As my previous post made clear, Donald Trump, while President of the USA, was an integral part of the bizarre QAnon conspiracy theory. When Trump was defeated in the 2020 US Presidential Election, many commentators wondered what would become of QAnon and its huge number of supporters. It may have been thought that the conspiracy theory could not possibly continue, but some were more pessimistic. For example, Alex Bradley Newhouse, research lead at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies' Center on Terrorism, Extremism, and Counterterrorism was quoted as saying “The growth of QAnon has pretty fundamentally changed the entire landscape of American conservatism, and I would say international right-wing politics as well, by completely desensitizing wide swaths of the populace to these conspiracy theories that have taken on a life of their own outside of QAnon itself.”.
One of the major negative effects of social media services is that they have provided excellent channels for the spread of various strange conspiracy theories. QAnon is one of the most bizarre of these, but many people in the UK were probably not too aware of it until the crowd invading the US Capitol on 6 January included the horned, face-painted figure of Jake Angeli, the so-called “QAnon Shaman”. For those who still haven’t heard of it, QAnon is a far-right conspiracy theory which alleges that a secret cabal of Satan-worshipping, cannibalistic paedophiles (The Deep State) is running a global child sex-trafficking ring. This group was apparently plotting against Donald Trump who was, in turn, fighting against it. According to many QAnon adherents, before losing the Presidency Trump had been planning a day of reckoning called “The Storm”, when thousands of members of the cabal would be arrested. The followers accused many liberal Hollywood actors, Democratic politicians, and high-ranking government officials of being members of the cabal. The conspiracy theory included allegations of a planned coup involving Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and the billionaire George Soros. That is the basic structure, but there are so many offshoots, detours and internal debates between followers that the full list of QAnon claims is huge. Followers draw on news stories, historical facts and numerology to reach their own, often far-fetched, conclusions.
So, how does a conspiracy theory like this arise, and how does it spread? How many people believe in it, and where are they?
Viewers of The Graham Norton Show on 29 January may or may not have been shocked to hear that the singer Tom Jones, of whom I have never really been a great fan, has recently turned 80 years old. I understand that he now lives in London, and viewers probably would not have been surprised to learn that he had received his first dose of COVID-19 vaccine. Maybe I am unduly suspicious of favouritism towards the ultra-wealthy, but I, for one, was interested to hear that he had already had his second dose! Sir Tom said that he felt “bulletproof” on being fully vaccinated. The star of The Voice UK, however, mused: "I thought I'd be able to go out and sing some live shows now, but you've got to have an audience for that. If they haven't had the jab, what's the point?".
Although Sir Tom was looking at the problem from a slightly selfish perspective, his message was similar to that of UN Secretary-General António Guterres in May last year, when global mortality from the virus was a mere 220,000. Guterres commented then, “In an interconnected world, none of us is safe until all of us are safe.” He also said “We have a common vision. Let us now put people first everywhere.”
I've been a pessimist from an early age. I can remember making the decision to become one. It seemed to me that if you were a pessimist you could never be disappointed: if the worst happened, it would be just as you expected; if the worst didn’t happen, it would be a pleasant (if rare) surprise! Now that I am, to coin a phrase, in my later years I find myself very fortunate in many ways, so the argument could be made that my decades of pessimism were unjustified. Pessimism is, however, a very hard habit to break.
I can still remember my feeling of elation in 1997 when Tony Blair’s Labour Party had its landslide victory over the Tories. Sadly, Blair proved a bit of a disappointment, and in the UK it currently feels as if we have always had a Tory Government. In the USA, I and many others have watched with horror the effects of 4 years of the odious Donald Trump. I had been aware of what an unpleasant creature he was long before he became President, but it was truly terrifying to see him in charge of the most powerful country on the planet! It will take many years to undo the damage that he has caused. Like numerous others around the World, I was extremely pleased when it was finally concluded that Joe Biden had defeated Trump. However, although I would have found another term of Trump almost unbearable, I didn’t feel the same elation that I felt in 1997. This is not just because (a) I am not a US citizen, and (b) the Orange Monster has not actually conceded defeat yet!
Like many other European countries, the UK is seeing a rapidly increasing number of COVID infections at present. The national lockdown earlier in the year was very effective in suppressing spread of the virus, but governments are aware of the very severe effects that the lockdown had on the economy, and on the mental health of many in the population. The Westminster Government was, by all accounts, surprised at the degree of compliance of the population with full lockdown, but there is growing evidence that a significant sector of the population is unwilling to comply with the various measures now being proposed to slow the spread of the disease.
My previous posts have dealt with the fact that, even in the midst of a catastrophic pandemic, the ultra-rich are getting richer. However, it is well known that many of these obscenely wealthy people have given millions, and in some cases billions, to “good causes”. Surely this makes up, at least to some extent, for worsening global wealth inequality? In my last entry I made the point that the ultra-wealthy are, as a group, highly competitive: even to the extent of, in some cases, competing regarding how much of their wealth they give away!
I first wrote a blog post about schadenfreude on 31 May 2007 (see “Die reinste freude ist die schadenfreude”). As I stated then, a good translation of the German word is “the malicious glee experienced as a result of someone else’s misfortune”. I made the point that it was, at that time, by far the most popular word listed on Wordie (a fabulous website devoted to words and language which, sadly, no longer exists), and that it forms the basis of much of what we think of as humour. I also expressed the opinion that schadenfreude is one of the main reasons that people still buy our doom laden newspapers.
For years now UK politics has been like this: whatever the Conservative Government says I assume is a lie until proven otherwise. I find this to be a significant source of stress. There are numerous examples of the UK Government lying to the public in the last few years, but perhaps the most outrageous recent examples are the lies they have told over the preparation for, and management of, the current COVID Pandemic.
President Donald Trump has made a number of references in the past, and made a few more in his recent 4th July Address to the Nation, to the fact that SARS-CoV-2 originated in China. He always makes these remarks in a way that suggests (a) that China deliberately, or by negligence inflicted the virus on the World; and (b) that such a thing would never happen in the United States of America.