On Jan. 6, 2021, hundreds of Trump supporters, joined by neo-Nazi groups, QAnon conspiracy believers, white supremacists, paramilitaries and elected Republican officials, heeded outgoing President Donald Trump’s call to march on Congress and dissuade its members from ratifying the victory of his opponent, Joe Biden.
On that day, the entire world thought it was hallucinating as it witnessed an attack on democracy’s most sacred location. Five people lost their lives and dozens of others were injured. A year later, America’s ever more polarized society has not drawn the right lessons from this unprecedented event in its history.
Trump rules the Republican Party with an iron fist while defending his “big lie” conspiracy theory — that the election was “stolen” by Biden — tooth and nail. Without the slightest proof, he maintains this theory, causing collective delirium among his supporters, even leading to a few of them getting killed.
According to a recent poll, no fewer than 65 million Americans believe this theory. At the same time, Trump’s popularity is consolidating while Biden’s wavers. If this trend persists, American society will be in danger of further violence during the next presidential election in 2024.
How did the world’s greatest democracy come to this? For a good number of analysts, including specialists in collective emotion, it is the result of a gradual undermining by Trump and his allies via social media networks during his presidency. History shows that, when skillfully spread, conspiracy theories can cause trouble by generating mass anguish and an impulse to rally round a cause, as when the Nazis hawked the idea of a “Jewish plot.”
Channeled through social media networks, Trump’s aggressive communication style acts as an outlet for many people, especially at a time of economic crisis and pandemic that is rife with frustration. Such aggression is normalized into spontaneous violent protests fueled by disinformation such as conspiracy theories.
In accepting the “big lie” theory, the Republicans risk losing their political soul by becoming nothing more than representatives of the biased totalitarian ideology of Trumpism.
If we are not careful, and if social media is not regulated, these trends may spread to Europe, since the old continent tends to draw its inspiration from the United States after a lag time.