Editor’s note: This column by David Corn first appeared in his newsletter, Our Land. But we wanted to make sure as many readers as possible have a chance to see it. Our Land is written by David twice a week (most of the time) and provides behind-the-scenes stories about politics and media; his unvarnished take on the events of the day; film, book, television, podcast, and music recommendations; interactive audience features; and more. Subscribing costs just $5 a month—but you can sign up for a free 30-day trial of Our Land here. Please check it out. And please also check out David’s new New York Times bestseller: American Psychosis: A Historical Investigation of How the Republican Party Went Crazy.
Those of us paying attention the past few years know that the answer to the oft-repeated question— have we reached the bottom of Trumpism?—is, there’s no bottom. Donald Trump and the Republican Party proved that once again in recent days, as Trump merged MAGA extremism with the conspiratorial lunacy of QAnon, and nary a Republican batted an eye.
In retrospect, the melding of MAGAism with QAnon—and toss in a helping of Christian nationalism—seemed inevitable. The QAnon conspiracy theory holds that the world is controlled by a cabal of satanic, baby-eating, sex-trafficking pedophiles—which includes, of course, top Democrats, assorted elites, Hollywood celebrities, and the Pope—and that Trump is engaged in titanic combat behind the scenes to crush this evil power and save humanity (and lots of babies). Under assorted variants of this nuttery, Trump is being aided by John F. Kennedy Jr. (who did not die in a 1999 plane crash), and he will be restored to power in a final cataclysmic battle that involves mass arrests of Lucifer’s allies (lock ‘em up in Gitmo!) and televised executions. Trump fully embraced the QAnon insanity last week, and this means that the Republican Party now supports a man who advances a dangerous derangement that exceeds his Big Lie about the 2020 election and that further delegitimizes American democracy and debases political discourse. And this party has a good shot at gaining control of Congress in seven weeks.
For years, Trump had played footsie with QAnon, claiming he didn’t know much about it but praising its adherents’ supposed patriotism, their opposition to pedophilia and, naturally, their cultish love of him. Offered the chance to denounce this perverse craziness, he bobbed and weaved, sending the signal to QAnoners—who are always looking for signals—that they did indeed possess the hidden truth. With nods and winks, he validated their paranoia and detachment from reality, as QAnon conspiracism led to numerous acts of violence.
QAnon flags and symbols blossomed at Trump’s 2020 campaign rallies, and they were present at the insurrectionist January 6 assault on the US Capitol. In the way previous Republicans over the years had encouraged and exploited right-wing extremism—a story I tell in my new book, American Psychosis: A Historical Investigation of How the Republican Party Went Crazy—Trump capitalized on this bizarre and bonkers internet phenomenon without endorsing it. His plan looked obvious: take advantage of this brainsickness and boost his base of supporters without being tarred as a champion of this looniness.
No more. He went full QAnon the other day when he posted online a photoshopped image of him wearing a Q pin. To make the message clear, this picture proclaimed, “The Storm Is Coming”—a QAnon catchphrase referring to that ultimate showdown between Trump and the evildoers. And it contained the abbreviation for the QAnon slogan, “where we go one, we go all.”
Trump again going mask off with the QAnon stuff on TruthSocial today. He “retruthed” a photoshop of himself wearing a Q pin plus a couple of Q catchphrases from a Q account.
Trump’s not flirting with QAnon anymore, he’s moving in. pic.twitter.com/I0FFCAZNZp
— Ben Collins (@oneunderscore__) September 13, 2022
The insanity of a former (and possibly future) president bear-hugging QAnon cannot be overstated. And this was no one-off, late-in-the-night shitposting from the former guy. He zapped out other posts with QAnon references. Then four days later, at a rally in Ohio, he delivered an apocalyptic speech against the backdrop of music resembling the QAnon theme song. It was here that Trump supporters raised their hands and pointed a finger—possibly signaling “one,” in an allusion to that QAnon slogan.
The supposed purpose of the event was to whip up support for GOP Senate candidate J.D. Vance. But the gathering demonstrated the fusion of MAGA extremism with QAnon and Christian nationalism. The crowd cheered as Trump proclaimed the country had become a hellhole with a crumbling economy, rampant crime, and no freedom of speech. It was all lies. But the fervor of the crowd and the arm waving were reminiscent of a religious revival meeting. Trump’s movement has morphed into QMaga. The irrationality has spread from the evidence-free belief that sinister players (China, Venezuela, the CIA, the media, Democrats, voting machine companies) conspired to steal the election from Trump to the conviction that American politics has become a clash between patriotic Christians and cannibalistic Satan-worshipping pedophiles.
The Ohio arena was not full, and the empty seats indicated that Trump’s mix of conspiracism, cult of personality, end-times ravings, and fundamentalism may not be a bestseller. But many of the GOP election denialists running in state elections this year—including gubernatorial candidates Doug Mastriano (Pennsylvania) and Kari Lake (Arizona)—have ties to QAnon. Both Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert were QAnoners before they were elected to Congress in the last election. But perhaps of greater concern is that the entire GOP, which has supported Trump’s authoritarian Big Lie crusade, is now willing to follow Trump further into the depths of fearmongering and madness.
Vance, a graduate of Yale Law School, bestselling author, and venture capitalist (who once referred to Trump as “America’s Hitler”) certainly knows QAnon is crap. But he eagerly lapped up Trump’s support at the rally. No prominent GOP official has come out and declared that Trump is guiding the party into the land of crazy. With their silence, they are legitimizing Trump’s promotion of an absurd delusion. Just as their silence regarding Trump’s recent vow to pardon the domestic terrorists who attacked Congress legitimizes political violence and likely will encourage more of it.
A few weeks ago, President Joe Biden excoriated MAGA extremism and election denialism as “semi-fascism” and warned the nation of the threat they pose. Republicans and conservatives turned snowflakes and cried foul. Since then, the danger has grown. As every pundit will tell you, the Republicans remain poised to win the House in the November elections and possibly the Senate. That will place in power a party that accepts and supports QMaga (and that backs as its leader a man who now excuses political violence). Without more media attention and more warnings from Biden and the Democrats, QMaga will spread into the halls of Congress not by mob violence but by the ballot box. A storm is indeed coming.