Continuing from Towards Understanding . . .
Fifth point. The sins, the flaws, the character defects in the leader make no difference to the “true believer”. They are forgiven or in some other way excused and overlooked. Recall the David analogy. Religious leaders in particular love to preach it. David was “beloved by God” and a “man after God’s own heart” despite his treachery, adultery and murders. He is God’s instrument and it is not our place to question God. The same principle holds for the nonreligious political “cults”. Followers may wish their leader would be more mature, grow up, or whatever, but the positives in the man will always outweigh and render negligible the negatives.
Sixth. One research finding seeking to understand why some people join cults or extremist groups is that prospective members have fewer social ties than “the norm”. They are feeling less connected, less attached. Their world feels to be “falling apart” in significant ways. One thinks of fears or worries about increasing financial tensions (living standards are in decline; there seems no way to ever approach their parents’ standards of living), health problems (costs put proper care out of reach), shifting social expectations (e.g. how men should treat women), leaving them frustrated especially if they feel they have to face these things essentially alone. We saw where horrendous changes in welfare and security in 1920s Germany led. We have seen what happens to too many rootless second generation young immigrants from very different cultural backgrounds and their propensity to join anti-social gangs or more dangerous extremist groups. It’s not hard to identify among “Trump followers” a sense that everything in society is “broken”, a sense of losing hope and no clear light at the end of it all.
Seventh. And the antidote to #six is finding a “home”, “like-minds” with “like feelings” among one’s companions in the new movement. One finds a new family of like minds who understand and who offer support or at least agree on the solution. There is strong sense, from this moment on, of the world divided into “them”, the outsiders in the lost world of darkness and confusion and wrongs, and “us”. The “thems” may sometimes offer very smart arguments against specific beliefs of the insider or proclamations by their leader, but smart arguments will only come across as threatening and “surely deceptive” if they come from those on the “outside” representing the world that the new “inner group family member” has found problematic and left behind.
Eighth. People are judged according to what they represent, and arguments are assessed on where they appear to be coming from and for what they represent, too. Hence any rationalization or refutation can be found for any facts or arguments that are critical of one’s new “family” or place where one feels a sense of belonging. The force and emotion behind the arguments can be far more persuasive than what outsiders might see as the “cold logic” alone. In fact, the arguments for one’s new family-movement are highly emotional, perhaps clearly logical but logical delivered with heated emotion. Ad hominem attacks are par for the course; scoffing and sneering at the competence or intelligence of key leading “outsiders” is also routine. Fear, anger, outrage, — one’s own logical arguments and handy bags of facts are riding the crests of these waves.
And continuing . . . .
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8 thoughts on “Trump Movement as a Cult / 2”
Thanks for this excellent piece.
I might add that originally the term “Trump Syndrome” referred 1) not to critics becoming over-critical about Trump; 2) but believers believing in him. And following his crazy ideas to their crazy solution.
As in “Pizzagate.”
It had been asserted by Trump that a certain (NY? NJ?) pizzaria was being used by the Clintons, as a child sex slavery ring. In response to Trump repeating that accusation, and others suggesting that it should be checked, a rabid Trumpite showed up at the pizza joint with a rifle; just to “check around.” Some say he fired a few shots.
In another case, a sociological study showed that childhood bullying was increasing in schools, after the Trump campaign.
I’m not sure if you’ve been paying attention to what’s gone on in the 50 states. Here are just a few of the items that occurred in the USA before Trump (heck, before 2010) became President:
1 — the 2000 election was decided NOT in the voting booths of the US, NOT in the electoral college, but in the Supreme Court. The issue was decided on a 5-to-4 vote, strictly running with party affiliation. You might think a group as “august” as these bozos would have presented a 9-to-0 vote …..to unify the country. But NO.
You might also have hoped they’d take the simple expedient of “re-voting” Florida. But…..NO!
2 — The media sold us the idea of invading Iraq as payback for the 9/11 bombing in NYC. Beyond the media, there was the horrid appearance before the U.N. of Colin Powell, a man who otherwise might have seemed admirable. Date: 2003.
Powell’s presentation was live on TV. I took time off of work to watch it. I was unbelieving (I really, really liked the guy before that — thought he could be the first black President).
Also note: No negative angle on what Powell said was presented on CNN, or elsewhere that I found. I could be wrong on that. But if I’m right, it means he floated a boatload of total crap — and people were led (by their leaders, by the Democrats, by the media)…….to eat it all up and ask for a second helping.
3 — People who were not well off were given outrageous loans, allowing them to buy houses they could not come close to affording. As the level of this immense national stupidity became apparent to all, more and more people took advantage of real estate loans that were….unreal. In other words, “liar loans” and “125% loan-to-value” and “using your house as an ATM) actually ACCELERATED as most people noted that it was absolutely crazy.
So: Some millions of people ignored the facts and bit on this toxic money. And while some people saw how stupid and bad it was, others just . . . waved that off. Sound familiar?
This went on until the bust in 2008.
These may not be someone else’s “top 3,” but they will do. There’s a lot more to regurgitate here, but you don’t need a 5,200-word post, duya?
I’m not giving Trump a free pass on anything. I’m directly indicting the populace. There was no outrage (none that I noted at the time) on these 3 items.
If you want to identify it as a a “Trump Cult,” please do so. But these angles should show that you might have missed something BIG.
My perspective, as someone born here and living here, is that whatever collective intelligence the US citizenry once had seems to have deteriorated in the 1990s. No, I don’t know why.
But I’m pretty sure the disposition of tens of millions of citizens is about something other than Donald Trump. He seems (to me) to be more of an indicator — a coincident indicator — than a Driver of what’s happening.
The three items you mention I remember well. On #1 I remember a huge amount of anger, but once the Supreme Court decided that a Florida state recount according to Florida state law would not be allowed to be concluded, and Gore folded, it was fait accompli, what was there for anyone to do? On #2, there were huge antiwar demonstrations, in the hundreds of thousands of people, in major cities all across America opposed to that war in the runup to the war, but it made no difference. You mention the acquiescence of the media to Colin Powell’s UN speech, which is true and it was heartbreaking (I admit I, who was antiwar, was taken in by the Colin Powell speech, not changing from antiwar, but I believed him, and was amazed later at the scale of the misinformation). There continued to be opposition to the war after it was underway even though, as you note, at the height of the war fever 2/3 of Americans believed that attacking Iraq was getting back at the people who did 911–that came directly from GWBush II’s speechwriters who repeatedly put “911”, “terror”, “Saddam Hussein” in the same sentences in Bush’s speeches, never explicitly claiming that Hussein did 911 (if you parsed the words closely) but purposely and intentionally and knowingly causing people to think that and not disabusing them from that completely wrong belief. Now, it is majority opinion that the Iraq war was a disaster but the damage is done. One of the lessons grassroots people took from that antiwar movement was that nothing anyone does who is out of power makes any difference.
Half of Americans are alienated, don’t trust the media and the government and don’t vote. This is largely the half on the bottom. The most common view among this bottom half (I hear it firsthand) is cynicism combined with nothing can be done about it. Unfortunately Trump found a way to tap into some of that inchoate cynicism, like other right-wing demagogues in history.
You mention “whatever collective intelligence the US citizenry once had seems to have deteriorated in the 1990s. No, I don’t know why.”
I don’t know whether there was a deterioration in the 1990s in critical thinking in the populace or not. For perspective, read Charles Mackay, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds (1841). Never mind how long ago it was written, this is worth reading and remains a classic: utterly hilarious true history, while sad at the same time. It shows that while America is writing a new chapter worthy of Mackay’s classic, this is not new. Thanks for your comments.
Dear G. D.
I’ve read Mackay, several times. First time was in the late 1990s, when I was trying to figure out why buying common stocks scared the crap out of me — but virtually no one else I knew.
It IS worth reading. And re-reading.
It’s disappointing to think, with the arrival of Trump, USA idiocy has become full-time, overtime, mainline, the rule not the exception.
But it is.
Yes, I have been following the different points you list. And they are very significant. I suppose in some way I had such things as part of the background that has created the conditions for “cult” or “radicalized” reactions, as per my #6.
There is the sense of powerlessness that has been exacerbated over the failures of the democratic processes, and failures of millions worldwide to prevent the attack on Iraq, the discrediting of the mainstream media (here I think (only) partly to blame is the restructuring of media so it relies more exclusively on “official statements” as independent reporting is becoming increasingly uneconomical), and the greed of the financial institutions, the growing inequalities, the diminishing of services and infrastructure…
We have had the same here in Australia though to a lesser extent, except for the financial institutions treating customers dishonestly and cruelly, and the Federal Government having to be dragged painfully against their will to authorize a very slight and shallow investigation into just a handful of their dealings: with even that very limited investigation leading to public scandals and CEO resignations.
Many people turn off and give up, feeling powerless to do anything, and continue quietly with their frustrations. Others have found a voice and a feeling of power with Trump and what he appears to represent (despite some of his actual actions making things worse for sections of his support.)
All political movements in defense of corrupt figures are cults to some extent. Ocasio-Cortez, Clinton, Trump, Weld, etc. This has been a growing feature of American politics for some years, but was greatly heightened with the 2016 election.
I thought this article might be of interest, here is a quote.
“In fact, there are cases where cultural beliefs affect whole communities of scientists over a long period of time. So it’s interesting to reflect on how that changes. And it invariably changes because the community changes, and sometimes it changes just because old people die, and younger scientists come in and realize, “Hold on, why are we assuming this?” And they make their career by criticizing something that used to be widely held and show that it was wrong.”
“Why Misinformation Is About Who You Trust, Not What You Think”