A Trump Cult?

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Trump greets supporters after a campaign event in Bentonville Regional Airport near Bentonville

Writing at The New Republic, Alexander Hurst wonders if Trump supporters make-up a kind of cult.  He writes, “Millions of Americans are blindly devoted to their Dear Leader.  What will it take for them to snap out of it?”  Here is a taste:

Personality cults are a hallmark of populist-autocratic politics. The names of the various leaders are practically synonymous with their movements: Le Pen, Farage, Duterte, Orbán, Erdogan, Chávez, Bolsonaro, Putin. Or if we were to dip farther back into history: Castro, Franco, Mussolini, Hitler, Stalin. Like religious cult leaders, demagogues understand the importance of setting up an in-group/out-group dynamic as a means of establishing their followers’ identity as members of a besieged collective.

Trump, like the populist authoritarians before and around him, has also understood (or, at least, instinctually grasped) how indispensable his own individual persona is to his ultimate goal of grasping and maintaining power. Amidst his string of business failures, Trump’s singular talent has been that of any con man: the incredible ability to cultivate a public image. Of course, Trump did not build his cult of followers—his in-group—ex nihilo; in many ways, the stage was set for his entrance. America had already split into two political identities by the time he announced his campaign for president in 2015, not just in terms of the information we consume, but down to the brands we prefer and the stores we frequent. And so with particularly American bombast and a reality TV star’s penchant for manipulating the media, Trump tore pages from the us-against-them playbook of the European far right and presented them to a segment of the American public already primed to receive it with religious fervor.

In an interview with Pacific Standard, Janja Lalich, a sociologist who specializes in cults, identified four characteristics of a totalistic cult and applied them to Trumpism: an all-encompassing belief system, extreme devotion to the leader, reluctance to acknowledge criticism of the group or its leader, and a disdain for nonmembers. Eileen Barker, another sociologist of cults, has written that, together, cult leaders and followers create and maintain their movement by proclaiming shared beliefs and identifying themselves as a distinguishable unit; behaving in ways that reinforce the group as a social entity, like closing themselves off to conflicting information; and stoking division and fear of enemies, real or perceived.

Read the entire piece here.

Believe Me 3d

I don’t want to debate whether or not pro-Trumpers are part of a cult, but I am struck by the fact that Hurst does not mention conservative evangelicals in his analysis.  Granted, not all of the 81% of self-identified white evangelicals who voted for Trump wear MAGA hats and scream “lock her up “at Trump events.  But a lot of them do. (I am reminded of the time Trump came to Harrisburg, PA during the campaign and I saw some members of my local church standing in line waiting to get into the rally).

Maybe instead of trying to figure out how many white evangelicals actually voted for Trump we should be trying to figure out how many people are members of the “cult.”

5 thoughts on “A Trump Cult?

  1. I don’t think Trump is a masterful manipular of the media or an artful dodger of rhetoric that is thrown at him.
    The phenomenon is the people who think he has all kinds of abilities and skills that he simply does not possess.
    He is not the king of deals. He is not a self made billionaire who started with a measly million dollar loan from his father.
    He is not the man who understands a national or global economy.
    Despite that, and it’s a mystery to me, people think he is all that and more.

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  2. I came to the same conclusion (about a Trump Cult) in 2016, just from the way the Born-Agains went for him like he was the Second Coming. (Or like those Taking the Mark in bad Christian Apocalyptic.) And then the Court Evangelical big names appointed themselves His High Priest. (Or should that be the False Prophet or animated Image of the Beast?)

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  3. Sure, Trump is an unconventional political figure who knows how to dominate the media coverage. He also summons a certain amount of blindered enthusiasm from his supporters; so do other successful politicians, albeit with less demonstrative, zealous results. (The last time I saw such enthusiasm for a DEM candidate was when RFK ran in 1968.).

    Alex Hurst and others in the liberal establishment just can’t come to grips with a figure who was successful politically by not folowing the template they think is proper. “That’s not the way we like to see things done.” With this new crowning designation of cult leader for The Donald they might have have finally thrown every rhetorical projectile in their arsenal. (But I am probably underestimating their creativity.)
    .

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  4. I’ve mentioned this elsewhere – but seven out of ten 1928 Hoover voters pulled the lever for him again in 1932. And that was in the middle of the Depression!

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