Paul Krugman’s column on August 24th really, really hit the proverbial nail on the head. It was titled “QAnon is Trump’s Last, Best Chance,” and it homed in on the nature of the snake oil that Trump and the GOP are peddling.
Last week’s Democratic National Convention was mainly about decency — about portraying Joe Biden and his party as good people who will do their best to heal a nation afflicted by a pandemic and a depression. There were plenty of dire warnings about the threat of Trumpism; there was frank acknowledgment of the toll taken by disease and unemployment; but on the whole the message was surprisingly upbeat.
This week’s Republican National Convention, by contrast, however positive its official theme, is going to be QAnon all the way.
I don’t mean that there will be featured speeches claiming that Donald Trump is protecting us from an imaginary cabal of liberal pedophiles, although anything is possible. But it’s safe to predict that the next few days will be filled with QAnon-type warnings about terrible events that aren’t actually happening and evil conspiracies that don’t actually exist.
Think about that last line: terrible events that aren’t actually happening and evil conspiracies that don’t actually exist. Inculcating fear–of Black people, Jews, immigrants, socialists–has been a Republican staple since Nixon’s “Southern Strategy,” but until recently, it was only a portion of that strategy.
Now, the once-Grand-old-Party has nothing else.
As Krugman points out, the messaging employed by this administration has focused on efforts to panic Americans over nonexistent threats.
If you get your information from administration officials or Fox News, you probably believe that millions of undocumented immigrants cast fraudulent votes, even though actual voter fraud hardly ever happens; that Black Lives Matter protests, which with some exceptions have been remarkably nonviolent, have turned major cities into smoking ruins; and more.
It has been a constant barrage of Kellyanne Conway’s “alternative facts.”
Krugman says that much of this focus on imaginary threats is a defense mechanism from people who have no clue how to do policy, or to cope with real threats.
Covid-19, of course, has been the. all-too-visible example of that inability. In the face of massive American deaths, Trump has offered quack remedies (drink bleach!), and little else other than blaming China. and denying the severity and extent of the pandemic.
Trump, in other words, can’t devise policies that respond to the nation’s actual needs, nor is he willing to listen to those who can. He won’t even try. And at some level both he and those around him seem aware of his basic inadequacy for the job of being president.
What he and they can do, however, is conjure up imaginary threats that play into his supporters’ prejudices, coupled with conspiracy theories that resonate with their fear and envy of know-it-all “elites.” QAnon is only the most ludicrous example of this genre, all of which portrays Trump as the hero defending us from invisible evil.
If all of this sounds crazy, that’s because it is. And it’s almost certainly not a political tactic that can win over a majority of American voters.
Trump’s base is terrified. They are afraid most of all of demographic change, of losing their white, Christian, masculine privilege, but they are also deeply uncomfortable with the increasing ambiguities of modern life. They want desperately to “return” to a world that never was.
Real-world policies–the kind that would appear in a party platform, or be embraced by competent grownups–can’t soothe those fears. The Republican Party has retreated to the only thing it has left: fantasy.
So they are ramping up the fear and telling us “those people” are to blame.