How social conservatives traded causes for clichés

Hence the next logical step in the development of the new social conservatism: its embodiment in the person of the president himself. Trump the man has taken the place of abortion and same-sex marriage as the most feverishly debated topic in American public life. During the last three and a half years the most divisive political questions — Kavanaugh, the response to the current pandemic — have been explicitly framed by his supporters and detractors alike as referendums on Trump. Voting for him is still, in some sense, transactional, but what is being offered on one side in exchange for political support is some sort of vague psychological gratification, the lineal descendent of Buchanan’s call for conservative Republicans to let the Silent Majority “know we care.”

Nowhere is the personalization clearer than in the case of something like the QAnon conspiracy. Here we see vast swathes of Trump’s base simultaneously inventing non-existent victories for the president and absolving him of any blame for his numerous failures. Trump has not replaced the Affordable Care Act or saved millions of good manufacturing jobs or remade our trade relationship with China, it is true. But no one expects miracles, after all. Besides, has he not worked tirelessly, if invisibly, to root out corruption, to expose the sinister plots of the cabal behind the Democratic Party, to remove anthropophagic pedophiles from the upper reaches of the federal bureaucracy? Has he not, in accomplishing all these things thanklessly, amid the persecution of his enemies in the liberal media establishment, shown us he cares? Whatever individual Trump supporters might believe about the actual facts of the alleged conspiracy, the bare outline of QAnon — Trump winning for them simply by existing and holding the office of the presidency — is in fact an accurate representation of their feelings about him. Exposing the lizard people is just an outré way of saying “own the libs.”