The Conspiracy Theory That Says Trump Is a Genius

The theory is fascinating as an artifact of our current political derangement, but more than that, it’s profoundly revealing about the lengths to which some Trump supporters will go to convince themselves that his presidency is going well.

..  In the QAnon reality, Trump only pretended to collude with Russia in order to create a pretext for the hiring of Robert Mueller, the special counsel, who is actually working with Trump to take down an inconceivably evil and powerful network of coup-plotters and child sex traffickers that includes Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and George Soros.

.. “QAnon points out that this is the beginning of the end for the Clintons,” said Jerome Corsi — a prominent proponent of the lie that Obama was born in Kenya

.. the world would be forced to contend with “films of innocent children pleading for their lives while people are butchering them.” Once that happens, presumably, Trump will be revealed as a master of 12-dimensional chess who successfully distracted smirking elites with his buffoonery while he was quietly saving the world.

.. The creativity poured into QAnon is striking; it’s like something between a sprawling work of crowdsourced postmodern fiction and an immersive role-playing game.

.. But for many people, QAnon is very real. Barr has tried to make contact with Q on Twitter. InfoWars, the website run by conspiracy theorist Alex Jones — who has a close relationship with Trump confidant Roger Stone — has consistently promoted it.

.. Cheryl Sullenger, senior vice president of the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, posted an article on the group’s website about an “intel drop” from Q revealing a White House plan to end Planned Parenthood. Sean Hannity retweeted a post with the #QAnon hashtag.

.. Some elements of the QAnon conspiracy theory — secret elites, kidnapped children — are classic, even archetypical. “In all Western culture, you can argue that all conspiracy theories, no matter how diverse, come from the idea of the Jews abducting children,”

.. Stories about globalists stealing children for sex aren’t that far removed from stories about Jews stealing children to use their blood making matzo.

.. One twist, however, makes QAnon unusual. Conspiracy theories are usually about evil cabals manipulating world events. QAnon, by contrast, is a conspiracy theory in which the good guys — in this case, Trump and his allies — are in charge.

.. It’s a dream of power rather than a bitter alibi for victimhood. It seems designed to cope with the cognitive dissonance caused by the gap between Trump as his faithful followers like to imagine him, and Trump as he is.

.. legislation many on the right deplored, was shortsighted. In releasing funds to the military, it said, the bill would set off a climactic series of events: “Swamp drain begins, military seizes TRILLIONS in cabal assets, returning them to the people.”
.. An inspector general report would then reveal the establishment’s unspeakable crimes, after which “the strings will be cut from the propaganda machine and people will stop falling for the garbage MSM,
.. You don’t create a wild fantasy about your leader being a covert genius unless you understand that to most people, he looks like something quite different. You don’t need an occult story about how your side is secretly winning if it’s actually winning.
.. Their desperate conviction that they will be proven right about Trump betrays a secret fear that they will be proven wrong.

How Viktor Orban Bends Hungarian Society to His Will

Billboards. TV campaigns. Radio programs. The anti-immigrant government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban uses different levers to influence public opinion, particularly on the subject of the European refugee crisis.

Even school textbooks.

On page 155 of the latest 8th-grade history textbook, students are told that Mr. Orban thinks refugees are a threat to Hungary — and then encouraged to believe he is right. “It can be problematic,” the book concludes, “for different cultures to coexist.”

.. the far-right leader’s message is now woven into the school curriculum.

.. His party’s appointees or supporters dominate many artistic institutionsand universities. A growing number of plays and exhibitions have had nationalist or anti-Western undertones. Religious groups and nongovernment organizations critical of Fidesz have seen funding dry up.

.. promoting a narrative of Hungarian victimhood and ethnocentrism.

.. For many far-right populists on both sides of the Atlantic, the Hungarian leader is revered.

“He’s a hero,” Stephen K. Bannon, President Trump’s former strategist, said this month, while touring Europe. He described Mr. Orban as “the most significant guy on the scene right now.”

.. he met with Philip Zimbardo, the psychologist who created the Stanford Prison Experiment, the controversial 1971 study of authoritarianism, which explored how ordinary people would respond when placed in positions of power.

.. how Mr. Orban has attempted to influence the civil arena through like-minded culture warriors.

.. biggest beneficiaries tended to be groups with religious and nationalist

.. since an elected government represents the will of the people — and since civil society should strive to fulfill the people’s will — then civil society exists to carry out a ruling party’s manifesto, rather than to challenge it.

.. the government sent an opinion survey to every Hungarian household that claimed Mr. Soros was leading a project — named the Soros Plan — to force Hungary to admit thousands of migrants, dismantle its border fences, and in the process “diminish the importance of the language and culture of European countries.” It was demonstrably false.

.. During the 1980s, Mr. Orban was a young liberal activist who studied civil society at Oxford University

.. “I would like,” Mr. Illes recalled Mr. Orban telling him, “to destroy all NGOs in this country.”

.. “Most theaters,” she said, “have a socially unengaged message,”

.. “It’s important for us to emphasize our identity because we could lose it in a few moments,” Mr. Dorner said in an interview, citing anxiety about immigration by “the Africans, the Middle Easterners.”

.. the academy ignored and even condemned critics of Mr. Orban such as Gyorgy Konrad, a renowned author. Instead, it awarded monthly stipends in perpetuity to artists like Gyozo Somogyi, best known for depicting Hungarian military heroes

.. When the University of Debrecen awarded an honorary doctorate last August to Vladimir V. Putin, the Russian president and an ally of Mr. Orban, four academic departments protested the decision.

.. Yet in response, the university leadership launched an investigation into their dissent.

.. Officially, the loss of each department’s financial autonomy has been presented as a cost-saving measure.

.. the real aim was to curb the academic autonomy of each department.

.. money was nevertheless found to sustain two entirely new academic institutions.

.. The first — Professor Patyi’s National University for Public Service — was set up to train civil servants, policemen and soldiers

.. The second, a think tank called Veritas, has a more demonstrably political aim. Its main mission is to provide revisionist interpretations of 20th-century Hungarian history — including the reign of Miklos Horthy, the autocrat who led Hungary before and during the Second World War.

.. He described the deportation of Jews under Horthy in 1941 as a mere “police action against aliens.”

..  the new preamble to the Hungarian Constitution — a controversial text which implies that Hungarian nationality is exclusively Christian, even though Hungary has a substantial Jewish minority.

Making China Great Again

As Donald Trump surrenders America’s global commitments, Xi Jinping is learning to pick up the pieces.

The hero, Leng Feng, played by the action star Wu Jing (who also directed the film), is a veteran of the “wolf warriors,” special forces of the People’s Liberation Army. In retirement, he works as a guard in a fictional African country, on the frontier of China’s ventures abroad. A rebel army, backed by Western mercenaries, attempts to seize power, and the country is engulfed in civil war. Leng shepherds civilians to the gates of the Chinese Embassy, where the Ambassador wades into the battle and declares, “Stand down! We are Chinese! China and Africa are friends.” The rebels hold their fire, and survivors are spirited to safety aboard a Chinese battleship.

.. For decades, Chinese nationalism revolved around victimhood: the bitter legacy of invasion and imperialism, and the memory of a China so weak that, at the end of the nineteenth century, the philosopher Liang Qichao called his country “the sick man of Asia.” “Wolf Warrior II” captures a new, muscular iteration of China’s self-narrative, much as Rambo’s heroics expressed the swagger of the Reagan era.

.. “In the past, all of our movies were about, say, the Opium Wars—how other countries waged war against China,” he said. “But Chinese people have always wanted to see that our country could, one day, have the power to protect its own people and contribute to peace in the world.”

.. For years, China’s leaders predicted that a time would come—perhaps midway through this century—when it could project its own values abroad. In the age of “America First,” that time has come far sooner than expected.

.. Trump often portrays America’s urgent task as one of survival. As he put it during the campaign, “At what point do you say, ‘Hey, we have to take care of ourselves’? So, you know, I know the outer world exists and I’ll be very cognizant of that, but, at the same time, our country is disintegrating.”
.. China’s approach is more ambitious. In recent years, it has taken steps to accrue national power on a scale that no country has attempted since the Cold War, by increasing its investments in the types of assets that established American authority in the previous century: foreign aid, overseas security, foreign influence, and the most advanced new technologies, such as artificial intelligence.
.. It has become one of the leading contributors to the U.N.’s budget and to its peacekeeping force, and it has joined talks to address global problems such as terrorism, piracy, and nuclear proliferation.
.. This was an ironic performance—for decades, China has relied on protectionism—but Trump provided an irresistible opening. China is negotiating with at least sixteen countries to form the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, a free-trade zone that excludes the United States, which it proposed in 2012 as a response to the T.P.P. If the deal is signed next year, as projected, it will create the world’s largest trade bloc, by population.
.. By setting more of the world’s rules, China hopes to “break the Western moral advantage,” which identifies “good and bad” political systems
.. Meng Hongwei, a Chinese vice-minister of public security, became the first Chinese president of Interpol, the international police organization; the move alarmed human-rights groups, because Interpol has been criticized for helping authoritarian governments target and harass dissidents and pro-democracy activists abroad.

.. Moreover, China’s economic path is complicated by heavy debts, bloated state-owned enterprises, rising inequality, and slowing growth. The workers who once powered China’s boom are graying.

.. In 2000, the U.S. accounted for thirty-one per cent of the global economy, and China accounted for four per cent. Today, the U.S.’s share is twenty-four per cent and China’s fifteen per cent.

.. in the past we were used to going to the White House to get our work done,” Shivshankar Menon, India’s former foreign secretary and national-security adviser to the Prime Minister, told me. “Now we go to the corporations, to Congress, to the Pentagon, wherever.”

.. everybody else in the world will look around and say, I want to be friends with both the U.S. and the Chinese—and the Chinese are ready, and I’ll start with them.”

.. He presented China as “a new option for other countries,” calling this alternative to Western democracy the zhongguo fang’an, the “Chinese solution.”

.. The state press ran a profile of Xi that was effusive even by the standards of the form, depicting him as an “unrivalled helmsman,” whose “extensive knowledge of literature and the arts makes him a consummate communicator in the international arena.”

.. Xi has inscribed on his country a rigid vision of modernity. A campaign to clean up “low-end population” has evicted migrant workers from Beijing, and a campaign against dissent has evicted the most outspoken intellectuals from online debate.

.. Foreign universities with programs in China, such as Duke, have been advised that they must elevate a Communist Party secretary to a decision-making role on their local boards of trustees.

.. The Party is encouraging dark imaginings about the outside world: posters warn the public to “protect national secrets” and to watch out for “spies.”

.. Last June, Yao Chen, one of China’s most popular actresses, received a barrage of criticism online after she tried to raise awareness of the global refugee crisis. (She was forced to clarify that she was not calling for China to accept refugees.)

.. In Rao’s view, Trump’s “America First” slogan is an honest declaration, a realist vision stripped of false altruism and piety.

.. “In this world, power speaks,” he said, making a fist, a gesture that Trump adopted in his Inauguration speech and Xi displayed in a photo taken at the start of his new term.

.. “I think Trump is America’s Gorbachev.” In China, Mikhail Gorbachev is known as the leader who led an empire to collapse. “The United States will suffer,” he warned.

.. In 1991, when Bush, Sr., launched the war against Iraq, it got thirty-four countries to join the war effort. This time, if Trump launched a war against anyone, I doubt he would get support from even five countries.

.. For Chinese leaders, Yan said, “Trump is the biggest strategic opportunity.” I asked Yan how long he thought the opportunity would last. “As long as Trump stays in power,” he replied.

.. When Trump won, the Party “was in a kind of shock,”

.. “They feared that he was their mortal enemy.” The leadership drafted potential strategies for retaliation, including threatening American companies in China and withholding investment from the districts of influential members of Congress.

.. Before he entered the White House, China started assembling a playbook for dealing with him.

.. “China knows Trump can be unpredictable, so we have weapons to make him predictable, to contain him. He would trade Taiwan for jobs.”

.. there were two competing strategies on China. One, promoted by Stephen Bannon, then the chief strategist, wanted the President to take a hard line, even at the risk of a trade war. Bannon often described China as a “civilizational challenge.” The other view was associated with Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, who had received guidance from Henry Kissinger and met repeatedly with the Chinese Ambassador, Cui Tiankai. Kushner argued for a close, collegial bond between Xi and Trump, and he prevailed.

.. While Xi was at the resort, the Chinese government approved three trademark applications from Ivanka’s company, clearing the way for her to sell jewelry, handbags, and spa services in China.

.. During the transition, Kushner dined with Chinese business executives while the Kushner Companies was seeking their investment in a Manhattan property.

.. In May, Kushner’s sister, Nicole Kushner Meyer, was found to have mentioned his White House position while she courted investors during a trip to China.

.. During the Mar-a-Lago meetings, Chinese officials noticed that, on some of China’s most sensitive issues, Trump did not know enough to push back.

.. “Trump is taking what Xi Jinping says at face value—on Tibet, Taiwan, North Korea,”

.. “The Chinese felt like they had Trump’s number,” he said. “Yes, there is this random, unpredictable Ouija-board quality to him that worries them, and they have to brace for some problems, but, fundamentally, what they said was ‘He’s a paper tiger.’ Because he hasn’t delivered on any of his threats. There’s no wall on Mexico. There’s no repeal of health care. He can’t get the Congress to back him up. He’s under investigation.”

.. a Beijing think tank, published an analysis of the Trump Administration, describing it as a den of warring “cliques,” the most influential of which was the “Trump family clan.”

.. The Trump clan appears to “directly influence final decisions” on business and diplomacy in a way that “has rarely been seen in the political history of the United States,” the analyst wrote. He summed it up using an obscure phrase from feudal China: jiatianxia—“to treat the state as your possession.”

Upswingers and Downswingers

The popular gloom notwithstanding, we’re actually living in an era of astounding progress. We’ve seen the greatest reduction in global poverty in history. As Steven Pinker has documented, we’ve seen a steady decline in wars and armed conflict. The U.S. economy is the best performing major economy in the developed world.

n 1980 the U.S. had a slight edge in G.D.P. per capita over Germany, Japan, France and the U.K. But the U.S. has grown much faster than the other major economies over the past 37 years, so that now it produces about $54,000 of output per capita compared with about $39,000 for Japan and France.

.. During the mid-20th century the West developed a group-oriented culture to deal with the Great Depression and the World Wars. Its motto could have been

  • “We’re in this together.” That became too conformist and stultifying.

A new individualistic culture emerged (pivot) whose motto could have been

  • “I’m free to be myself.”

That was great for a time, but excessive individualism has left society

  • too fragmented, isolated and divided (hatchet). Something new is needed.

.. Politics during the hatchet phase gets nasty. It tends to devolve into a fight between upswingers and downswingers.

  • Upswingers believe in progress and feel that society is still fitfully moving upward.
  • Downswingers have lost faith in progress and feel everything is broken.

.. Among Republicans the

  • upswingers embrace capitalist dynamism, global engagement and the open movement of people and ideas. The
  • downswingers embrace ethnic and national cohesion and closed borders.

On the left it’s between those who believe

  • the only realistic path is to reform existing structures and
  • those who think they are so broken we need to

.. Because of the loss of faith in progress downswingers have a baseline mood of pessimism, protest and anger. They are marked by a deep social distrust and a bent toward conspiracy thinking. They disrespect codes of etiquette that traditionally regulate public life and crack down on opposing speech.

.. downswingers have a tropism toward ethnic and identity politics. If you’ve lost faith in universal progress, if you think everything is a zero-sum scramble for slices of a stagnant or shrinking pie, then of course you are going to see your ethnic identity marker as essential and all defining.

.. You are going to embrace a sense of victimhood