As President Trump's objectionable words and deeds continue to pile up on the world stage, a new conspiracy theory is spreading in conservative circles: It's not our fault we support Donald Trump despite his offensive actions — liberals made us do it.
In Salon, "Troll Nation" author Amanda Marcotte points out it's become something of a trend among conservatives and those analyzing conservative groups: In a Twitter follow-up to her recent op-ed, Bari Weiss of the New York Times blamed progressives for the rise of the racist, sexist so-called "alt-right," and claimed liberal criticism of that racism and sexism makes it worse. "When conservatives, classical liberals or libertarians are told by the progressive chattering class that they — or those they read — are alt-right, the very common response is to say: Screw it," she wrote. "They think everyone is alt-right. And then those people move further right."
Marcotte notes a few more examples: In New York magazine, Andrew Sullivan said he realized Kanye West was being foolish by praising Trump but found himself "intellectually siding" with West because his critics were so harsh. In a New York Times piece last week, Gerard Alexander said that self-righteous progressives are causing a "backlash against liberals" that "is going to get President Trump re-elected. Also in the Times, liberal columnist Michelle Goldberg suggested that liberal critics are stoking "right-wing movements that thrive on transgression."
Those hypotheses overlook the allegedly 239-pound elephant in the room: Increased visibility of bigoted movements have coincided with the election of a president who expresses many of those views, therefore legitimizing them. "The causal chain proposed by Weiss and others is completely backwards. Conservatives are not innocent lambs, free of prejudice, who only adopt bigoted beliefs because some liberal said something critical they perceived as unfair. On the contrary, racist and sexist beliefs clearly precede the vengeful, trolling behavior on the right," says Marcotte.
She adds: "The typical bigot wishes to believe racist or sexist things because he benefits from a system where his race or gender provides him unearned privileges. But he knows he cannot defend this belief rationally. So instead he lashes out at liberals — and does stupid things like vote for Trump — not because those critics are wrong that he's an irrational and hateful person, but because they are right."
In today's political climate, certain public figures are brazen about expressing prejudice or hate, but blame someone else for their motivation and the consequences. "It's truly bizarre that liberals, in these arguments, are viewed as the only autonomous actors — and in fact as people so powerful that they not only control themselves but the choices of others," says Marcotte. "No outside force is responsible for a conservative voter choosing to behave like a jackass."