Donald Trump, Cult Leader

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Donald Trump’s unexpected presidential win is best understood as a pseudo-religious event.  Trump voters saw November 8th as their last chance to “save” America.  Out of desperation they joined the cult of Trump.

A couple of days after the election, Washington Post writer Chris Cillizza (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2016/11/10/the-13-most-amazing-things-in-the-2016-exit-poll/?utm_term=.4bac8d24c271) analyzed the exit polls and concluded: “Just 1 in 3 voters said they thought the country was ‘generally going in the right direction’… among the two-thirds of people who said things were ‘seriously off on the wrong track,’ Trump took 69 percent.”

Writing in the Huffington Post, Steve Rosenfeld (http://www.alternet.org/election-2016/these-15-startling-election-takeaways-reveal-terrified-electorate-resulted-president?akid=14957.20572.9O-EU2&rd=1&src=newsletter1068265&t=6) augmented this analysis: “Six in ten (60%) Republicans and 66% of Trump voters believe the election represented the last opportunity to arrest America’s decline.”

This finding should not come as a surprise; for months national polls have indicated that a majority of Americans see the US headed in the wrong direction.  What is surprising is the intensity of these feelings, the desperation.  Rosenfeld observed: “A majority (56%) of Republicans and 61% of Trump voters say that the policies of the Democratic Party constitute a dangerous threat to the country.”

Writing in Press Think, New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen (http://pressthink.org/2016/11/miss-bigger-missed-story-final-reflections-trump-press-2016/?utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Democracy%20Lab%20Weekly%20Brief%2C%20November%2028%2C%202016&utm_term=%2ADemocracy%20Lab) observed that running through the narrative of the Tea Party movement, and Trump supporters, has been the notion of “impending tyranny.”  Rosen asks: “If we credit the observation that a great many Americans drawn to the Tea Party live in fear that the United States is about to turn into a tyranny, with rigged elections, loss of civil liberties, no more free press, a police state… can we also credit the professional attitude that refuses to say whether this fear is reality-based?”

Many Trump voters regarded the Obama Administration as tyrannical.  Since Obama became President, conservatives sought to discredit him and depicted him negatively.  Last year a CNN poll (http://www.politifact.com/punditfact/statements/2015/nov/23/arsalan-iftikhar/do-59-percent-americans-believe-barack-obama-musli/) asked voters, “Do you happen to know what religion Barack Obama is?” and 43 percent of Republicans responded that the President is a Muslim (another 25 percent were not sure).  For several years, polls have indicated that a substantial part of electorate not only dislikes President Obama but also regards him as a threat.

Donald Trump plugged into this irrational fear and used it as the basis for a cultish political movement.  There are five aspects of the Trump cult:

1.It’s based on Trump: Trump is a charismatic leader who uses his personal appeal to fuel his demagoguery. In his Republican Convention speech, Trump said, “I have joined the political arena so that the powerful can no longer beat up on people that cannot defend themselves. Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it.”  On November 8th, voters weren’t attracted to Trump’s policies or his competence — exit polls showed that only 38 percent believed Trump to be “qualified” to be President — it was his charisma, the belief Trump will “make America great again.”

2. The Trump vision is apocalyptic: Trump paints a dark picture of America — “we’re losing everywhere,” “the rest of the world is laughing at us” — and promises “I alone can fix it.”

Remember that a recent Newsweek poll found: “55 percent of Americans believe the Rapture is real, and a Pew Research Center survey revealed that 27 percent of U.S. Christians believe a related event, Jesus’ return to earth, will ‘definitely’ happen by 2050.”  A large percentage of voters have an apocalyptic frame-of-mind.  (In the Spring of 2016, a prophesy circulated on conservative Christian websites [http://www.christianheadlines.com/blog/2011-prophecy-claims-god-chose-trump-to-save-america.html] that “Donald Trump is the man God has chosen to lead America.”)  Trump voters believe America is teetering on the edge of the chasm.

3. The Cult of Trump is not reality-based:  Writing in Press Think, Jay Rosen observed that during the George W. Bush Administration a critical distinction was made between news that was “reality-based” and news that created by those in power; Bush operatives boasted, “When we act, we create our own reality.”

Rosen continued, “Trump’s campaign was openly intended to distort reality because that is a show of power. Power over his followers. Over the other candidates he humiliated and drove from the race… Trump uses rhetoric to erode people’s trust in facts, numbers, nuance, government and the news media.”

4. It has it’s own media.  The Trump cult has its own media separate from the mainstream media.  These sources — such as Breitbart and Fox News — don’t question Trump.  They are not “reality based,” they are “Trump based.”

Progressives often observe that conservatives operate in a different information “silo” than we do.  It’s more accurate to state that Trump voters operate in an information universe that is not empirical.  It is emotional and based upon what Trump says and does.

5. The cult of Trump is bigoted and angry: Because the cult is based upon Trump’s personality, it mirrors his behavior: it sanctions bigotry, bullying, and violence.   Donald Trump believes that America’s promise is being stolen by a mishmash of Washington politicians, “coastal elites,” immigrants, and random undesirables.  His followers believe the same.

Trump’s followers don’t recoil when he uses Twitter to lash out at a Judge or a Miss Universe contestant or China, because this is behavior the cult has grown accustomed to.  This is part of his charisma.  For the true believers, Trump “telling it like it is” shows strength. His incoherence shows authenticity.

Trump’s behavior will not change when he becomes President.  What America sees is what America gets.  Donald Trump, cult leader.