Yesterday’s marked the last State of the Union Address by President Barack Obama. Though this may be the last time this particular president has the opportunity to clarify his political positions and intentions. It will also, likely, bring with it a new set of over-the-top conspiracy theories about Obama, his positions, his intentions, even the nature of his existence. That is, of course, because everything President Obama does breeds distrust. President Barack Obama, after all, bares the distinction of being the least trusted, most suspected President, at least in terms of conspiracy theories, of all time.
This should come as no surprise to anyone who has been following politics, or conspiracy theories, or both within the past ten years. Obama has been accused of being; a Muslim, a Kenyan immigrant, the Antichrist, anti-American, anti-Israel, dead-set on abolishing or subverting the Second Amendment, and intentionally stirring racial tensions in the United States. His wife has been accused of being a man, and he has been accused of being the secret leader of ISIS. A Kenyan citizen, Barry Soetoro, hand-picked by Billionaire George Soros to lead America into an intentionally chaotic politically Liberal Hell. This is so regularly evident that Obama has made reference to these conspiracy theories, not only briefly and obliquely during tonight’s State of the Union but also in last week’s CNN Town Hall on the President’s recent executive action and proposals on Gun Control (see the question and answer below).
This may seem like a simple politics, Democrat v. Republican, Conservative v. Liberal. It may seem like Obama is being unduly discriminated against because of his race, or because of his background, and jingoist bigots are just ganging up on him. Obama himself suggests that this is simply part of a “long history” of America’s suspicion of “some distant authority” and, apparently, has made peace with his status as Commander in Chief Suspect. But, of course, this suspicion of President Obama is no more a result of his race, background, politic or that of the body politic than it was on the behalf of the last great suspect; then President George W. Bush.
George W. Bush, at the time he left office, was the most suspected President of all time. The strain of simultaneous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, coupled with an ever fuming Anti-War-Turned-Anti-Occupation Movement and a vehement and vocal 9/11-Truth Movement accused President GW Bush of everything from orchestrating the 9/11 Attacks to planning an extended stay in the White House via Martial Law (an accusation later made of Obama). Of course, George W. Bush’s real conspiracy theory tenure started after the ‘stolen’ election of 2000. Though his Vice President, Dick Cheney, often gets accused of being the real brains of the conspiracy, and there were some absolute atrocities that occurred under their tenures, the conspiracy theories surrounding Bush were either completely unfounded or, at least, forgettable. Upon his departure, George W. Bush neither declared himself emperor for life, nor was he indicted for orchestrating 9/11.
If it seems I am making a point, I am. Perhaps, due to the growing distrust in authority that has developed since the Vietnam War era, or maybe due the distrust that Obama suggested was in our American ‘DNA,’ every President since Reagan (and a few beforehand) has either been the subject of popular conspiracy theories (outside of the ones that ended up being very true, which, generally were not theorized beforehand) or been the object of popular ridicule, or both. George HW Bush’s biggest and best conspiracy theories involve linking him to the JFK assassination and the 9/11 Attacks (see hilarious video below), while Bill Clinton was said to have a list of people he had killed approaching triple digits.
Maybe it was a function of just being an era of absolute turmoil, but very few conspiracy theories exist for former Presidents Ford or Carter (if there are any, I am not aware of them as of yet). President Nixon’s resignation led to Ford’s appointment to the Presidency but not only did the taint of Nixon’s disgrace cause much suspicion of Ford (except due to the very overt act of pardoning Richard Nixon), but Nixon himself did not rouse any popular conspiracy theories, per se. Instead, a general distrust seemed to surround the Nixon White House, a distrust that proved to be well-founded.
There isn’t really a theory I can ascribe to as to why Obama and George W. Bush before him seem so thoroughly suspect to such a large percentage of the American public. The politics aside, if that is even a possibility, fundamental shifts in how authority is viewed have seemed to change in our society. This is partially due to social and cultural shifts, and partially due to the massive proliferation of information on the Internet. History’s most damning moments are slowly coming into common knowledge and such sanctioned events as the Tuskegee Experiments, Mk Ultra, and the Iran-Contra Affair make apt templates for later conspiracy theories. There is a lot of information on the Internet, and a lot of bad information as well. The rise of social media comes with it the rise of social media creators; every one of us can write a blog (I’m doing one right now), or a news article on an ‘Alternative News’ site and promote an idea, an ideology, or a conspiracy theory. It is easier than ever to find like-minded people and float whatever theory you may have and see what other people think. This is the paradoxical nature of the Internet and social media, it has the potential of making us simultaneously more connected and more alone as well as simultaneously teaching us and ‘dumbing’ us down. I do not think I know specifically why Obama and GW Bush were so thoroughly distrusted during their presidencies, but I am almost entirely certain that whoever comes next will be the subject of just as much distrust, and fear, and conspiracy theory.