Without a shared reality, democracy could fragment
By Chris Honoré
Perhaps we as Americans have always been tempted by conspiratorial thinking, meaning a way of framing events not by evidence but by psychological projections, propaganda, prejudice and disinformation (e.g., “9/11 was an inside job”).
But over the last two-plus years, perhaps as a result of the deeply unsettling pandemic, I’ve become increasingly aware that the word “conspiracy” has moved from the fringes of ideation, from the dark corners of our national discourse and the internet, becoming so commonplace as to emerge as a cultural phenomenon.
I recently came across a news article in the New York Times by journalist Stuart A. Thompson. He wrote the following: “In a 24-hour period, former President Donald Trump posted to his social media platform, Truth Social, 88 times, amplifying one conspiracy theory after another.”
I wasn’t surprised, for conspiratorial thinking was the thread that stitched together not only his presidency, but clearly his view of the world. Recall that prior to the golden escalator announcement of his candidacy for president, he asserted that Barack Obama was not born in the U.S. but in Kenya, and his election was therefore illegitimate. Once elected, in response to numerous investigations during his term in office (collusion with the Russians/the Ukrainian quid pro quo/two impeachment trials), Trump railed against what he called conspiratorial “witch hunts” some 300 times. And after losing the 2020 election, he repeatedly framed the result as the ultimate conspiracy, a fraud perpetrated by the Democrats, which he continues to call “the Big Steal.” Regardless of the incontrovertible evidence, he has convinced his base, now called election deniers, that Joe Biden is not our legitimately elected president. “Declare me the rightful winner,” he said, “or declare the 2020 election irreparably compromised and have a new election immediately.”
But according to Thompson, since the Aug. 6 search of Mar-a-Lago for boxes of classified files, there has been a darker and even more unhinged shift in Trump’s social media postings. He began by accusing the F.B.I. of being an arm of the Democratic Party, while insisting that the agency planted the top-secret material during the search. But in one of the 88 recent postings he crossed a dark line, openly endorsing the surreal geography called QAnon, the conspiracy movement also known as “Q.” He reiterated this affirmation during a recent Youngstown, Ohio, rally, while the crowd cheered while holding up an index finger.
According to Wikipedia, Q was founded in 2017 and has exponentially increased in membership, soon becoming a viral phenomena, going well beyond the internet, and morphing into a political movement.
It is chilling to think that a former president, in this moment, believes in the false Q claims that the Democrats are a cabal of Satanic, cannibalistic abusers of children and operate a global child sex trafficking ring.
Followers of Q believe that they, with the support of a second-term Trump presidency, will conduct mass arrests and execute thousands of cabal members (politicians, Hollywood actors, high-ranking government officials who are named) on a day called “the Storm.” Q members also joined the Jan. 6 violent mob that attacked the Capitol with the purpose of overthrowing the 2020 election.
Is it possible that our democracy is fragmenting and we are losing a sense of a shared reality? How else to explain the Trump base, the existence of Q, the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, Three Percenters, and the 74 million Americans who voted for this autocrat in the last election?
Email Ashland resident Chris Honoré at firstname.lastname@example.org.