If Donald Trump loses his re-election bid, there will be a lot of ruin to sort through. But his most damaging and enduring legacy may well turn out to be the promiscuous use of conspiracy theories that have defined both the man and his presidency.
The president’s cruelest policies, like intentionally separating children from their parents at the border, can at least be ended, although their devastating effects will reverberate for decades. It’s less clear what the half-life is for his conspiracy theorizing, which fundamentally distorts the way people think about politics, our country and reality itself.
There have been so many conspiracy theories it’s easy to forget some of them, and this list is hardly exhaustive, but it includes Mr. Trump claiming that Barack Obama wasn’t born in the United States and that Bill and Hillary Clinton were behind the death of their former aide Vince Foster; suggesting that Ted Cruz’s father was involved in the assassination of President John Kennedy and that MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough was involved in the death of a staff member nearly 20 years ago; retweeting claims that SEAL Team 6 didn’t kill Osama bin Laden in 2011; insisting that Ukraine was hiding Hillary Clinton’s missing emails and that Mr. Obama wiretapped Mr. Trump’s phones; and promoting QAnon, a far-right conspiracy theory that believes, as Kevin Roose put it in The Times, that “the world is run by a cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles who are plotting against Mr. Trump while operating a global child sex-trafficking ring.”
There was a time when popularizing such crazed machinations would have caused one to be cast to the outer fringes of American politics; in the case of Mr. Trump, it helped elect him and has created a cultlike devotion among tens of millions of his supporters. And because of Mr. Trump, conspiracy theorizing is now a central feature of the Republican Party and American politics.