Trump is gone but conspiracies, like QAnon, are not

We may no longer have a deranged president in the White House, but we still must contend with the erosion of truth

Let the world rejoice! As of January 20, 2021, Joe Biden is the new occupant of the White House. Donald Trump was a mere aberration in American political culture and the world can exhale now that Biden’s presidency ushers in a period of healing and reform … right? Unfortunately, this is not the case.

Don’t get me wrong, I myself felt a great sense of relief upon Biden’s victory, but we cannot deceive ourselves into thinking Trump was an aberration and that those who voted him in are merely racist and should be dismissed as individual actors rather than products of our society and culture.

Though the conspiracy QAnon does not encapsulate the entirety of the Trumpist movement, QAnon speaks loudly to the sociocultural malaise that created them — an erosion of truth and discourse.

Well, you may ask, what exactly is QAnon? Like many contemporary political movements, QAnon is decentralized to the extreme and has no identifiable centre other than ‘Q’: a purported government official with ‘Q Clearance’ that claims to uncover government corruption and immorality, which often takes the form of a pedophilic sex trafficking ring in Washington, D.C. and Hollywood. However, even the continuity in the Q identity is so disputed that such a centre is shaky at best.

Though it is impossible to recount every claim associated with the movement, the discourse generated fits wholly within what Mark Andrejevic characterizes as the ‘postmodern right’ and conspiracy theory.

Specifically, Andrejevic characterizes the ‘postmodern right’ as a reactionary strategy to proliferate multiple and conflicting discourses to create chaos and shroud the truth on which progressive political action is founded. Conspiracy theories are then defined not merely as claims about conspiracy, but pathological conspiratorial claims that are unverifiable and are often, among other things, attributed to a nefarious outside ‘other.’ For instance, a popular Trump-related conspiracy theory asserts that Barack Obama is an Islamic socialist sent from Kenya to destabilize an otherwise stable political order in the US.

Conspiracy theory is not a new phenomenon, so why does this now indicate sociocultural malaise? 

Simply, it is the fact that phenomena like QAnon have moved into the political mainstream. In the space created by postmodern conservatism and the information overload associated with the age of the internet, political movements that capitalize on the chaos resulting from the fall of truth have been able to multiply. One only needs to look at the insurrection attack on the Capitol last month to understand the extent to which these movements have grown.

Where the political right has been bolstered by this, the left has been paralyzed. Logically, it follows that any chaos that destabilizes notions of truth and rationality proves to be detrimental to the ability to make sense of political space and take action.

The solution, as I see it, is not an easy one. Liberal democracy prides itself on free and open discourse, but is it possible that such an absolute adherence to that principle has enabled Trump and QAnon?

Now, don’t worry, I am by no means advocating for the state to restrict freedom of speech. What I do advocate for is that we as people, regardless of political stripe, stand firm against those that seek to create chaos and that we refuse to be drawn into the discursive hellscape that obscures truth and paralyzes action.

While these movements contributed to the election of Trump, the implicit approval that came from the White House in the following four years only bolstered and legitimized these practices. It is not enough to merely wish them away or passively dismiss them as we once did. 

And, Canadians, if you think that this is a purely American phenomenon, look at social media — or even some mainstream media, for that matter. Look at Alberta’s so-called energy information ‘war room.’ We are not immune to movements undercutting truth and nor should we be complacent.

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