Trumpism is a cult. No news there. I’m far from the first person to write that Trump and his followers are a cult (also here, here, and here). And many of the following statements can be found in political strategies of all stripes, regardless of what “side of the aisle” you fancy yourself. But there are some different tactics being employed by Trump’s camp and the older cult tactics that many politicians use have a much greater intensity for Trump’s followers. So let’s talk about it.
I guess we should ask ourselves how it could be any different when we’re talking about following a man who has continually said, very openly, that he knows more about pretty much any issue than anyone?
How could it be anything other than a fascist cult when Trump positions himself as the only person who can fix a corrupt world, putting himself firmly in Führerprinzip territory – the idea that he himself is the only authority and his word should be law because he is the best person?
And when I say “cult,” I don’t just mean the religious undertones of QAnon, who are not even secret cultists, believing that Trump is a messianic figure. I mean that Trump, either by bumblefucking his way into it or by design, has acted not unlike a cult leader in many ways.
Who would have thought that a man who said “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters” would have thought he was trying to grow an unquestioning cult?
He first positioned himself as an outsider who was being held down by the political elites. Those people trying to hold him down were proof of how good he was, like Galileo.
And don’t forget the liberal media, who has historically kept him down by allowing him to only be in twenty-six TV shows or movies and only allowing twenty producer credits on TV shows or specials. And the ones who essentially gave him billions of dollars of free publicity for his 2016 campaign and directly caused his poll numbers to rise.
And the system in general. How unjust a system it is, holding him down. He was born a millionaire who became a billionaire despite several bankruptcies, large-scale business failures, literally thousands of past, current, and potential lawsuits (Trump University, his taxes, refusing to pay people – including people who performed at his own campaign rallies, and sexual assault). The man who was continually asked his political opinion in interviews, despite having no experience in politics. The man whose first application for any job ever was probably registering with the FEC as a candidate. That man was held down by the system.
Umberto Eco called this an “obsession with a plot” in fascism, but it’s barely different than many religious stories, even the ones of today where Evangelicals and Fundamentalists believe that the wolves are at the gate and trying to destroy their religion. There’s a constant obsession with being persecuted and needing to be warriors for God, despite having significant stations of power requiring anyone entering politics to either believe, or at least pander to, a Christian base.
That persecution complex will attract other people who feel persecuted. These “seekers,” as John G. Clark, Jr. called them in a 1977 testimony to the House of Representatives, do so because they need to “feel better because they are excessively uncomfortable with the outside world.”
And Trump will protect you from the barbarian hoards.
Street gangs have a similar tactic.
But early on in his whole “squatting in the White House” schtick, Trump was just a run-of-the-mill wannabe fascist dictator. He still felt the need to provide proof when stating baseless claims, or at least something that looked like proof. When he retweeted the stats about how more white people get shot by cops than black people (which has since been deleted), he was providing something that appeared to be evidence.
He also campaigned on the erroneous “42-percent unemployment” idea, which he got from reading the wrong information. He told people at the time to not believe the 5.6-percent figure. Those numbers weren’t the unemployment numbers. But when he came into office, those numbers were suddenly the real unemployment numbers. Those measurements were suddenly completely valid, despite being from the same source and measuring the same thing. But at least he was providing something as if it were evidence.
He was creating evidence of a crisis. And, early on, he had to prove it.
The Reluctant Disciples
Tons of people knew he was full of shit. Even Republicans knew that Donald Trump was dangerously unqualified, incoherent, self-serving, generally oblivious to the world around him, and was ethically questionable at the best of times.
Paul Ryan said that Trump’s comments about Muslims are “not what this country stands for.”
Mitch McConnell found those same comments to be “inconsistent with American values.”
Lindsey Graham said Trump is a “race-baiting, xenophobic, religious bigot” who we should tell to “go to Hell.”
Ted Cruz called Trump a “pathological liar” and a “narcissist.”
Ben Carson essentially called Trump a fake Christian, one of the worst things you can be in the Republican party.
Every last one of them licked his boots in the end. Every last one of them coddled him just like he’d been coddled his whole life. The people who railed against Obama for being an elitist because he ordered a “fancy burger” with Dijon were suddenly fine with a man who lives in a tower with his own name on it and takes pictures like this:
And that coddling, legitimizing attitude by a party so preoccupied with falling in line no matter what gave the Affluenza President the boost he needed to become a full-blown cult leader.
They all fell in line and locked step with Trump, despite what they’d known and said. Then, when Trump said elections were rigged (several times) and no one called him on it, people began to just think it was right.
He no longer had to provide evidence. His word was evidence. This beliefs were reality, independent of proof.
That’s why his cases against the states after the election were so flimsy. He knew that the action of going to court was enough of a dance to convince his ardent believers he had something. It was so much incense in a thurible at mass. No one, even some of the strictest adherents to Catholicism, don’t necessarily think that swinging the thurible is literally doing something. Most of them would probably concede that it’s a reminder of the things that are happening behind the curtain.
That’s what the court cases were – incense in a thurible, lighting of candles, a specific sequence of words. The difference is that no one who is guided to read the Apostles’ Creed thinks that it, in and of itself, is doing anything or proving the existence of God.
The court cases, on the other hand, were intended to work more like a cult tradition. Think of it as having levels. Let’s call each level an OT level for “Obviously Trumpism.” The OT I (or OT Level Ones) are in there, but not totally. They don’t know all the secrets of the universe. That’ll cost you. The lawyers, on the other hand, they’re like OT VIII. They know all the rituals, all the secrets, and what they all mean. They didn’t go into court thinking they’d win. Here’s a rundown of how preposterous some of the cases were:
- Nevada: “The Court is concerned about the failure of these experts to verify the data they were relying on.”
- Pennsylvania: “…calling an election unfair does not make it so. Charges require specific allegations and then proof. We have neither here.”
- Arizona: “This review, Plaintiffs allege, will, ‘upon information and belief… yield up to thousands of additional votes for President Trump.’ … But, according to Maricopa County, the number of overvotes from in-person Election Day voting in the County totaled just 180. … Even if every one of these votes were cast for President Trump – a highly unlikely scenario given the allocation of votes for the two candidates across Maricopa County as a whole – it would still leave him well short of prevailing in the contest for Arizona’s 11 electoral votes.”
- Michigan: “The evidence consists of: (1) an affidavit from Jessica Connarn, a designated poll watcher; and (2) a photograph of a handwritten yellow sticky note. In her affidavit, Connarn avers that, when she was working as a poll watcher, she was contacted by an unnamed poll worker who was allegedly ‘being told by other hired poll workers at her table to change the date the ballot was received when entering ballots into the computer.’ She avers that this unnamed poll worker later handed her a sticky note that says ‘entered receive date as 11/2/20 on 11/4/20.’ … This ‘supplemental evidence’ is inadmissible as hearsay” and “…’a case is moot when it presents nothing but abstract questions of law which do not rest upon existing facts or rights.'”
- His own council has now called his actions “repugnant and [ones] with which the lawyer has a fundamental disagreement.”
- Not to mention the several cases the Trump camp deliberately pulled out of once the idea of going to court got momentum.
I’ll emphasize the Michigan one real quick – the evidence there was a sticky note and a lady who was told by someone that someone told them a thing.
It was as practical a religious ritual as alter boys lighting candles in a certain order. It isn’t designed to do anything. It’s designed to remind you of something behind the curtain that’s happening. Again, the difference is that in church, a lot of people know that singing hymn 340 in their hymnals is just for theming and isn’t a literal attempt at an incantation to bring Jesus down from heaven.
But Trump’s camp knew that the act of going to court would be what his adherents paid attention to, not whether he actually brought proof. Of course he has proof or why would he go to court?
And the scary thing is that I can provide all the proof in the world and it wouldn’t matter. This isn’t, and never has been, about proof, logic, or facts. This, contrary to Ben Shapiro’s claims, is all about feelings. I recently had a discussion about police brutality against black people in this country and brought up the NYPD’s own numbers on stops and frisks as a way to show how the justice system, at many levels, is stacked against black people because of racism, whether explicit or implicit. The person disagreed with the NYPD’s own numbers about what the NYPD did, which were published by the NYPD despite making the NYPD look bad.
Again, the unemployment rate from the people who study the unemployment rate is wrong until the unemployment rate supports their conclusion.
Every single piece of data to the contrary is a conspiracy and they can’t tell you where Alex Jones, Stephen Crowder, Ben Shapiro, Dave Rubin, or Trump got their numbers. Breitbart almost exclusively links to itself (here, here, and here are some articles with a combined total of two sources outside Breitbart). They don’t know who Q is and certainly don’t know where their numbers are coming from. But to Trump supporters, people whose identity they can’t even verify are apparently more trustworthy than actual numbers from people who count the things they’re asking about.
Trump has always been a panderer. He doesn’t care who you are, what you’re doing, or anything else. He’ll pander to you to serve his own ends. It makes it significantly easier that he doesn’t seem to actually believe anything himself.
He’ll act however you want, so long as he thinks you’ll like him. If you don’t like the Chinese, he’ll talk about putting tariffs on products from China. If you’re Xi Jinping, he loves you. Are you LGBTQ? He’ll stand up for you. Are you homophobic? Well, let’s keep them out of the military.
This is pretty similar to love bombing – the practice of using very positive language to make a target feel included, loved, and (in Trump’s own words to the rioters at the Capitol) “very special.”
The worldview where those people are irredeemably evil and you are pure and good is very simple and feels good. You’re intrinsically special. You have good genes. People who looked like you didn’t destroy the lives of people like them (or at least it “wasn’t that bad“). There isn’t a history of context you may have to grapple with that, indeed, is unfair to all of us for a lot of reasons. You’re just pure and good and “very special” on a cosmic, existential level. And you were just born that way, no mythical hard work required.
They, on the other hand, are not good. There doesn’t have to be a rhyme or reason for any of this, all that has to be there is, according to John G. Clark, Jr., “a new, simplified mental world and style of reasoning in order to compensate for the terrible awareness (or near awareness) of personal vulnerability.”
The pattern persists in its adherents as well. It’s “intense group pressure,” according to Clark, “So intense is this that individuals who are under such pressure and are susceptible tend to enter a state of narrowed attention, especially as they more and more deprived of their ordinary frames of reference,” which sounds like a distrust of mainstream media, flocking to Parler because Twitter is too liberal, flocking to Conservapedia because Wikipedia is too liberal, flocking to Fox News because CNN was too liberal, and then to Newsmax and Infowars because Fox was too liberal.
The pressure continues to mount and the initiate loses old friends, loses touch with family members, and, again, becomes isolated.
This pressure continues with a “change of diet, and the increased introduction of elements of guilt and terror,” says Clark. While many of these people are likely not changing their diets much, there is an admonishment of “soy boys” and vegans on the right, as well as an utter fetishization of the concept of the “alpha male” which, aside from the fact it’s based on bullshit, is put into practice strangely by alphas who just want to hang out with alphas, which kind of goes against the whole idea of a singular leader of the pack. You’d think they’d want to hang out with betas.
The Inner Circle
And speaking of interpersonal relationships, let’s talk about how those are “organized and stereotyped” and how “no chance is given for idiosyncratic expression,” according to Clark. Men are like this, women are like this, and they are the only ones who fuck together. Not only does it harken back to the idea of a very simplistic, non-threatening, easy to digest worldview, it falls in line with a very “organized and stereotyped” categorization of the world.
If relationships were complicated, it’d be hard to tell you who “they” are – the barbarians at the gates.
Additionally, this simple categorization helps that aforementioned isolation because, once relationships are codified, other relationships can be removed by moving the new initiates to “as foreign an environment as is possible to imagine. Thus, it becomes increasingly hard for them to reconstruct in imagination what one has once experienced sometime in the past. … There is no base left for reality testing,” Clark says. While this used to have to be physically, this now can be done simply by allowing a new initiate to hole up and drink in Pizzagate and gay frogs.
Further isolation is easy – change their language. Change the words they use to “an oversimplified, special sort of related definition.” In the Trump era, the less the word actually means, the better. You can put whatever definition you want on it and it will work, because you’re right. They’re wrong. Making the language you use nebulous and wishy-washy is an easy way to move the goalposts whenever your definition stops working.
Some nearly meaningless terms for the modern day:
Alternative facts – Something they believe, regardless of evidence
Political correctness – Anything that doesn’t specifically pander to their identity
SJW – Any person engaging in political correctness
Cuck – A person to the left of them they don’t like
Welfare queen – A straw man argument in the form of an imaginary lazy black woman
Terrorists – Middle Eastern folks, bonus if they’re Muslim. Maybe they’re Eastern European. Who gives a shit, right?
Illegals – “Mexicans”
Mexicans – Brazilians, Nicaraguans, Puerto Ricans, Cubans, Salvadorians, Panamanians, Argentinians, Peruvians, etc.
Detractors might say that terms like “transgender” are newfangled SJW cuck terms that reek of talk from 1984 and “2+2=5” or doublespeak or whatever, but the difference is that terms like “alternative facts” or “double-plus good” are simplifications of language. “Alternative facts” eliminate words like “opinion,” “hypothesis,” “interpretation,” or “conclusion.” And it’s no secret that the Trump administration outright tried to coerce the CDC to eliminate terms like “evidence-based,” “vulnerable,” “fetus,” “transgender,” and “diversity.” People can claim it wasn’t censorship since it wasn’t a ban, but “suggestions” that would help them get funding, but withholding funding because of words seems a lot like censorship with extra steps.
Regardless, it was a deliberate attempt to create an environment where language could be muddied and simplified. If you’re not talking about a zygote, embryo, or baby, it’s a fetus. The word has meaning in the same sense that baby, toddler, teenager, adult, or elder does. People may state that “fetus” strips the humanity from an unborn human conceptually, but when talking about fetuses, there’s generally a qualifier in front of it. In the same sense, there’s still that qualifier when talking about babies or adults. A study about baby goats or adult tigers still has to qualify the species in the same way that a study on the biology of fetuses still has to qualify what species that fetus belongs to. They just want all terms for a human’s offspring to be “baby” at all times, muddying what people are talking about.
And the term “transgender” doesn’t simplify or muddy language. It’s a specific term that talks about a characteristic of a person. It’s obviously distinct from the 1910s term “transvestite” and the term from the ‘20s, “transsexual.” There’s obviously a debate on whether we should still even be using words like “transvestite,” but that’s not a talk I’m willing to have as a cis person. The point is that even the most anti-trans person can look at a performer at a drag show and someone who is transgender at the store and tell that they’re outwardly doing something similar, but different and for distinctly different reasons.
It’s the same reason we differentiate mixed martial arts, boxing, wrestling, and pro wrestling. They all look similar from the outside, but they’re distinct. Rugby isn’t football. Frying isn’t grilling. Audiobooks aren’t music and neither are podcasts. Sleet isn’t rain. Walking isn’t running. Is there a line where walking becomes running? I don’t know. But it matters when we’re talking about what you can do around a pool, how to prevent injuries in sports, and the rules of competitive speed walking.
“Double-plus good” eliminated language. Suggesting that terms like “diversity” (even when describing something as apolitical as how many types of plants are in a certain forest) might get your funding revoked has the same effect.
Controlling speech has the effect of creating “great difficulty using abstractions in their speech or arguments,” according to Clark. Trump’s wall might be the best symbol of this idea. The thought process of “illegal immigrants are people and walls stop people” is slightly more abstract than just being told to explain what a wall is. You have to be able to at least picture a person’s potential interaction with a wall. It doesn’t matter that illegal immigration solutions would need to be more abstract to address things like homemade narco submarines or overstaying visas (which happens significantly more often than people illegally crossing the border). Those ideas are too abstract. A wall stops people. What more do we want?
And boiling immigration down to “wall” really prevents abstracting immigration to the point of talking about different types of immigrant statuses, U.S policy’s effect on immigration from countries they’d like to stop immigration from, or if borders should exist at all.
There’s one answer and that answer is the Trump Wall (despite the fact it was kind of shit and the man who actually deals in buildings couldn’t even build a whole-ass wall). When you bring up swimming, it’s an alligator moat (he denies he said this, but he denies he said a lot of things he said). That’s about as abstract as we get from the cult.
And, just for funsies, I should mention that Hitler was also a fascist who was a fan of pretending to build big, dumb, ineffective shit.
Trump’s adherence to simplicity is still evident in how he chooses to hire staff. He believes Jared Kushner is a smart, special boy, so he’s in charge of… basically being the whole president and cabinet?
He has good genes so he thinks that his sweet baby boys, Eric and Donald, as well as his daughter Ivanka, who he really, really would like to fuck (probably partly to preserving the bloodline, but that’s just me speculating), also have good genes and can do basically whatever.
Ben Carson is a surgeon and surgeons are smart. He can run housing.
Betsy DeVos is rich. If Betsy DeVos is rich like Trump, she must be smart because rich people are smart. She can make other people smart like her.
Simple rules make the world easy to navigate. If the nebulous “they” are intrinsically evil, it makes it simple to believe that they do other purely evil things. If you are good, then there is nothing that you could believe in that may have problems.
And good people? They only do good things. So if you do a bad thing, no matter how small, the cult will ostracize you instantly. You become a pariah who he’ll attack on Twitter.
In cults, there is no room for dissent. When looking at how Trump sees the world, this is obvious. This worldview can be found in a lot of religious texts and is far from exclusive to cults. Psalm 14 says “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good.” And if the liberals aren’t Satan-worshipping pedophiles, like QAnon would have you believe, they’re sons of bitches, monsters, like bugs, or “drug dealers, criminals, rapists” (and some, he guesses, but doesn’t know, are good people).
That’s why it’s so easy for them to believe anyone on the left is all of those things. They’re inherently evil. Evil people only do evil things. They never do good things and they do all the evil things.
And the obsession with “false flags” is where this obsession with the simple, binary categorization of good and evil things goes wild. Let’s go down one rabbit hole – Killing children is evil. Someone killed children, so they must have been evil. Having guns is good. The media is saying an evil person had a gun, but guns are good. Therefore no one killed children because good people don’t have guns.
It was the same thing at the Capitol. Having a militia to fight the government is good, but fighting the government is bad. People said they wanted to fight the government, which is good, but then did, which is bad. Antifa is a group that is bad. Those people were a group of bad people. Therefore, the people who went into the Capitol are Antifa.
They can only do good things. Dissenters can only do bad things.
On January 6th, people were literally willing to die on Trump’s command (as if they weren’t during the his COVID-19 rallies).
After the sacrifices were made, their god was sated. He’s turned his back on them, condemned their actions, and walked away. Many of his ardent fans are surprised that the lying man lied to them because he’s a liar, saying it’s like a “punch in the gut” and that “he says it’s going to be wild and when it gets wild he calls it a heinous attack and middle-fingers his supporters he told to be there.”
Mind you, this is a guy who said “…we’re going to walk down, and I’ll be there with you, we’re going to walk down – We’re going to walk down. Anyone you want, but I think right here, we’re going to walk down to the Capitol…” and then didn’t walk with them to the Capitol.
Fucking oops, I guess.
Marshall Applewhite at least had enough balls to cut them off.
I’ve been using quotes throughout this piece from John G. Clark, Jr. and I think I’ll use this last quote that truly sums up the Trump Death Cult:
All of the groups that we are talking about have living leaders who are demonstrably wealthy. The beliefs of all these cults are absolutist and non-tolerant of other systems of beliefs. Their systems of governance are totalitarian. A requirement of membership is to obey absolutely without questioning. Their interest in the individual’s development within the cult towards some kind of satisfactory individual adult personality is by their doctrines, very low or nonexistent. It is clear that almost all of them emphasize money making in one form or another, although a few seem to be very much involved in demeaning or self denigrating activities and rituals. Most of them that I have studied possess a good deal of property and money which is under the discretionary control of the individual leaders.John G. Clark, Jr., M.D. – Read into the United States Congressional Record on November 3, 1977.
Vol. 123 Part 29, No. 181 Proceedings and Debates of 95th Congress (First Session), p. 37401-37403
And there may be the question of why I’m even posting this so long after the Capitol riots. Well, because the cult isn’t gone yet.