By Emma Reilly
Elm Staff Writer
Numerous claims made by President Donald Trump during his term in office have been proven baseless. Trump’s 2020 campaign has been likewise characterized by the spread of misinformation.
Conspiracies surrounding far-right conspiracy theory group QAnon, Hunter Biden’s laptop, and former President Barack Obama’s birth certificate are just a few examples of unproven claims made by the president. Trump has also spread harmful misinformation regarding the COVID-19 pandemic and the 2020 election — such as the ineffectiveness of masks in preventing the spread of COVID-19, as well as the unreliability of mail-in voting.
By April 26, 2019 — only 827 days into his first term — Trump had already made over 10,000 “false or misleading claims” at “an average of 23 claims a day,” according to The Washington Post.
But when presented with the facts that contradict these false statements, Trump is persistent.
“…Trump often dismisses news stories or media outlets that he doesn’t like as ‘fake news,’” FactCheck’s Eugene Kiely said. When the media and other politicians attempt to disprove Trump’s harmful claims, the president attributes them to unfair personal and political vendettas and shuts down fact-checking in anger and disbelief.
To inspire public support, Trump often ties these attitudes to conspiracy theories that back his perspective.
“A product of tabloid culture, Trump has long trafficked in conspiracy theories. But as chief executive, he’s used the machinery of government to give the ones especially useful to him the stamp of official validation,” Peter Nicholas with The Atlantic said.
Trump and his campaign know how to use conspiracies to their advantage, and they’ve become increasingly reliant on them in the months leading up to the 2020 presidential election. The president uses misinformation to his political and personal gain. By encouraging belief in conspiracy theories, Trump can excuse his missteps and turn public suspicion toward his political opponents.
“…theories are a way for Trump to explain away his problems and undercut opponents … these self-protective myths have already corroded democratic institutions,” Nicholas said.
Conspiracies and misinformation are, in the end, excuses. They divert the public’s attention from the unkept promises of the administration. These theories, which are almost never based in truth, stir up fear and uncertainty. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, that is the last thing our country needs.
So what conspiracies, specifically, has the Trump campaign employed during this campaign? And how damaging are they?
Regarding the election, Trump encouraged the spread of several conspiracy theories surrounding ballot-counting in contentious states like Nevada, Arizona, Pennsylvania, and Georgia. The president not only circulated unfounded claims that ballots were lost and counts rigged — he also prematurely claimed presidential victory.
“President Trump … falsely declared his own victory early — leaving a gray zone with a huge information gap that is ripe for exploitation,” Davey Alba and Sheera Frenkel with The New York Times said.
At the time of his declaration, Associated Press and other news sources had yet to attribute a full 270 electoral votes to the incumbent and thousands of votes remained uncounted.
Many of the president’s unproven claims have stemmed from Twitter. The platform has been flagging messages they’ve deemed potentially “misleading about an election or other civic process” since election night on Nov. 3.
Nevertheless, Trump continued to promote the conspiracy that Democrats manipulated the election. Via Twitter on Nov. 4, the president made several claims that ballots were being suspiciously lost.
In Michigan, “…there was a large number of secretly dumped ballots as has been widely reported.” Trump said. He also claimed that in several states with Republican leads, “…[votes] started to magically disappear as surprise ballot dumps were counted.”
Despite this, “there has been no evidence of widespread fraud in this election … and election watchdogs have highlighted … repeated false claims that the election process is going awry as attempts to delegitimize the vote for political gain,” Sam Dean with The Los Angeles Times said.
Eric Trump, too, has spread misinformation regarding election fraud supposedly targeting the Trump campaign. On Nov. 4, the president’s son retweeted a video post that showed ballots — since proven to be samples — being burned, claiming that they were votes for the incumbent.
The original account that posted the video is associated with QAnon. Followers of the far-right conspiracy theory believe that a pedophile ring run by Satan worshippers is working within the Democratic party to undermine Trump.
“The FBI cited QAnon in an intelligence bulletin last May about the potential for violence motivated by ‘fringe political conspiracy theories,’” The New York Times’ Mike McIntire and Kevin Roose said.
Nevertheless, “about a dozen candidates for public office in the United States have promoted or dabbled in QAnon,” McIntire and Roose said.
In a dangerous culmination of his own fraudulent election claims, Trump tweeted on Nov. 5 that “ANY VOTE THAT CAME IN AFTER ELECTION DAY WILL NOT BE COUNTED.”
This tweet disregards the fact that any ballots postmarked before election day that arrive after the fact are legal in most states.
Casting doubt on election processes is dangerous. Trump is attempting to mobilize his supporters, but in doing so he creates skepticism about American democracy. This will encourage many Americans who disagree with the results of the election not to believe it.
This will affect Biden’s term severely as he works to unify a nation further divided by Trump’s attempts to delegitimize the election results.
The atmosphere of contention and suspicion Trump’s claims have inspired will have long-lasting effects. “Once those lies take root, they are nearly impossible to completely eradicate,” Barron’s Oren Segal said in reference to QAnon and other conspiracies employed by the Trump campaign.
In addition to this, “a significant number of Americans appear susceptible to believing unproven claims,” director of the Survey Center on American Life, Daniel Cox, said. “What’s more, politically motivated conspiracy theories find a receptive audience.”
In the coming months, it will be the duty of the American people to inform themselves, fact-check any inflammatory statements made by politicians, and approach conspiracies cautiously. Holding ourselves and our leaders accountable for information being spread online will go a long way towards preserving — and improving — our democracy.
Featured Photo caption: President Donald Trump’s baseless claims about mail-in ballot fraud have sparked nationwide contention as President-elect Joe Biden and his supporters demand that every vote be counted. Photo Courtesy of Flickr.