American malaise

28 Oct 2020


Mahir Ali
Mahir Ali

IT was precisely three years ago today that a person self-identifying as Q first posted a bunch of messages on a website called ‘4chan’, laying claim to a mission to enlighten the public about President Donald Trump’s secret war against the deep state.

The fringe conspiracy theory, which took its cue from the patently absurd Pizzagate allegations that surfaced in 2016, has since morphed into QAnon, a bewilderingly inconsistent system of belief that has spread far beyond the United States.

The original sin, so to speak, that it encapsulates is the notion of a vast paedophile network that kidnaps children en masse, and not just abuses them but feeds on their insides. It is, in other words, a cannibalistic cabal that incorporates the Clintons, the Obamas, probably the Bidens as well, not to mention the Hollywood liberal elite — more or less anyone even slightly famous who refuses to kowtow to the Trumpian cult.

When, earlier this month, Trump sprang an October surprise by admitting he had tested positive for Covid-19 — after hosting a superspreader event at the White House to celebrate the elevation of another far-right cult’s ‘handmaiden’ to the US Supreme Court — it was viewed in the parallel Q universe as a clever tactic. The president would step out of the way while his shock troops took his enemies into custody so they could be executed. Problem solved.

How will they react if their saviour is trounced on Nov 3?

Like most conspiracy theorists, the QAnonists were unfazed when events failed to conform to their wild fantasies. In their blinkered view, ‘the great awakening’ has merely been postponed. Their saviour would come through in the end.

How they might react if their imagined saviour is trounced on Nov 3 remains to be seen. Maybe many of them will adapt to some new narrative about the temporary triumph of the deep state without abandoning their deep-seated beliefs about its eventual comeuppance. They will probably be buoyed by the elevation of a bunch of QAnon adherents to the US Congress, courtesy of a Republican Party that has wedded itself to Trump with greater fervour than Melania.

Well-armed white supremacist militias such as the Boogaloo Bois and the Proud Boys — the latter were instructed by Trump in his first debate with Joe Biden to “stand aside and stand by” — will pose a far more formidable threat in the event of a disappointing outcome next week. But QAnonists too have been implicated in several acts of violence in the past couple of years. Should a second civil war beckon, many of them will answer the call.

There is, of course, no guarantee of the outcome on Nov 3. The Trump administration’s appalling disjointed response to the coronavirus epidemic ought, by any reasonable standards, to have sealed its fate. But reasonable standards no longer apply. And it is hardly a coincidence that QAnon has gained greater credence in the US and far beyond by suggesting that Covid-19 is nothing more than a hoax, blaming 5G broadband and China, alongside the deep state, for perpetrating it as part of a conspiracy to restrict a variety of freedoms.

Trump had thought up what he considered a clever plan to emerge from his incarceration at Walter Reed hospital looking weak and woebegone, and then to strip off his shirt in full public view, revealing a Superman T-shirt. Sadly, his advisers nixed the idea, compelling the president to substitute that genius plan with a Mussolini-lite performance from a White House balcony.

Despite his best efforts, though — and notwithstanding the unreliable opinion polls — there is no guarantee that Trump will face his comeuppance in next week’s election. Trump on steroids has sought to portray his Democratic rival as a proto-socialist and Biden’s running mate, Kamala Harris, as a communist. If only that were true, it might have offered the electorate the option of an antidote to the past four years.

In fact the Biden-Harris ticket represents little more than a mild analgesic, likely to prove far too weak to alleviate a complex malaise that dates back decades (and in some respects much longer than that). Trump is a symptom, not the disease. Symptoms matter, but eradicating them does not equate to a cure.

That does not mean there wouldn’t be any difference between four more years of this nasty, demented, retrograde administration and a somewhat less poisonous post-Trump future. But the level of alienation and sense of despair that threw up Trump — and kindred spirits elsewhere around the globe — won’t go away without the transformative reckoning resisted not just by the US president’s blind supporters but also by all too many of his shortsighted opponents.

The QAnon kind, meanwhile, are happy to hijack the ‘Save the Children’ slogan from a well-intentioned charity, but tend to see no evil when their beloved administration kidnaps thousands of Latino children, including infants, from their asylum-seeking parents, and then fails to reunite 545 of them with their families. Enough said.

Published in Dawn, October 28th, 2020