Fifty-four years after the death of President John F. Kennedy, the files regarding his death have been released for the public viewership. For Americans who believe in a CIA assassination conspiracy – 51 percent according to Gallup – this is big news. However, the files turned out to be a bit of a disappointment. In the most coveted tape, Richard Helms, then Deputy Director of plans for the CIA, is asked: “Is there any information involved with the assassination of President Kennedy which in any way shows that Lee Harvey Oswald was in some way a CIA agent or agent–” The document cuts off abruptly. Yet to those truly dedicated to discovering the truth, this abrupt cut off only proves that there is important information to be hidden.
A belief in this type of conspiracy is not rare among Americans; in fact, many major events regarding the country have various theories surrounding them. According to a study conducted by the University of Chicago in 2014, almost 20 percent of Americans believe that the government was behind the 9/11 attacks. According to Public Policy Polling, over 20 million Americans believe that the moon landing was faked. Countless other conspiracies exist, so get woke: the CIA invented AIDS, aliens have visited the U.S. on multiple occasions, and a group of elite reptiles have been controlling the world for decades.
Additionally, during the 2016 presidential election, the term “deep state” was pushed into mainstream media — largely by Trump and his supporters. Believing in a deep state implies the existence of some secret manipulation of the government whether by an intelligence agency, corporation or any body other than elected officials. Throughout history, the deep state theory has been used by different parties, although it was favored by Republicans this past year.
Public Trust Low as Ever
That so many seem to believe that there has been and continues to be a collusion of the American people shows a clear lack of trust in government. It might seem that it has always been this way, and for those born in the past couple decades, well, it has.
However, during Kennedy’s presidency, public trust in national government reached all time highs: According to Pew Research, between 73-77 percent of Americans trusted Washington most or all of the time. While these statistics have ranged greatly between administrations, recently they have plummeted to new lows: less than one in five Americans have faith in government to do right.
As easy as it would be to blame the Trump administration for this loss in confidence, this most recent decline in fact started at the beginning of the G.W. Bush administration and continued to trend downwards throughout the Obama administration.
So what has made Americans so wary of their own government?
A Cause for Conspiracy
Many factors are likely in play: firstly, and most obviously, it should be noted that government intelligence organizations, particularly the CIA, which is featured in many conspiracies, were created specifically to hide their operations from the public. Now, it is well known that during Kennedy’s presidency they made multiple bizarre attempts to assassinate Cuban prime minister Fidel Castro, including by infecting his diving suit and poisoning his cigars. The FBI, another intelligence organization, considering civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. a communist sympathizer and public threat, bugged his house and tracked his every move. Hoping to tarnish his image and take him down from the inside, the FBI went so far as to meddle with his relationship with his wife; one of the recently released files reports, in intimate detail, King’s wild sex life outside of his marriage.
Knowing that government agencies were not open about these, and many other, acts leaves little mystery as to why so many people believe in conspiracies like Kennedy and 9/11.
As for the lizards who have secretly ruled this country for so long, their existence might seem a bit more far-fetched. Yet, other similar conspiracies exist, one of the most prominent being the theory that a group of Jews, called the “Elders of Zion” control the media as part of their plan for world domination. The theory debuted as a book used to spread anti-semitic propaganda in early 20th century Russia and, like reptiles running a government, stands to show a frustration in the way power and secrecy play out in a nation.
The Fault in our Institutions
While deep state and other conspiracy believers can be easily dismissed as crazy, they might just have a point: The government institutions that make many important decisions for the American people are largely made up of elitists who are wholly unrelatable to the public. According to The Washington Post, only nine percent of Americans have confidence in Congress, making it the least trusted government institution. No wonder – it can be difficult to trust in a body with a growing average net worth of over $1 million to prioritize the interests of the average American. Not to mention that the average member of congress is 57 years old, yet still makes laws for a country with a median age of about 38 years old and the generations to come.
Age is particularly relevant on issues like climate change which will likely impact each generation more than the last. And while climate change believers have reached a majority in the U.S., almost 20 percent more seniors (65 years and older) than millennials deny its existence, according to a study by the University of Texas. Coincidentally – or not – most of those seniors will die in the next few decades, while the younger generations will have to cope with these issues for much longer.
Partisanship likely also comes into play when considering trust in Congress. Because compromise between parties must always be made in order to pass a bill, the process is a) usually slow and b) often unsatisfactory to both sides. In fact, a study by Pew Research shows that a majority – 64 percent– of Democrats and Republicans believe that “on the issues that matter to them, their side loses more often than it wins.” The system set in place is meant to appease both sides to an extent, yet in reality, most aren’t being satisfied.
Yes, President Trump was freed of a bit of blame earlier in this piece, but he certainly does play a part in the way Americans now view our government from both sides. He works to build a sense of distrust throughout his own party by creating hysteria over fake news. Then, he slanders Democrats – and anyone with whom he disagrees – unrelentlessly, fostering more distrust on the other side. What is trustworthy about this and about all of the chaos occurring after only one year in the White House? Think Russian interference, sexual assault allegations, nuclear war threats, hiring and firing and hiring and firing, white-supremacist sympathy… and this list is already much too long.
Not to mention that Trump and his supporters are guilty of creating their own conspiracies. Who can forget that they once pushed Obama to release his birth certificate to respond to theories that he was not truly born in the United States of America? And that they accused him of being Muslim, which is firstly, not a crime, and second, not true? This kind of conspiracy is not a rational one, but one that came out of partisan bias and, frankly, racism.
But this is common knowledge; now this is the norm. And now it can seem like the next scandal is just around the corner, one that will break before anyone has even had a chance to conspire about it. So, unfortunately, conspiracy and distrust may not be an overreaction. Instead, consider it a response to the way American people have and continue to be abused by the powerful institutions meant to give us security.