Conclusion: Conspiracy Theories and Political Decay
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Although conspiracy theories can assume the characteristics that Hofstadter made notorious as the “paranoid style” in American politics, this meme has been abused, used as a way to impose self-discipline upon theories that stray outside the regime of truth, especially those that challenge the myth of American exceptionalism and that characterize American hegemony as imperialist. Conspiracy is a way of doing politics that needs to be studied and theorized much as any other form of political activity. Like other social scientific theories, conspiracy theories need to be entertained or rejected as good or bad theories. The ones that fit the paranoid style are not only bad theory, they should continue to be condemned for their association with scapegoating, repression, genocide, etc. But conspiracy theories can also be gateways to better understanding the causes and consequences of Donald Trump’s improbable rise to the presidency. Mainstream political science has been forced by the rise of Trump to confront the myth of American exceptionalism and to recognize that liberal democracy now seems threatened in its hegemonic home. We cannot allow “conspiracy theory” to be used to discipline investigation of how this has happened and not only to defend democracy but also to deepen and extend it.