One possibility, which I explored in my recent book, is that political fantasy can actually be a substitute for radical action in the real world. There are ways in which the internet, especially, seems to contain and redirect the same extremism it nurtures — pushing it into memes and hashtags and social-media wars rather than actual revolutions, giving us Diamond and Silk tweeting about a military coup rather than the thing itself.

In this theory, certain kinds of partisan fantasy might actually be stabilizing forces, letting people satisfy their ideological urges by participating in a story in which their side is always on the verge of some great victory, in which Trump is about to be exposed as a Manchurian candidate or removed by the 25th Amendment (I participated in that one), or alternatively in which Trump is about to order mass arrests of all the pedophile elites or get the Supreme Court to put him back in office for another four years. Or, for the apocalyptically inclined, a fantasy in which your political enemies are poised to do something unbelievably terrible — like all the right-wing militia violence that liberals expected on Election Day — that would vindicate all your fears and makes you happy in your hatred…

On the other hand, we saw over the summer how amid the unique combination of pandemic, lockdown and Trump’s provoking presidency, the fantasy politics of the left could slip free of the dreamworlds of academia and online activism, contributing to violence and purges in the real world — from the streets of the Twin Cities to the board of the Poetry Foundation. Police abolition and apologias for rioting belonged to the realm of ideological fantasy politics until they didn’t, and if certain left-wing impulses have gone back to being fantastic in the months since, the memory of May and June remains.