Welcome to "Why Is My Dad Mad?", MTV's occasional inquiry into issues that may come up on your Facebook feed or over dinner.
My dad's muttering incomprehensibly to himself at dinner with a frown on his face. What's the deal?
Do the terms he's muttering sound medical?
Any other strange behavior?
Well, I've seen him staring at seemingly unremarkable pictures of Hillary Clinton, unblinking, for minutes on end.
Well, your dad's mad that Clinton is covering up some kind of serious health problem, and the media is either refusing to investigate or is actively aiding in the conspiracy.
She is? You are?
I mean, "probably not" and "no," respectively, but ...
That hasn't stopped anyone before, I guess.
So where'd this idea come from?
Well, the general obsession with Clinton's health started in 2012, when she fell and suffered a concussion while battling a stomach bug — two days before she was supposed to testify on Benghazi.
I bet that didn't go over well.
No. Not at all. Ironically, at the time Republicans accused her of faking illness to avoid having to testify. She was hospitalized for a few days to treat a blood clot related to the concussion, returned to work after about a month, and testified. But the germ of the idea was spawned. Pretty much ever since then, anything that Clinton does is seized upon by Hillary's Health Truthers (let's call ’em Hillary Healthers) as evidence that she's concealing undisclosed medical issues.
Like when she had to drink water after a coughing fit during a speech in January? That was obviously a sign that her health and stamina are in question, or that she's suffering from hypothyroidism. Or a couple of weeks ago, when Hillary Healthers circulated a picture from January of her being helped up some icy stairs, claiming that it was evidence that she's "unstable."
That's kinda ... weird?
Oh, my sweet child. My wide-eyed cherry blossom. You have not yet known "weird." You are not yet acquainted with "weird."
Hillary Healthers think that Clinton had a seizure on camera. They looked at a picture of her backstage and decided that one of the Secret Service agents near her is not a Secret Service agent at all, but rather a doctor specializing in epilepsy, who has a disguised EpiPen to treat her for seizures.
They look at "suspicious folds" in her pant leg and think she's wearing a catheter, or examine bulky jackets and see telltale signs of a wearable defibrillator. They have produced a compilation of photos of Hillary sitting on or near pillows and concluded that she is infirm. They've hypothesized that she has had a stroke or "some other disorder" or that she has had surgery on her tongue to treat HPV.
I suddenly feel the urgent need to take a shower.
Yeah, it's gross.
But, I mean ... this is just random people online, right? The Fwd and Facebook crowd?
Oh no, not at all. Maybe it's emerging organically from the fetid fever swamps of the internet, but it's being fed by more mainstream media organizations and pushed by the Trump campaign directly. Sean Hannity of Fox News has dedicated multiple segments to the seizure meme, and the Trump campaign ran an ad that makes a veiled reference to it.
Former New York City mayor turned Trump adviser/sycophant Rudy Giuliani advised MSNBC viewers to "Go online and put down 'Hillary Clinton illness'" and then decide for themselves. Later he told Fox viewers that he thought Clinton looked sick. Trump's campaign spokesperson Katrina Pierson went on to MSNBC to diagnose Clinton with dysphasia, a brain disorder. Campaign surrogate Roger Stone claimed that Clinton must have suffered from a "small stroke or some other disorder." And Trump himself regularly makes reference to it. For example, in his speech in Wisconsin, he said that Clinton didn't have the "strength and stamina" to take on the challenges of the presidency.
I mean, let's not be naive, presidential campaigns have always pushed these sorts of unsavory and unfounded rumors. But in modern politics, at least, they were confined to subterranean-level whisperings and deep background — not proffered by surrogates, used in campaign ads, and alluded to directly in stump speeches.
The fact that this stuff is coming directly from a rival campaign is another disorienting sign of the way in which the Republican party has been conquered by its fringe. And now, with the official takeover of the campaign by management and staffers from the white nationalist conspiracy-mongering website Breitbart, there is no real buffer between the half-baked musings of Reddit randos and the GOP's actual nominee for president. They have mainstreamed the fringe right — and that might be one of the longest-lasting effects of Trump's candidacy.
Comforting! But why has this particular conspiracy theory taken root?
Well, hoping for a sudden development or revelation to torpedo the other candidate has a long tradition as a happy fantasy refuge for sinking campaigns. In 2008, for example, Clinton supporters (and, later, McCain supporters) thought a tape of Michelle Obama talking about "whitey" would be released just before the election, destroying Obama's candidacy. The Hillary's Health conspiracy has a similar flavor — Hillary could have a seizure or pass out and voters would abandon her! It could happen, we swear!
But I think there's something else going on as well. One of Trump's major tactics is to turn subtext into text, and to make it literal when doing so. For instance, some of the subtext behind the attacks levied at Obama was that he was not "one of us" — that his race, name, and background meant that he didn't share American values. That he was an Other. At the time, Trump took that and made it both explicit and literal — he not only came right out and said that Obama wasn't one of us, but he then said that Obama was literally not born in America, but rather in Kenya.
The Hillary's health idea is similar. It takes the notion that women are too weak and feminine to be effective leaders and makes it literal: Hillary is too physically delicate and frail to be president. Trump often abandons dog whistles and says, "Hey poochie, I'm talking to you."