If you spend much time on right-wing media, you might have heard that Hillary Clinton suffers from seizures, dementia, Parkinson’s disease, and possibly even tongue cancer. As David Weigel writes in the Washington Post, Sean Hannity has spent all week dredging up debunked rumors about Clinton’s health, giving special attention to a photo of her stumbling as she climbs a set of outdoor stairs while wearing heels in February. Donald Trump nodded to the rumors at a rally last weekend, saying, “Honestly I don’t think she’s all there.” Photos of “leaked” medical records describing Clinton’s “subcortical vascular dementia” and “complex partial seizures” are circulating online; as Snopes points out, they are printed on plain paper rather than letterhead, and they misstate the professional title of Clinton’s physician, Lisa Bardack. (An actual letter from Bardack says Clinton is in “excellent physical condition and fit to serve as President of the United States.”)
As Clinton conspiracies go, this stuff is picayune. After all, some of the same right-wing characters painting Clinton as a frail invalid are also accusing her of masterminding the murder of Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich, who is said, without evidence, to be involved in last month’s leak of DNC documents. (This is only the latest of the dozens of murders some attribute to the Clintons.) Echoing the right-wing conspiracy site InfoWars, Trump has accused Clinton of co-founding ISIS, though very early Friday morning, he expressed incredulity on Twitter that the media took his claim seriously: “THEY DON’T GET SARCASM?” Clinton has been accused of maintaining a secret police force to harass her critics. Countless Republicans have said she deliberately covered up the motives for the terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya. Indeed, though right-wingers now cite her 2012 concussion as evidence of her failing health, Fox News previously accused her of faking the concussion to get out of testifying about Benghazi. It’s hard to blame conspiracy theorists for this contradiction; with so many rumors swirling around, internal consistency is impossible.
What’s striking about the rumors of Clinton’s imminent collapse aren’t the stories themselves, but the purpose they serve. Most Clinton conspiracy theories are meant to delegitimize her, to explain away her baffling, irksome persistence in public life as a product of a scarcely comprehensible homicidal ruthlessness. The idea that she’s secretly much weaker than she appears, by contrast, is pure wishful thinking. It’s the demented cousin of the right-wing conviction, in the run up to the 2012 election, that polls showing Mitt Romney losing were skewed. “Hillary Clinton’s Health in Rapid Decline—Will She Even Make It to Election Day at This Rate?” asks a headline on InfoWars. This is the speculation of desperate men hoping for a deus ex machina to save them from a Clinton presidency. That means that on some level, these men are starting to understand that this future is bearing down on them. If they’re living out the Kübler-Ross stages of grief, this is denial. One can only imagine what the next phase is going to look like: anger.