Edited by Massimiliano Demata, Virginia Zorzi and Angela Zottola
[Discourse Approaches to Politics, Society and Culture 98] 2022
► pp. 121–140
Chapter 6Fake conspiracy
Trump’s anti-Chinese ‘COVID-19-as-war’ scenario
Conspiracy theories have an extraordinarily strong persuasive effect, as their huge increase during the public debate about the COVID-19 pandemic shows. How can they achieve such a communicative impact, given their flawed epistemic status? This chapter studies one COVID-19 related conspiracy theory, i.e. that the virus which caused the pandemic was “unleashed” by the Chinese government on the world, as propagated by the former US President Donald J. Trump and his political allies. Combining cognitive and pragmatic approaches, I analyse Trump’s metaphorical framing of the pandemic in terms of a war-like conflict with China as serving the goal of inducing the US public to suspend their “epistemic vigilance” (Sperber et al. 2010). The analysis shows that the application of epistemic vigilance hinges, inter alia, on the conspiracy theory’s figurative and narrative coherence. This analysis accounts both for the (qualified) success of Trump’s conspiracy theory and its weakness as regards the lack of corroborating ‘back-up’ arguments for his narrative. The result offers clues to ways of re-activating epistemic vigilance and thus, argumentative resistance, against conspiracy theories.
- 3.Trump’s “Chinese virus” claim as part of a figurative war scenario
- 4.Discussion: The advantage of combining conspiracy theory and metaphor scenarios