BY JOE CONASON
Back in the years before the Civil War, the Know-Nothings told one another that the pope was sending Catholic immigrants – the forebears of many of today’s anti-immigrant fanatics – to take control of the United States so that he could rule from Rome. In more recent years, the John Birch Society members worried that almost every elected official in Washington, including the war hero President Dwight D. Eisenhower, was secretly a “conscious agent of the Communist Party.” However incredible, those paranoid imaginings explain otherwise incomprehensible social changes.
Today’s most popular conspiracy theory, known by the shorthand QAnon, is an online phenomenon that assures its hundreds of thousands of true believers that behind the chaos personified by Donald Trump, there is order, that contrary to the “fake news” purveyed by real newspapers and television networks, President Trump is fully in charge.
Along with special counsel Robert Mueller, secretly a Trump ally, the president is preparing to round up a gang of criminals and perverts led by the Clintons, the Obamas, Tom Hanks and various other entertainers. According to QAnon, the “storm” will take down almost every prominent Democrat who now torments Trump.
The QAnon wackiness sprang from the toxic roots of an election-year theory, “Pizzagate” – which claimed that the Clintons and their nefarious gang were running a child abuse network out of a Washington pizzeria basement. A fool who believed that nonsense burst into the pizzeria with a semi-automatic, fired a couple of shots and then went to prison for a long time. The scummy operators who twisted his poor sick mind with internet memes are still at large.
Why would any Americans place their faith in such insanity? It’s true that some of our neighbors are very stupid. But it’s also true that we are living in another era of inexplicable political phenomena – the age of Trump.
So we must make sense of a president who not only lacks moral character and personal integrity but also seems unable and unwilling to even do the job he sought, who spends his days watching television and typing on his phone. He is a president who seeks to enrich himself personally at the expense of the country, a president whom millions of citizens suspect of betraying his office. And he is currently under investigation by Mueller, a former FBI director, for offenses that may well justify that suspicion.
Many people simply cannot abide this disturbing reality; they either shut it out or accept a fabricated alternative, no matter how crazy. Of course, there is another conspiracy theory that explains the barrage of madness that we confront every day.
That theory is a plausible way of understanding why we have a president who undermines every alliance that undergirds our national security, who threatens to withdraw from NATO and insults our friends in Canada by depicting them as a threat. It is a way to understand why this president would create a government shutdown that not only demoralized the entire federal workforce but also compromised national defense by damaging military morale. It is a way to see why he would so casually compromise the intelligence and counterintelligence capacities of the FBI and the CIA, indeed the entire intelligence apparatus of the United States. It explains why he would withdraw so abruptly from Syria, why he would abandon the American commitment to human rights and democratic values, and why he would continually express his support for the authoritarian regime ruled by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Is Donald Trump a witting asset of the Russian Federation, foisted on America by the Kremlin? While there appear to be many clues – as well as simple common sense – there is, as yet, no smoking gun of proof. But if you need a conspiracy theory, that one makes far more sense than QAnon.
– Joe Conason’s columns appear regularly in The Oklahoma Observer