Why 2018 is awash in conspiracies and scandals

tags: income inequality

Sarah Horowitz an associate professor of history at Washington & Lee University and the author of "Friendship and Politics in Post-Revolutionary France."

Spygate. Pizzagate. Harvey Weinstein. Hillary Clinton’s emails. The Access Hollywood tape. The Steele dossier. Stormy Daniels. Every day seems to bring a new scandal or conspiracy theory, feeding our preoccupation with hidden forms of wrongdoing among the rich and powerful. The pace of scandals and shocking revelations is almost dizzying — making it hard to keep track of which ones are legitimate and which ones are fake.

Inevitably, there have been comparisons between recent events and previous presidential scandals, like Watergate or the Monica Lewinsky affair. But rather than focusing on individual scandals from earlier eras, it is more useful to think about periods when scandals were constantly in the news and when conspiracy theories were rife. Doing so helps us understand that our era of scandal is not driven by the occupant in the White House, but by a deeper problem: economic inequality.

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the French public witnessed a seemingly unending flow of scandals. Like our current era, some of the allegations were true. The Dreyfus Affair, the most famous scandal of the era, revolved around a very real conspiracy within the French army to frame Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish officer, for espionage.

Others were about as true as Pizzagate — which is to say, not at all — while some involved a tangle of false allegations, true ones and ones whose truth we can only guess at. Take the Steinheil Affair. In 1899, French President Félix Faure died of a cardiac event he suffered during an amorous liaison with his mistress, Marguerite Steinheil. The circumstances of his death were largely hushed up at the time, though plenty of people in Parisian society knew about them.

The circumstances of Faure’s death became a public cause for concern 10 years later, when Steinheil was implicated in the murder of her husband and mother. That Faure had a mistress troubled very few — this was France, after all. But other details about their liaison that came out during the investigation cast the French government in a bad light. There was, for example, evidence of financial corruption.  To cement their affair, Faure had directed the government to pay the then-enormous sum of 30,000 francs for a painting by Steinheil’s husband, a mediocre artist. ...

Read entire article at The Washington Post

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