At the beginning of World War II, after Hitler’s invasion of Poland and subsequent declaration of war by Great Britain and France, things settled down for a while. Nothing much happened. French soldiers peered out over the parapets of their supposedly impregnable Maginot Line, an amazing set of interconnected fortifications that was, in a way, the ultimate extension of a World War I trench system, and waited for the Germans to make their next move. As the months dragged on, people started referring to the “Phoney War”, and wondered whether the whole thing might be called off. So it went, from September 1939 through April 1940, everything strangely quiet. There were some naval actions, including a spectacular pursuit and eventual destruction of the German “pocket battleship” Graf Spee, and French troops actually staged a limited incursion into Germany’s Saar region. Still, it all seemed like pretty small potatoes compared to the conflagration that had ended barely more than 20 years earlier. Perhaps, an increasingly cocky French high command began to think, the Germans realized that the forces arrayed against them were far too powerful to be beaten.
Then the war stopped being so phoney.
I’m sitting here, basking in the defeat of Trump, as a disquieting idea creeps around at the back of my mind: are we in the midst of another Phoney War? Are we sitting here, big, fat, dumb and happy, oblivious to what’s about to slam into us? Did we really avoid the promised chaos, or is the worst still to come? Where were the Proud Boys on election day, anyway? Where are all those “militias” full of beer-bellied pickup truck warriors toting their military grade weapons – they promised civil war if Trump lost. Were they all just full of crap? And what about Donald? He’s still claiming he was robbed, throwing a ridiculous hissy fit that’s been abetted by far too many prominent Republicans. He’s refusing to offer the ordinary cooperation to Biden’s transition team. Just today Mike Pompeo, the prick on wheels, assured reporters that there’d be a smooth transition all right – “to the second Trump administration”. Lindsay Graham, Ted Cruz and the rest of them are all over Fox News claiming fraud. None of that is particularly cheering.
Yet everybody’s still behaving as if really, it’s all over but the crying. I’m seeing predictions that Trump might just skulk off to Mar-a-Lago in a couple of weeks and never come back. The idea that he might dig in his heels, refuse to leave, and make a second attempt at some sort of half-assed coup, calling his armed supporters to rise up and secure his position, seems faintly ridiculous at this point. Silly us! It should have been obvious all along: Donald is just a whiny little bitch. He’s too gutless to take this to the next level. Likewise the fat, bearded losers with the AR-15s. Oh, they loved talking big and making threats, but really they’re just a bunch of lame-assed make believe soldier-boy wannabes who’d wet their pants if they actually had to do anything that might wind up getting them shot at by real infantry. It was all just bluster and bullshit.
That would be nice.
It’s probably even true, almost certainly, actually, but you know, I’m a trained worrier, and I won’t feel like we’re really out of the woods until Donald is ensconced at one of his resorts whining to Melania that the couch muffins on Fox and Friends won’t take his calls anymore – or, even better, assuming putting him in a cage is off the table, when he flees the country for a friendly jurisdiction where his many crimes can’t catch up with him, maybe to Riyadh as a guest of his good buddy MBS. Donald may figure he has some markers to call in with the Saudi autocrat after bailing him out on the whole Khashoggi murder thing. Maybe he could wrangle a seaside villa and a stipend out of the deal.
One group of apparently irrepressible yahoos I’m watching closely, as I try to figure out which way the wind is blowing, is the QAnon cult. Those guys would seem to provide a reliable bellweather because boy, when it comes to worshipping Orange Idi, they’re all in. You don’t even need to lie to them – they make it up themselves. They’re so far into their cloud-cuckooland conspiracy fever dreams that they make previous generations of dingbats, like, say, the crowd alleging that the moon landing never happened, seem like the investigative reporters over at 60 Minutes. I mean, this crew is really out there. As the belief system evolved over the past couple of years, it started to embrace things like a secret war being conducted in vast underground military bases, and a global campaign led by Trump to put a stop to the evil hordes of Democrats, who were all pedophiles and actually ate babies. Babies. Like, for food. I think they might have reached the point at which the dreaded Lizard People usually make their entrance. So I wonder, how’s it going with them these days? How are they taking the election?
After all, if anybody just got a bucket of cold water in the face, you’d think, it was the followers of the anonymous “Q”. It was an article of faith in QAnon circles that Trump wasn’t just going to win, he was going to win in an historic landslide. This would be the prelude to his final triumph over the forces of evil. Are they now gobsmacked and dumbstruck? Are they starting to believe what they’ve been hearing all over the place, that Donald actually – God forfend – lost? I’m hoping so. A collapse of faith and general abandonment of the cause by these sorry dim-bulbs might be a good sign that pretty much everybody’s just giving up and moving on, leaving Donald to rant and rave all by his lonesome until the Federal Marshalls drag him away.
Those who monitor these things see some signs that this is indeed what’s happening. Over at 8kun, formerly 8chan, the message boards are reported to be peppered with pained missives from erstwhile true believers asking, tentatively, but asking, if it was all just a hoax, and floating the once unthinkable idea that actually, there isn’t going to be any triumph over whatever it is they think Donald was warring against in secret. Maybe there is no plan. Maybe the Dems and their pedophile friends aren’t all going to be rounded up and dragged off to Guantanamo Bay. On the other hand, those giving voice to the heresies are still plainly looking for somebody to reassure them, and there are just as many Q disciples ready to oblige, telling everybody that everything’s still going according to the grand scheme. Trump’s apparent defeat isn’t real, but a diabolically clever facet of the master plan, just you wait and see.
It’s thus by no means clear, yet, what’s going to become of them all. If the whole thing dries up and blows away, I can start to feel confident that all of these twisted groups, all the tiki torch marchers, gun-toting hillbillies, and neo-Nazi Confederate flag-wavers, however rabid they appeared in the run-up to the vote, are now crestfallen and resigned to the new reality. Maybe all the air has seeped out of all of their moronic balloons. Maybe that peaceful transition of power is no longer in doubt. With Trump pouting and sulking, it won’t be an orderly handoff, but anything worse might really be off the table now.
Look, that just has to be it, right? We’re going to be just fine, aren’t we? Why, sure we are.
Still, people are frightening. The shit they’ll swallow, I swear. These QAnon folk remind me of the UFO cultists who were the subject of the classic 1956 psychological/sociological study documented in the book When Prophecy Fails. The authors were interested in the phenomenon of cognitive dissonance, and the extent to which a patently false belief system could be sustained in the face of unequivocal, overwhelming evidence that everything the believer knew was wrong.
The leader of the little group under study claimed to have been told by an alien named, get this, Captain Video, that the world was going to end before dawn on December 21, 1954. That was OK, though – the believers would be rescued by a spaceship on December 20. Thus assured of their deliverance and ultimate destiny amid the stars, the whole bunch sat around in a room together, watching the clock tick towards midnight as they waited patiently, until it was undeniable that December 21 had arrived, and the world was still there, with no spaceship arriving to boot.
Some found a way to keep the faith. It was claimed that Captain Video had gotten back to them to tell them that the Earth’s destruction had been called off at the last minute, was all, and that the planet’s near escape was down to the beautiful faith shown by the believers. They’d been so pure of heart that they’d redeemed the whole World. Well, how about that?
I’ve never read When Prophecy Fails, but in my travels through academia I’ve encountered a fair bit of commentary about it. It’s one of those gripping case studies that everybody refers to, like the Milgram Experiment. Maybe I should pick up a copy – it seems sort of relevant, doesn’t it? This is an excerpt that I found on Amazon:
Suppose an individual believes something with a whole heart; suppose further a commitment to this belief; suppose irrevocable actions have been taken because of it; finally, suppose evidence, unequivocal and undeniable evidence, that the belief is wrong: what will happen? The individual will frequently emerge, not only unshaken, but even more convinced of the truth of such beliefs than ever before. Indeed, s/he may even show a new fervor about convincing and converting others to this view.
Hunh. Well look, even if this is how the QAnon types are going to go, it doesn’t mean that they and others like them are just biding their time before they rise up to prevent the hideous Biden (who is of course a baby-eating pedophile) from assuming office. It doesn’t mean that all those militia guys and gals, still believing that Trump only lost because of Democratic skullduggery, have the cajones to actually do anything with those scary looking guns. Maybe they’ll seethe in silence, and channel their energy into maintaining their movement until next time. That doesn’t necessarily bode well for the future, but heck, we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it (or “when it collapses under us”, as I like to say), and for now maybe we’re in the clear. Maybe, too, a lot of them will give their heads a good shake and figure it all out. Maybe I’m worrying about nothing.
What can I tell you? I’m a trained worrier. It’s what I do.