When Joe Biden spoke of the “darkness” that’s been delivered by Donald Trump, there is more to it than just Trump’s violent rhetoric and angry divisiveness. Trump’s darkness is of the same variety that has been draped over whole centuries of history: the darkness of ignorance. During the 2016 election, Donald Trump described his perfect voter. “I love the poorly educated,” said Trump. That’s not hyperbole or sarcasm. For the last four years, Trump has been dedicated to the idea of undermining sources of public information. He’s called the truth “fake” and passed off lies as truth.
It should be no surprise that out of this stew of ignorance is rising a distorted worldview that’s twisted, uninformed, and as filled with monsters as the marginalia of any Medieval manuscript. QAnon, the movement that began as a gathering of internet cranks reading messages from a clearly false source, has grown to become not just accepted in the Republican Party, but the core of the party. Because the natural outgrowth of an attack on science, evidence, and reason is an explosive growth of nonsense, falsehoods, and sheer ignorance.
At some point in their careers, just about everyone is likely to work for a boss or company that believes in Mushroom Management—keeping employees in the dark and feeding them bullshit. For companies, the result is a corporate culture riddled with rumors and fear. The same thing works on a larger scale—only worse. As Russia (and a million Reddit subgroups) demonstrated so thoroughly in 2016, the sheer scale of the internet makes it possible to drown every crumb of fact under a thousands competing false claims. Dedicated use of misinformation makes it perfectly possible to provide an endless stream of lies—and a media prone to inserting “both sides” and “opposing views” into every article, no matter how straightforward, making a point of contention.
That kind of informational poison—the deliberate introduction of false statements and contrafactual arguments—has been deployed for a long time. As historians Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway laid out in their book Merchants of Doubt, tobacco companies and oil companies are only among the latest to employ the technique of exploiting the tendency of media to refuse to filter out bad information.
But QAnon isn’t informational poison. It’s informational cancer. Its malignant growth is consuming the Republican Party in a tumorous mass of not just lies, but pure nonsense connected together by the tenuous strands of ugly make-believe. And it can’t be cured by ignoring it.
The very first message from the supposed “Q-source” was one announcing that Hillary Clinton was going to be arrested on Oct. 30. That would be Oct. 30, 2017. Every other pronouncement from this modern Oracle of Delphi has been just as completely, utterly, and absolutely wrong. Perversely, the response to each of these absolute misses hasn’t been to weaken the QAnon base, but to grow the tumor into something even more complex, multitentacled, and invasive.
As The New York Times reports, the Texas Republican Party has now consciously adopted QAnon phrases and mythology as the motto of the party and the theme for the coming election. And why not? Trump has retweeted QAnon claims over 200 times.
Even as the Democratic convention was underway, Trump answered a question from a White House reporter about whether he is “secretly saving the world from this Satanic cult of pedophiles and cannibals.” Trump’s reply was one that generated a million virtual, and increasingly non-virtual, high fives among the group’s still-growing supporters. “Is that supposed to be a bad thing or a good thing?” said Trump. “If I can help save the world from problems, I am willing to do it. I’m willing to put myself out there. And we are actually, we’re saving the world.” QAnon supporters took this as confirmation of everything from the pizza parlor child trafficking rings to underground Bigfoot hives.
The Biden campaign pointed out that far from being people who love America, QAnon followers are the new “very fine people,” in that, just like white nationalists, the FBI has identified them as a domestic terrorism threat. Considering that QAnon followers have explained that their conspiracy theory encouraged them to block the road across the Hoover Dam, plan a kidnapping, and carry out a murder, it isn’t hard to believe that this expanding web of ignorance and suspicion constitutes a grave threat.
At the moment, there are still Republicans in the House and Senate who are speaking out against QAnon … in exactly the same way they spoke out against Donald Trump before the 2016 election. Those Republicans can be defined simply as: people who no longer know their own party. They’re also people who have happily ridden the whirlwind of “fake news” and “deep state” so long as it was carrying them along. Now that they find themselves in an unfamiliar country, it’s far, far too late for them to get off.
QAnon may have gotten an “official” start with some internet posts in 2017, but that’s not where it began. It’s the absolutely foreseeable outcome of Newt Gingrich, and Rush Limbaugh, and the Tea Party, and Donald Trump. For decades, Republican backers have poured billions into talk radio, the Tea Party, and the assault on experts, scientists, journalist, and facts. This is where that journey was always going: into darkness.
On Thursday night, Joe Biden made a call to deploy the light of learning and compassion to push back the tide of darkness and hate. We had better work to make that happen. Because history shows that darkness, once it has entered, can take centuries to dispel.
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.
— from “Dover Beach,” by Matthew Arnold (1867)
This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.
Very scary. I have four families in my small neighborhood who are trumpers. Smart, kind people. How did this happen???
No offense intended but what makes you think they are smart, kind people if they believe such nonsense? In the past when people talked of elaborate nutso theories they were referred to Drs. & given medication for their psychosis.
You need to understand that this is a complex thing, that is the end result of many years of carefully planned and concerted effort by men like the Koch Brothers.
One of the most vulnerable points of leverage in our society has been religion. Most people are not sophisticated in their religious beliefs and haven’t distinguished the difference between faith and magical thinking. This is why so many people can’t distinguish myth and science… it’s all magical to them.
The attack has been steady, pervasive, and carefully orchestrated. It is time to call it what it is, war. We’ve been subject to a War on truth, by men who would own us through lies. It is time to make this conversation public and hold those men to account. This is not protected speech, this is dangerous incitement to the destruction of all we hold dear, and it needs to end now.