Conspiracy Theories

Matt Yglesias kindly pointed to my short piece on paranoia in the Obama era. I think I was making a slightly banal observation — that our political culture is growing more kooky and paranoid — but I was really making the observation as a vehicle for writing a paragraph that I decided to edit out of the piece. I will include it here for your amusement or displeasure.

So despite the fact that Obama has been a church-going Christian for most of his adult life, more than a tenth of the country believes that while roaming the streets of Jakarta as an elementary schooler, Obama met some wily bearded imam who lured him into his roving Muslim-mobile with delicious minaret-shaped candies and converted him to radical Islam. Dazzled by his obvious intelligence, and convinced long before David Axelrod that Americans were itching to elect a half-Kenyan youth as president, he also sold young Obama on the idea of keeping his Islamic zealotry under wraps. That way he could transform America into a radical Islamic caliphate without anyone ever noticing.

I’m sorry, but I just find the idea of minaret-shaped candies extremely amusing. Let Reihan be Reihan! Part of the reason I axed the graf is that it seemed a little mean-spirited. A tenth of Americans might think Obama is a non-secret Muslim, and they feel uncomfortable with Muslims like yours truly for a variety of complicated reasons. That’s the thing about radical pluralism — we need to learn to live with deep, deep disagreements as a matter of necessity.

Civic assimilation is everyone’s first choice, of course, but the kind of contending worldviews I’m thinking of can emerge within an existing ethnolinguistic community: amputees-by-choice are not ethnic aliens; rather, they are normative aliens.