Am I the only one who feels like I'm living in an old-fashioned monster movie, with mobs of chanting peasants bearing pitchforks and torches as they march on a dark, foreboding castle? Or am I just spending too much time watching TV news and reading about politics online?
Anybody who, like me, watched the first couple of episodes of the HBO documentary series Q: Into the Storm would sure have to wonder. I won't be watching the rest; my creep quotient has been exceeded. The very idea that this international cast of oddballs could keep millions in thrall to the lunatic delusion that a secretive cabal of Satan-worshipping, baby-killing pedophiles led by Hillary Clinton rules the world and that only Donald Trump can save us…
Well, it's like something out of Masters of Atlantis, Charles Portis's droll novel about two flimflam artists who found a religious sect based upon the lost wisdom of a kingdom beneath the sea. Soon they fall to fighting over accumulated heresies, much as QAnon adepts appear to be falling out as one failed prophecy follows another.
Herman Melville's The Confidence-Man also comes to mind. Americans have always had a weakness for mystic lore.
The Internet allows, nay encourages, like-minded cranks and opportunists to communicate worldwide: California, New Jersey, South Africa, and the Philippines. Some of the same types who peddle extended auto warranties or trick you into giving your Social Security number over the phone are doing their best to monetize an ever-evolving delusional system.
So who is the mysterious "Q," author of thousands of gnomic prophecies? Steve Bannon? Stephen Miller? Trump himself? Not possible. The first two are too cynical even to fake the required level of superstition. Trump's incapable of talking about anything other than himself for any sustained period.
The real answer is: Who cares?
Pretty much the first thing that strikes you on your initial visit to a penitentiary or a psychiatric hospital is how ordinary everybody seems, like people you might encounter at the grocery store. Indeed, most QAnon devotees appear to conduct their ordinary lives alright: buying cars, getting haircuts, taking the trash to the curb, etc.
It's only when HBO's subjects touch upon their ruling passion that one understands that they're rapt with delusion, imagining evil conspiracies and dark plots--carrying not flaming torches, but little glowing screens.
Otherwise, it's downright medieval: it used to be Jews that murdered Christian infants. Now it's Democrats. In the Sixteenth Century the bubonic plague needed to be explained; now it's Covid-19.
Reasoning with adepts of arcane lore is largely futile. I once had a neighbor who was deeply into astrology, pondering the heavens, casting detailed horoscopes and ascribing deep significance to the movements of the stars. He was a slender fellow with a deep, sepulchral voice you'd expect to hear coming from a 300-pound defensive tackle. In real life he was a banker.
So one day my wife complained out loud about the chaotic state of my office. (I used to urge her to avoid going in there if it bothered her. Orderly filing systems never worked for me. I could find things only by remembering where they were. Now I have a computer.) So anyway, the neighbor laughed his booming laugh.
"Well, it's a sure thing he's not a Virgo," he chortled.
Uh-oh. Unless my birth certificate's forged, a Virgo is precisely what I am. A Virgo on the cusp of Libra, whatever that is, a combination supposedly making me deeply inclined toward order; basically a neat freak.
Twelve to one odds in his favor, and my man had shot himself in the metaphorical foot. If you think it gave him pause, you've known no True Believers. Without pausing a beat, he recast my horoscope to reveal a hidden passion for a deeper order than my wife perceived. After all, what is writing but the process of putting words in proper places?
Concluding that astrology is simply humbug was beyond his reach. To be fair, the newspaper in which you're reading this column probably publishes horoscopes. It's an ancient, essentially harmless superstition.
Just so the impassioned necromancers of QAnon.
After the Trumpist mob failed in its attempt to reverse Dear Leader's electoral defeat on January 6, the faithful pivoted to a new prediction: The Storm, so called, would take place on March 4, with Trump triumphantly re-inaugurated and wreaking vengeance upon Satanic Democrats.
Mass hangings would follow outside the U.S. Capitol: Hillary, Bill Gates, George Soros. All the devil-worshipping child murderers would be put to death in photogenically grisly ways. Hanging would be too good for them.
Instead, Trump's stuck at Mar-a-Lago, giving meandering wedding toasts about the lost election, and going on Fox News to peddle fantasies about the January 6 rioters "hugging and kissing the police and the guards."
If he were your grandpa, you'd hide his car keys.