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 . 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 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.
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.”