Conservatives sure are worried about Hillary Clinton’s health. Not that they are actually concerned with her well-being. Instead, they have created a new blend of trutherism that uses exaggerations and even outright forgeries to construct a false narrative that a medical disorder disqualifies Clinton from the presidency.
Eight years ago, the fever swamps of the far-right were obsessed with proving that Barack Obama was constitutionally ineligible to be president because he was born in Kenya. Based on racism, birtherism was designed to depict Obama as not fully American. Proselytizers of this lie were far too often granted a platform by the media, sometimes lending undeserved credibility to their claims.
At the time, Republican nominee John McCain refused to engage in these bigoted attacks and actively dissuaded his supporters from doing so. The same cannot be said for Donald Trump. His birtherism helped elevate him from reality TV star to presidential contender and now he is actively engaged in promoting this new lie about Clinton’s health.
In an interview this week, Trump campaign spokeswoman Katrina Pierson diagnosed Clinton as suffering from “dysphasia.” Trump himself has declared that Clinton “doesn’t have that strength and stamina” to be president. The Trump campaign has been joined in this smear by its partners at Breitbart.com, Sean Hannity’s radio and television programs, and the birthers at World Net Daily.
On Fox News Sunday Trump surrogate and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani claimed one of the reasons Hillary Clinton leads in national and state polls is because the media refuses to cover conservative conspiracies about her health.
Like the birthers of the Obama era, Hillary health truthers base their accusations on a convoluted mix of conspiracy theories, exaggerations and outright lies that forces believers to willfully ignore any evidence to the contrary while twisting themselves into logical pretzels.
Ignoring the standard physician's letter that Clinton’s campaign, like most presidential campaigns, has released, they are convinced that the candidate making a joke about rapid-fire questions from reporters in a Washington, D.C., coffee shop in June is evidence that she had a seizure. (Oddly, these truthers must believe that journalists next to Clinton reacted to her apparent seizure by laughing). They also point to a single picture of Clinton slipping on icy stairs as proof of her poor health, while there are literally hundreds of pictures in existence of her climbing steps unaided. The Drudge Report splashed across the top of its page a link to a conservative blog pointing to the fact that a pillow is often found on the seats upon which Hillary Clinton sits, because apparently desiring lumbar support is somehow evidence of a major medical malady. (Unlike Trump, her physician has not declared that she “will be the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency.”)
Hillary health truthers have also released fake letters, fake medical records claiming to be from Clinton’s doctor and even a fake MRI.
Just as racism drove birtherism, health trutherism is undoubtedly driven by misogyny. There is an extensive history of demeaning women by calling them “crazy,” not to mention undercutting their ability to serve in positions of prominence and power.
Accusing the first female presidential nominee of a major political party of being brain damaged is simply an attempt to use fake medicine and outright lies to elevate this sexist trope into the mainstream political discourse.
Pushers of these theories will feign offense at these accusations. How dare they be accused of sexism, they will complain, when they’re not saying that Hillary is crazy, just brain damaged. They’re just asking questions. They will say that these queries simply come from concern about the health of the future president. Nonsense.
Hillary health truthers see this as an open opportunity to claim that the potential first female president of the United States is unfit for the job. And as in the case of birtherism, there will be no evidence presented to the contrary that will satisfy those spreading these falsehoods. They will either deny the proof at hand or move the goalposts as they invent new conspiracies.
The media has been put in a bind by these stories. Because the accusations are emerging from the Trump campaign itself, not covering them is nearly impossible. Yet even coverage that debunks this health trutherism also helps to spread it. In that way, even well-meaning reporters providing factual information— even, I admit, this piece— have the potential to give legs to these lies. Once again, the Trump campaign has successfully hacked the media.
The only appropriate response is to repeatedly, consistently and without hesitation call out not only these lies but also the misogyny that undergirds them.