Holocaust Historian Deborah Lipstadt Explains Why People Believe Trump's Lies

Historians in the News
tags: Deborah Lipstadt, Trump

Conspiracy is the root of denial.

I think that most denial—whether it's climate denial, Holocaust denial, vaccine denial, or Newtown denial—rests in a conspiracy theory, and America has a long history of conspiracy theories. People who've believed the moon landing was fake, that Kennedy was killed by the CIA, etc. So those can exist independent of any political or economic climate. Having said that, I do think that when there is economic stress coupled with a sense among some people, a cadre of people—be it a class, be it an ethnic group, be it a religion—they're getting "the short end of the stick," that can enhance it, especially if it feels another group is getting "the long end of the stick." So it's a constellation of things. I don't think that just because you have an economic downturn that you're going to have conspiracy theories. But I do think those kind of things help bring it about.

The media plays a role.

It's very easy to talk about "the media," and we've done a lot of that lately, too glibly so. I do think that at times there are portions of the media that play upon these ideas. During the presidential election, during the early months, the president of CBS said Trump was "great for ratings." Trump may not be telling the truth, but he's the best thing that's happened to ratings. Ultimately the media is a business, so it's gotta sell tickets, get viewers, things like that... I wouldn't look for culpability, but I would say the media, though not singularly, has a special responsibility for pointing to the absurdity of certain claims, and the mainstream media has begun to do that in recent months by saying if a claim was made without evidence or if it's clearly a lie. That's very important and very significant. But I think it's incumbent on all of us. There's a plethora of information now available to us, and it's great, but I think we have to be particularly vigilant. We've been given this gift of an "information superhighway," but with every gift come responsibility. I think now more than ever.

Trump has mastered non-truths.

It's very difficult, but I'm hoping, with the exception of his die-hard supporters, if he does enough of this, people will begin to be skeptical about the things he says. But it's a terrible thing when you're skeptical about the things the president of the United States says. I am not an alarmist, but we are facing a very difficult situation, a potentially harmful situation. People look for someone to blame. When they are frightened and feel that the system is against them it is comforting when someone comes up with a unified answer, especially one that says: It's not your fault; it is the "system" that is out there to screw you.

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