Post-QAnon theories about the President being a bot or dead are emerging
In case anyone is still labouring under the delusion that the departure of Trump from the White House might see American politics return to a more normal (that is: a more twentieth-century) relationship to reality, I have bad news for you.
Trump was notorious for the at best haphazard relation of his statements to reality. Over his presidency, the QAnon conspiracy flourished, rich in baroque beliefs and elaborate conspiracies. But with the inauguration of Joe Biden and the realisation that Q was a hoax all along, many hoped the Trumpian era of unreality would prove as brief a blip as the Orange Man himself.
Signs are already emerging that this hope is misplaced. One recent video of Biden taking questions seemed to show the president’s hand in a position it couldn’t have been relative to one of the microphones, triggering a slew of ‘green screen’ accusations and a corresponding flurry of ‘fact checking’ from the respectable press. Notwithstanding the rearguard action of the reality-based community, this event was yet more grist to the mill for the trope emerging as the front-runner in post-Q paranoia discourse.
This trope comes in various flavours, but all of them centre on the unreality of President Joe Biden. Not that he is bad, or hostile – that he is a an AI bot, already dead and existing only in CGI recreation, a senile puppet ruler or in some other respect fundamentally fake.
It might be easy to shrug this all off as trivial internet chatter among conspiracy loons. But that would be to fall prey to the comforting idea that the internet only conveys political events, which happen somewhere else. Increasingly, though, the internet itself is where politics happens. And this in turn means there’s little point in trying to ringfence political debate from its mythologisation and meme-ification: the hallucinatory edge to the new politics is baked into the medium. No one would be arguing about Biden being a green-screen fake if the US President’s visibility to his electorate wasn’t mostly mediated via screens. And in turn this suggests that the efforts of Reuters and its ilk to keep the discourse tethered to facts will be read simply as one type of intervention in the general unreality.
But while this new mode of discourse may frustrate those who remember the good old days of the ‘real world’, it’s also richly informative regardless of whether it’s true or false. All that’s needed is a mental shift from factual to poetic analysis. In other words, it doesn’t really matter whether or not anyone literally thinks Joe Biden is an AI. Read as a metaphor, ‘Biden is computer generated’ expresses a growing minority consensus that American politics is a hollow charade perpetuated by high-tech oligarchs, controlling the reanimated corpses of democratic institutions as a front for their own sinister interests.
Whether or not you subscribe to this form of post-democratic defeatism, it’s gaining traction. I predict that it will be expressed increasingly openly, and with increasingly troubling effects, as the 2020s advance.