@bubbaprog) November 4, 2020
The gentleman above, ranting about Biden stealing the election, is a representative example of a broad swath of conspiracy-minded Trump supporters right now.
A Facebook group called Stop the Steal launched on November 4, the day after the election, and already has nearly 300,000 members at the time of this writing.
Meanwhile, something called Sharpiegate, not to be confused with that time Trump allegedly doctored a hurricane’s path on an official map, has taken off among disgruntled Trump fans. It’s a theory that incorrectly suggests poll workers in Arizona, where Biden seems to have won, deliberately handed out Sharpies at polling locations to invalidate votes. Even though elections departments all across Arizona confirm that this claim is unfounded, the accusation is bound to enjoy a healthy shelf life online with those convinced that this process is illegitimate.
It’s a rather large group.
A Texas conservative news site and Steven Crowder spread a viral video claiming it showed suspicious activity w/ballots coming in at a Detroit polling place whee key votes are being counted. The video actually shows a local TV cameraman wheeling equipment. https://t.co/FrHWgFMRkP
— andrew kaczynski???? (@KFILE) November 5, 2020
Democrats are doing everything in their power to STEAL this election. @RudyGiuliani isn't going to allow it to happen and now he's FIGHTING BACK.
— Dinesh D'Souza (@DineshDSouza) November 4, 2020
When you went to bed Trump was ahead and the counting miraculously stopped. When you woke up it resumed, with Biden miraculously garnering Chavez-like totals in the dead of night. This is a coup.
— Steve Deace (@SteveDeaceShow) November 4, 2020
Ric Grennell ran away from an MSNBC reporter when asked to provide any evidence at all of the fraud accusations he just levied
(Featuring a person in the background screaming FOX NEWS SUCKS) pic.twitter.com/8e5aKAfO4P
— Lis Power (@LisPower1) November 5, 2020
The overall accusation that Joe Biden is colluding with media and election officials to commit massive voter fraud is a conspiracy theory that has found purchase not just in shadowy Facebook groups but among high-level Trump supporters as well.
Oh yeah, and this group of conspiracy mongers also of course includes the president.
STOP THE FRAUD!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 5, 2020
The most amazing part of all these accusations is that they rely on the man Trump describes as incomprehensibly senile “Sleepy Joe” organizing an intricate, deftly coordinated political crime of the century.
Obviously, Trump and his supporters have already proven susceptible to conspiracy-theorizing. Trump refused to accept that he lost the popular vote in 2016, alleging mass voter fraud, despite the fact that the commission he formed expressly to prove this allegation quietly disbanded after finding nothing. He alleges that various protestors are paid. He is convinced that something called Obamagate happened during the 2016 election, even though it is so hard to follow, it makes Russiagate look like Goodnight, Moon. He believes the 75-year old man who got his head cracked open by cops over the summer did so intentionally to make police—and by extension, Trump—look bad. And he refuses to denounce QAnon, the rabidly popular cult movement that believes Trump is secretly fighting against satanic pedophilic liberals and the deep state, along with way more bonkers allegations.
Essentially, everything Trump doesn’t agree with is a conspiracy. Who knows how many tens of millions of his supporters have followed him down each of these rabbit holes?
The difference between all of those previous demented suspicions and the ones around Biden stealing the election, however, is that the latter follows so many years of Trump and his supporters acting contemptuous of anyone who would explain away an electoral loss with an “obvious hoax” such as Russiagate.
Up until now, Trump’s conspiracy-theorizing has only revolved around why everyone is out to get him. It’s never been deployed to provide a pathetic fig leaf for why Trump is, empirically, a loser. Perhaps this distinction will deter his followers from doing exactly what they accused liberals of doing themselves. But probably not.
While the extent to which Russiagate actually affected Clinton’s campaign is up for debate, the Mueller Report produced enough indictments and convictions to objectively prove some seriously shady things did happen. When the smoke clears on this election, though, and no proof ever emerges that a victorious Biden campaign had its thumbs on the scale, look for Trump and his supporters to tout forever the idea that they would have won the election if it hadn’t been stolen from them in a vast conspiracy.
If only there were a phrase to describe a mental condition that might result in this type of paranoid delusion . . . .