While not all Trump supporters are QAnon believers, virtually all QAnon believers are Trump supporters. How could one subscribe to a prophecy cult that puts Donald Trump at the center of a massive effort to destroy the Democratic Party if you didn’t believe Trump was smart enough to pull it off?
Since the far left and far right have far more in common than they’d like to believe (distrust of mainstream media communicators, ideological puritanism, reliance on dubious sources and wishful thinking, etc), it’s worth looking at whether or not there’s a far left version of QAnon – and what it has in common with the actual QAnon.
As it turns out, there’s nothing that’s an exact match, not the least of which is because QAnon is full of lurid details like baby-eating and ritual sacrifice, stuff that gets pushed hard in conservative circles. Beyond that, the Trump years have imbued liberalism with a sudden distrust of government in general and police in particular, a role that had previously been filled by right wingers gathering guns and ammo for the inevitable great government gun confiscation that was just around the corner.
But there are definite similarities between QAnon and several of the biggest pet conspiracy theories held near and dear by liberals. And it’s useful to examine them, and see why outlandish conspiracies have taken such a firm hold of our politics. Because they totally have.
I polled my followers to see what they thought, because I wasn’t sure. And it turns out, they weren’t either.
To share the mantle of QAnon, a conspiracy theory has to be a prosperity scam without a direct ask for money: a great event that’s about to come, that will change the lives of its believers forever while ushering in a great re-ordering of the world. For QAnon believers, this is a good thing. For liberals, this could be a good or bad thing, depending on what the great event is.
Beyond that, the conspiracy also has to be full of arcane details and communicated in riddles that don’t have any actual answer. It doesn’t have to revolve around leaked information, but it does have to revolve around secrets, things that [they] don’t want you to know about, but that are nonetheless freely available on the most widely-used social media services. It should also reaffirm your political and social biases, reinforcing what you already believe about world events. And finally, it should always be just about to be proven or on the verge of coming true – yet never actually being proven or coming true.
Russia Hacked the Vote
This one won the non-scientific poll I put up, but in thinking about it against the criteria I came up with, it actually fits the poorest with QAnon. The idea that Russian hackers actually changed electronic votes and/or purged voter rolls is conspiracy theory for sure, taking the factual detail of Russian interference in the 2016 election and merging it with reports that Russian hackers were able to penetrate voter databases in 21 states. It’s lead to a number of pieces that assume that because Russia could, in theory, alter voter rolls, that they must have.
But other than some kind of hypothetical nullification of the election, which was never going to happen in any case, there’s no payoff at the end, no great change that will come because of the revelation. It’s an accusation that doesn’t have enough proof to change the fact that it’s an accusation.
Russia Controls Everything and Everyone
The conservative allegation that liberals reflexively blame everything that’s happened since 2016 on Russia isn’t that far off the mark. Everyone from Mitch McConnell to Lindsey Graham to Brett Kavanaugh to even Nancy Pelosi (stalling on impeachment because she’s compromised by Putin) have been tarred by various liberal writers as secretly on the payroll of Russia.
And of course, the biggest Russian patsy of all is President Trump himself, compromised decades ago by the failing Soviet Union, and molded to the presidency so he could create a world chaotic enough for Lenin’s successors to take control.
But it doesn’t quite fit with the QAnon mold either. There’s no secret battle going on, nor a promised reward to come – only an ill-fitting explanation for events that are hard to explain. Sure, maybe Russia has compromising material on Lindsey Graham’s sexual proclivities and finances – or maybe Graham is just a craven opportunist who sees his obnoxious buttering up of Trump and inexplicable shifts in policy as a way to build up his own power base and wealth. People are like that.
Trump is About to be Indicted and Imprisoned
Here’s where we get into the really QAnon-adjacent stuff. In 2017, a number of liberal writers (or at least writers pretending to be liberals) turned themselves into social brands by pumping out lurid conspiracy theories and fantasies that President Trump and his inner circle were on the verge of being taken down by federal law enforcement, with indictments and prison to follow for everyone. They painted a picture of an alternate universe where Trump was only days away from being removed from office, and where everything was going to be just fine.
Who could forget former Rupert Murdoch employee Louise Mensch’s thrilling tweets about the Marshal of the Supreme Court informing Trump of his impeachment, and of Steve Bannon being put to death for treason? Or Seth Abramson’s 200+ tweet threads going through all of the reasons that Trump was about to be taken down by Robert Mueller, who we were told “has got this” and will purge the evil from our system? Even now, liberals push the conspiracy theory that Mueller is holding on to sealed indictments against Trump, even though we know for a fact he’s not.
The more these conspiracies veer into parsing court filings and congressional statements for clues at the ever-approaching Trump purge, the more they collide with QAnon. For the record, little of what any of these people have predicted has come true, and Trump remains stubbornly not arrested and not in prison. Just like QAnon, it’s pretty much all been a self-serving bust.
Trump Will Make Himself President For Life
On the flipside of the “everything’s going to be fine, Mueller’s got this” sunshine of Mensch, Abramson, Garland, etc; comes the reverse. It holds that America has been taken hostage by a dictator and his cronies who, now that they’re in power, will turn the country into a fascist one-party hellhole along the lines of Nazi Germany or the fictional future America of “The Handmaid’s Tale.” Think of it as the same thing as the conservative FEMA Camps conspiracy theory, except with gay people being tossed in government death factories rather than gun-owning patriots.
Obviously, some of these things have happened. The Trump administration really is rolling back environmental and legal protections at an astonishing rate, not to mention the network of thinly-disguised concentration camps being used to house asylum seekers and undocumented immigrants.
But there’s a strain to these conspiracy theories that veers from learned observation about how bad things could get to sheer doom porn. The worst and most ridiculous of these is the notion that Trump is going to somehow install himself as president for life after either cancelling the 2020 election, refusing to leave if he loses, or winning in 2020 and simply running for a third term, despite constitutional provisions. And that when he dies in office, he’ll simply do what any dictator does: hand the country off to be run into the ground by his children.
I’ve written before about why these theories drive me nuts, and they come up every time Trump drops one of his moronic observations about getting “two extra years” in his first term, running for five terms (he’d be 92 at the end of a hypothetical fifth term), sticking around for good because his followers demand it, or impugning the legitimacy of the 2016 election (which he won, you know.) The reactions Trump gets every time he does this are the reason why he keeps doing it. It’s not because he’s actually going to do it, but because it drives liberals crazy.
Our Constitution and laws mandate how long a president can serve and how many times they can be elected. They also give an end date to every elected term: noon on Inauguration Day. There is no exception, no way to “add years” or circumvent the 22nd Amendment and run an unlimited number of times. Pushers of these conspiracy theories usually make vague proclamations that “it can happen here” and given examples of nominal democracies that actually have been usurped by dictators, along with pipping the naivete of those who think Trump might bitch and moan and obstruct the transition if he loses re-election, but that at noon on Inauguration Day, he stops being president.
If the United States were to devolve into a place where the president refuses to leave office, and has the backing of the courts and military to keep him in power, then this country is essentially finished as a going concern. But such a situation is beyond unlikely for a number of reasons, including that the courts and military generally seem to oppose Trump much more than they support him. There’s also the simple matter of Trump generally seeming to find being the president loathsome and merely a way to build his hotel brand while staying out of prison.
In its cynical tossing aside of the Constitution, the “President For Life Trump” conspiracy seems the most like QAnon, except it comes to the opposite conclusion. At the end of Q’s purge, America has emerged to a Great Awakening. But when this is over, America is basically a gold-plated prison camp. Neither are particularly appealing.
So the lesson here isn’t so much that there’s no exact match in liberal conspiracies for QAnon, but that every conspiracy is different. Some promise great things to come, others only horrible things to come. They have less Satanism and baby-eating, and more Russian kompromat and fantasy.
But all are bad for critical thinking, and should be called out every time, no matter your political persuasion.
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