Surveys constantly reveal that a worrying number of Americans believe some absurd untruths, and crackpot conspiracy theories, about their outgoing President, Barack Obama. A poll last year, for example, found that 29 per cent think Obama is a muslim. A respected survey a few years prior put the number at 18 per cent.
Republican candidate Donald Trump exploits the situation with his fanatical rhetoric and bizarre accusations, such as the recently much-repeated line that Obama “founded Isis”.
His tactics reveal one reason why Trump frequently lashes out at, and demonises, the US media. For him, robust and independent scrutiny of facts is a huge inconvenience. Thus he discredits newspapers and broadcasters as “corrupt” and seeks to spread his messages through unchecked fury on social media.
Back in Britain, Trump’s demonisation of the press sounds uncannily similar to the protests of Jeremy Corbyn’s most dedicated acolytes, many of whom are convinced that their leader suffers not through his own failings, but due to a widespread media conspiracy.
Neither Corbyn’s rhetoric nor policies are as spiteful or potentially damaging as Trump’s. However, both men share this in common – until recently their views would have been considered far too extreme for the positions they now hold.
But here we are, and here they are. While the electoral prospects of Corbyn and Trump seem to be reassuringly non-existent, we should beware the broader negative impact of their leaderships and candidacies. Even if they are unsuccessful at the polls, their legacies may be to push extreme and unwelcome views back into the centre-ground of public debate.
Corbyn and his allies want nothing short of an enormous takeover of the economy by government, a fact that is frequently let slip – for example when he says that the pharmaceutical sector should be nationalised; or when he announces an uncosted half-a-trillion-pound state bank, with the portentous promise that “there has to be a much greater public role in industry”.
As Labour moves further towards its far-Left socialist wing, it is important that its leadership’s views are confronted, but also treated as fringe positions that have been entirely discredited in previous decades. Corbyn and his followers must not be allowed to change the terms of debate.