Unlike the late night comics, I didn’t find it funny nor amusing that Trump called himself an “extremely stable genius” and then went around the room to demand his toadies proclaim how great and calm he was after his temper tantrum. It wasn’t funny to me—more along the lines of chilling. I’d expect this behavior from someone like Kim Jong-Un, one of Trump’s idols, but not an American president. It brought to mind his very first cabinet meeting, where he required everyone at the table to tell him how amazing he was.
That was pretty unAmerican. But it’s more than that.
It doesn’t matter if Trump insults your family, endangers your life, degrades you, or fires you in the most humiliating way possible. The level of submission that he demands—and receives—is unparalleled in our nation’s history.
It’s downright cult-like.
As I was writing this article in a new coffee shop in town, a nosy person from the next table caught my original headline. He warned me I that I “really shouldn’t be” writing things like this about “our president”. I responded by inviting him to go have sex with himself. I’m a big guy and don’t take kindly to being threatened. Yet that got me thinking that I never had anything close to these kind of discussions while George W. was in office. He was loved by conservatives, but they didn’t think he should be a dictator.
I’m not the only one who’s noticed this phenomenon.
Dr. Janja Lalich is the nation’s premier expert on cults and extremist groups who founded the Center for Research on Influence and Control. She has found more than enough similarities to what is happening to the GOP:
The people around Trump, and the Republicans in Washington, absolutely kowtow to him, either out of fear they're going to anger him, or out of adulation. That behavior is very typical of a cult.
Dr. Lalich identified four key characteristics. You decide:
1) Espouse an all-encompassing belief system
Once our beliefs are formed, they can be difficult to change. In fact, they usually grow stronger as a believer’s faith becomes tied to that person’s identity. It’s something all of us need to watch for: when a Democrat does something bad, my instinct is to defend; whereas if it was a conservative I’d be more prone to attack. The difference here is that I can still have that argument in my head, while some of my Trump friends simply cannot.
These are small issues, either.
I have noted before during Roy Moore’s election that incest is not as taboo as it used to be in GOP circles, in part because of Trump’s open lust for his daughter. Rape and incest are no longer acceptable exemptions for abortion in their mind, either. Pornography is now mainstream and no longer attacked in their circles because their leader is a consumer of the material and still has a penchant for the porn stars. Beyond that, the GOP excuses and justifies his greed, lust, power grabs, anger, gluttony, and his hatred for his fellow man.
Even more disturbing is how quickly the GOP has been willing to throw over all of their so-called core values for Donald Trump: fiscal conservatism, Congressional oversight, family values, standing up to Russia, free trade, reigning in the national debt, respect for the FBI, professed love of our Constitution, free and fair elections, and standing by our allies just to name a few.
This just happened today:
It’s amusing to me to watch numerous conservative outlets like Fox News and RedState, once critics of Trump, now twist themselves into pretzels to justify why their views have changed to be whatever Trump fancies. The GOP has become a cult of personality. Hitler was the embodiment of the Nazi party—there was no such thing as a “Nazi” principle that conflicted with what Hitler wanted. Same was true of Mussolini and his Fascist party. Trump is quickly turning the GOP into his own personal party. The only underlying, unifying theme is submission. Which brings me to #2.
2) Exhibit excessive devotion to the leader
No president before has held huge campaign rallies immediately after the election. Trump never stopped. He needs them for the adulation, but more importantly, Dr. Lalich points out that they are in line with the cult leader’s need to “rev” up his followers, keep them happy, and for recruitment. People who aren’t in the cult can’t understand why they support someone who is so blatantly ridiculous and destructive, yet logic takes a back seat to devotion. It’s why the rural populace in the red states, who are being utterly devastated by Trump’s tax hikes on the poor and his tariff wars, believe he is playing tri-dimensional chess and will ultimately “save” them no matter what they see unfolding before them.
Trump can do no wrong.
Jimmy Kimmel had a segment where he asked Trump supporters things that were “discovered” in his tax returns: donating large sums of money to the dentist who killed Cecil the lion or Jared Fogle, writing off his marriages as “entertainment”, etc.
There was nothing they could come up with that his followers didn’t vehemently defend:
I never before thought my GOP friends would ever become fans of dictatorships. Yet here we are.
3) Avoid criticism of the group and its leader
This pretty much sums it all up:
“Let me tell you, if Jesus Christ gets down off the cross and told me Trump is with Russia, I would tell him, hold on a second, I need to check with the president if it is true.That is how confident I feel in the president.”–Trump voter Mark Lee
If their manchild god says it, it’s true.
If he doesn’t say it, it’s fake news.
Trump is secretly succeeding, we just don’t know it. They believe him when he said he pretty much already built the wall—except when he says he says he can’t and it’s all the Democrats fault. They believe him when he said he pretty much got rid of Obamacare—except when he follows that by saying he can’t and it’s Nancy’s fault. They believe him when he tells them things like 150-year old parents of Korean veterans are tweeting him and begging him to work with Kim Jong-Un.
The question has been asked numerous times if there is anything Trump can do that would shake his cult followers’ support. The answer is no. Trump bragged about this himself, saying he could murder someone in broad daylight and his people would stay with him.
There are plenty of echo chambers and bubbles his supporters can live in to support their warped view. Everything is great, except when it isn’t—then it’s the fault of Democrats and the all-powerful illegal immigrant lobby.
4) Feel disdain for non-members
When they forward me lies and fake articles that I easily debunk, they essentially tell me I’m a non-believer. I support black athletes protesting? I must hate law enforcement. Never mind that I used to be a cop. Never mind that I, unlike the president, support the FBI. They just know I hate white people and I’m terrible.
I have lost more than one “friend” on my social media accounts by daring to express empathy for minorities and women, and defending free speech that includes criticizing our mentally unstable president.
Trump supporters don’t view liberals as people who have a different view on how to help America. Instead, they believe sincerely that we are their enemies and listen to Trump when he encourages violence against us. Some of his followers have even taken him up on that.
Like all authoritarians, Trump has also stoked paranoia against the most vulnerable citizens in our society. I am sick to my stomach hearing from people I know whom I thought were decent, caring people now talk about how immigrants are all disease-carrying vermin who will likely grow up to be criminals—suffering babies and toddlers be damned.
No matter how inhumane, monstrous, anti-democratic or crazy Trump gets, the GOP defends him that much more. The good news is that, as even Dr. Lalich says, there is hope. It is possible to break out of a cult. The problem is that when it’s on a national scale, it will require a “national movement”. The start of that movement happened immediately after the first election, and continued when we got results in the last election. Recapturing the House helped stop our nation’s death spiral.
We have to be absolutely committed to ensuring this national movement continues. It won’t be easy. Trump is already using the government to investigate and attack his potential 2020 rivals. Our elections are in real danger, and are being overseen by cult followers. If Trump does lose, there is virtually zero chance that he will transition peacefully. However, with enough support, we can restore our republic and our democracy.
The only alternative is to give in and submit to the cult. This won’t work: if Heaven’s Gate, the Branch Davidians, or Jim Jones taught you anything about cults, the one truth is that they never, ever end well.
The Politicus is a collaborative political community that facilitates content creation directly on the site. Our goal is to make the political conversation accessible to everyone.Any donations we receive will go into writer outreach. That could be advertising on Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit or person-to-person outreach on College campuses. Please help if you can: