QAnon fans are applying this same participatory behavior that we have celebrated in fiction fandom to real-world political drama. And why not? The boundaries between politics and entertainment have been collapsing for years. The entire Trump presidency operates like Reality TV, completely divorced from any real stakes or substance.
That’s what makes this all so terrifying. Do these people really believe that Tom Hanks and Hillary Clinton are personally running a massive pedophilia ring? Really??? But consider this: Trump announced at a rally this week that the farmers being harmed by his stupid trade war had told him “we can take it.” No actual farmers said that to him. We all know that. But it’s a little thing, just part of the story we are all interacting with.
The pulsating heart of the QAnon theory is not a lunatic fringe denying the real consequences of a failing presidency. The heart of it is a devoted fan base constructing elaborate theories to make the story more fun and engaging. And if you start from the premise that nothing government does matters, then it’s easy to come along for the ride. There’s no real difference between Hillary Clinton and the Smoke Monster. They’re both just characters on the television.
That’s what alarms me most about the growth of QAnon. It’s not that these people are unhinged and possibly armed. It’s that we’ve lost the capacity to treat civics, governance, and public affairs as though they have actual stakes with actual consequences. The premise of the Trump presidency is that nothing matters, so you should root for your side and heckle the opposing team. He encourages his supporters to treat Democrats and journalists like a rival fan base.