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Escape from the Trump Cult
Millions of Americans are blindly devoted to their Dear Leader. What will it take for them to snap out of it?
Illustration by Zach Meyer
WN: The very well-researched article highlighted below is fascinating, not because about Trump, but about deprogramming cultists from fundamental irrationality — and ultimately deep disillusionment. At least for some who invariably end up there, once seeing the light…
One can only wish enlightenment on all Trump devotees for their own good: not to indulge I-told-you-so fantasies.
This article by Dartagnan is also worth a read: We’re living through the consequences of a cult of personality, where the personality is sociopathic. We read:
Donald Trump has spun a cult of personality around himself, aided by a wholly complicit Republican Party now under his complete control. Most of what Americans are witnessing happening to the country today in real-time is a direct consequence of that cult of personality, with a death toll from the Sars-CoV-2 virus now exceeding 170,000 Americans, with a collapsed economy hamstrung from recovery by Republican ideology, and now, in a bizarre twist, with the bizarre attack on the U.S. Post Office by Trump and his willing sycophants to tilt the election in his favor.
In Trump, we are dealing with the cult of a personality where the “personality” at issue is that of a dangerously deluded psychotic (or sociopath, if you prefer). The only difference between Trump’s destructive impulses and those of Mao and Stalin is the environment where it is taking place; fortunately, at least thus far, there are some institutional barriers to the consequences of Trump’s cult of personality. But, as we have seen, it is none the less destructive personally to millions of Americans for that fact. The differences essentially amount to differences in scope and execution.
As was reported in the Washington Post Trump’s obsession with the Post Office dates back to a single delusion borne of his personality cult; namely, that “voter fraud” was the cause of his popular vote loss to Hillary Clinton.
This delusional fixation against the Post Office has now manifested itself by the insertion of a loyal sycophant, Louis DeJoy, who was eagerly recruited by another sycophant, Steven Mnuchin, to further Trump’s obsession.
As a result, we are now seeing a pillar of Americans’ existence lives come under assault, not for any rational reason, but in the feverish pursuit of pleasing the leader. This is the cult of personality writ large. It is as insidious, senseless, and corroding as any institutional attack fostered by a Stalin or a Mao.
The difference is only one of degree.
Please also see: The Trump cult lives in a meaner, alternate universe, by .
On December 20, 1954, some 62 years before Donald Trump would be sworn in as president of the United States, Dorothy Martin and dozens of her followers crowded into her home in Chicago to await the apocalypse. The group believed that Martin, a housewife, had received a message from a planet named Clarion that the world would end in a great flood beginning at midnight, and that they, the faithful, would be rescued by an alien spacecraft.
Unbeknownst to the other “Seekers,” three of their group—Leon Festinger, Henry Riecken, and Stanley Schachter—were not there to be saved, but to observe. Psychologists from elite institutions, they had infiltrated the pseudo-cult to study Festinger’s recently elaborated theory of “cognitive dissonance.” The theory predicted that when people with strongly held beliefs were presented with contrary evidence, rather than change their minds they would seek comfort and “cognitive consonance” by convincing others to support their erroneous views.
Festinger’s prediction was right. When neither the apocalypse nor the UFO arrived, the group began proselytizing about how God had rewarded the Earth with salvation because of their vigil. His subsequent book, When Prophecy Fails, became a standard sociology reference for examining cognitive dissonance, religious prophecy, and cult-like behavior. What the three researchers probably never predicted, though, was that over half a century later Festinger’s theory would be applicable to roughly 25 percent of the population of the United States and one of its two major political parties. Nor could they have foreseen that the country’s salvation might well depend on its ability to deprogram the Trump cult’s acolytes—an effort that would require a level of sympathetic engagement on the part of nonbelievers that they have yet to display.
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.
Reason rarely defeats emotion—or, as Catherine Fieschi, an expert on political extremism, told me, gut instinct. If it did, right-wing populist movements from Brexit to Bolsonaro would be on the retreat, not in the advance. Those caught in the web of Trumpism do not see the deception that surrounds them. And if scandals too numerous to list have not dented faith in Trump, those holding out for an apocalyptic moment of reckoning that suddenly drops the curtain—the Russia investigation, or his taxes—will only be disappointed. In all likelihood, the idea that Trump is a crook has been “priced in.”
When presented with his actual record, which has often fallen short of what he promised on the campaign trail, Trump supporters time and again have displayed either disbelief or indifference. As a Trump supporter explicitly stated in reference to the president’s many, many lies, “I don’t care if he sprouts a third dick up there.” What actually is doesn’t matter; what does is that Trump reflects back to his supporters a general feeling of what ought to be, a general truthiness in their guts.
Amidst the frenetic pace of disgrace and outrage, Trump’s support remains stable among too large a chunk of the American public to just ignore. Trump, who insisted on the presence of voter fraud by the millions in an election he ultimately won, and a coterie of prominent Republicans spent the week after the 2018 midterms delegitimizing the very notion of counting all the votes in key races in Florida, Georgia, and Arizona. Trump’s claim that he could shoot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue and still retain the loyalty of his followers is jokingly referred to as the truest thing he’s ever said, but it’s less funny that 52 percent of them would hypothetically support postponing the 2020 election if he proposed it. What happens when a man who has already >promoted political violence, and whose most hardcore supporters have shown their willingness for such violence, finds on election night two years from now that he has just narrowly lost? Do any of us truly believe that Donald J. Trump and his followers will simply slink away quietly into the night?
So, how do we get those caught up in the cult of Trump to leave it?
Please click on: The Trump Cult
- Here is an article about the tally of Trump's lies in his first 700 days as President: a whopping 7,546! Yet I have a relative who in response to such facts asks: But who is checking the fact checker? Impossible will to believe against all odds, otherwise known as completely brainwashed! Hence the joke about the man convinced he was dead who was given books to read by his doctor about the state of dead men. Upon the patient's acknowledging the next doctor visit that dead men do not bleed, the doctor whips out a giant needle, stabs his arm, and blood spurts out. The patient looks at his arm askance, and declares: "Dead men do bleed after all!"
Please look at several articles as well on American/Western will to world domination by clicking on "Selected Articles: Western Aggression Backed by Western Media”. The series of articles is introduced thus:
The Western allies never run dry of resources to support their global war of terror and aggression, ostensibly an integral part of their foreign policy. They dynamically legislate laws lest the people awaken. They have the unbending support of the corporate media, which skilfully distorts reality. When will they ever back down from their destructive quest for colonies? Read our selection below. Here is an article about the tally of Trump’s lies in his first 700 days as President: a whopping 7,546! Yet I have a relative who in response to such facts asks: But who is checking the fact checker? Impossible will to believe against all odds, otherwise known as completely brainwashed! Hence the joke about the man convinced he was dead who was given books to read by his doctor about the state of dead men. Upon the patient’s acknowledging the next doctor visit that dead men do not bleed, the doctor whips out a giant needle, stabs his arm, and blood spurts out. The patient looks at his arm askance, and declares: “Dead men do bleed after all!”↩
- It continued:
‘For seven months, Tiger Force soldiers moved across the Central Highlands, killing scores of unarmed civilians – in some cases torturing and mutilating them - in a spate of violence never revealed to the American public,’ the newspaper said, at other points describing the killing of hundreds of unarmed civilians. ‘Women and children were intentionally blown up in underground bunkers,’ The Blade said. ‘Elderly farmers were shot as they toiled in the fields. Prisoners were tortured and executed - their ears and scalps severed for souvenirs. One soldier kicked out the teeth of executed civilians for their gold fillings.” The New York Times confirmed the claimed accuracy of the stories by contacting several of those interviewed. It reported: “But they wanted to make another point: that Tiger Force had not been a ‘rogue’ unit. Its members had done only what they were told, and their superiors knew what they were doing. “Burning huts and villages, shooting civilians and throwing grenades into protective shelters were common tactics for American ground forces throughout Vietnam, they said. That contention is backed up by accounts of journalists, historians and disillusioned troops… ‘Vietnam was an atrocity from the get-go,’ [one veteran] said in a recent telephone interview. ‘It was that kind of war, a frontless war of great frustration. There were hundreds of My Lais. You got your card punched by the numbers of bodies you counted.’ Current likely Democratic Presidential candidate John Kerry was also quoted giving evidence before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1971. He reported that American soldiers in Vietnam had “raped, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam in addition to the normal ravage of war, and the normal and very particular ravaging which is done by the applied bombing power of this country. Nicholas Turse [later author of: Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam], a doctoral candidate at Columbia University, has been studying government archives and said they were filled with accounts of similar atrocities. ''I stumbled across the incidents The Blade reported,'' Mr. Turse said by telephone. ''I read through that case a year, year and a half ago, and it really didn't stand out. There was nothing that made it stand out from anything else. That's the scary thing. It was just one of hundreds.'' Yet there were few prosecutions.↩
- Historian John Coatsworth in The Cambridge History of the Cold War noted:
Between 1960, by which time the Soviets had dismantled Stalin's gulags, and the Soviet collapse in 1990, the numbers of political prisoners, torture victims, and executions of nonviolent political dissenters in Latin America vastly exceeded those of the Soviet Union and its East European satellites. In other words, from 1960 to 1990, the Soviet bloc as a whole was less repressive, measured in terms of human victims, than many individual Latin American countries [under direct sway of US Empire] ("The Cold War in Central America", pp. 216 - 221).What was true for Latin America was true for around the world: massive human rights abuses, assassinations, regime changes of democratically elected governments, etc., etc., etc. orchestrated by US Empire. Yet Americans invariably have wanted it both ways: to be seen as the exemplary "City on A Hill" that upholds universal human rights and democracy, while operating a brutal Empire directly contrary to all such elevated values, and a concomitant rapacious Empire market economy that takes no prisoners. This began of course even before the founding of the United States of America and continued apace, in its mass slaughter and dispossession of indigenous peoples, in its brutal system of slavery on which its obscene wealth in the textile industry in the first place was built. "The Land of the Free" conceit was a sustained con job on the part of America's leaders. It was also apotheosis of hypocrisy. American exceptionalism was/is true in one respect only: it was brutal like no other Empire in its eventual global reach.↩
-  The highlighted article about renowned whistle-blower Daniel Ellsberg points to again what is utterly chilling, horror-filled, exponentially beyond immoral, American (hence the world's) reality: "Daniel Ellsberg: U.S. Military Planned First Strike On Every City In Russia and China … and Gave Many Low-Level Field Commanders the Power to Push the Button". He has since written The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner. Of it we read:
Shortlisted for the 2018 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction Finalist for the California Book Award in Nonfiction The San Francisco Chronicle's Best of 2017 List In These Times “Best Books of 2017” Huffington Post's Ten Excellent December Books List LitHub's “Five Books Making News This Week” From the legendary whistle-blower who revealed the Pentagon Papers, an eyewitness exposé of the dangers of America's Top Secret, seventy-year-long nuclear policy that continues to this day. Here, for the first time, former high-level defense analyst Daniel Ellsberg reveals his shocking firsthand account of America's nuclear program in the 1960s. From the remotest air bases in the Pacific Command, where he discovered that the authority to initiate use of nuclear weapons was widely delegated, to the secret plans for general nuclear war under Eisenhower, which, if executed, would cause the near-extinction of humanity, Ellsberg shows that the legacy of this most dangerous arms buildup in the history of civilization--and its proposed renewal under the Trump administration--threatens our very survival. No other insider with high-level access has written so candidly of the nuclear strategy of the late Eisenhower and early Kennedy years, and nothing has fundamentally changed since that era.↩
- A classic instance of this aligning with "just war" is the United States' "war on drugs" as subset of "war on crime", while at the same time the CIA was a major worldwide drug dealer in league with other drug cartels -- all done to enhance American Empire during the Cold War -- and continues to the present. The four-part series mentioned below connects American Empire drug dealing to the current War on Terror, in particular in Afghanistan. This of course is colossal hypocrisy as well. Worse: the series posits American federal government administrations over many decades as the Ultimate Drug Cartel, with Blacks, Latinos, and generally the poor directly being knowingly poisoned en masse. Then they have been primary targets of the Drug Enforcement Agency, and thereby become victims of America's too often savage prison system that oppresses and brutalizes them all over again... See: "The War on Drugs Is a Failure, So [Attorney General] Jeff Sessions Is All for It". A citation from the article reads:
In June , the History Channel aired a four-part documentary series called America’s War on Drugs.” The series asserts that the war on drugs was actually a war of drugs—and that the CIA was essentially a partner in spreading drugs and drug use. The series follows how the U.S. intelligence agency, in an obsession with fighting communism, allied itself with U.S. organized crime and foreign drug traffickers and includes firsthand accounts from many involved. In an interview with Truthdig columnist Sonali Kolhatkar on her radio program “Rising Up With Sonali,” the series’ executive producer, Anthony Lappé, explains why the CIA got involved:
It’s actually a pretty mind-blowing story when you look at the extent to which the CIA was involved with drug traffickers and drug trafficking throughout the Cold War. … If you look at Cold War policy against the Soviet Union, we were locked in a global battle for supremacy, where we have lots of proxy wars going on. … We needed to team up with local allies, and often the local allies we were teaming up with were people who had access to guns, who had access to underground networks, to help us fight the perceived threat of communism. There are actually a lot of similarities between what drug traffickers do and what the CIA does.Lappé elaborates by saying the hypocrisy of the war on drugs has been evident from the start: Secret CIA experiments with LSD helped fuel the counterculture movement, leading to President Richard Nixon’s crackdown and declaration of the war on drugs. The series also explores the CIA’s role in the rise of crack cocaine in poor black communities and a secret island “cocaine base.” In addition the documentary makes the connection between the war on drugs, the war on terror and the transformation of Afghanistan into a narco state and contends that American intervention in Mexico helped give clout to Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán and the super cartels, making it easier to send drugs across American borders. Watch Kolhatkar’s full interview with Lappé by clicking here. Please also see the now classic: The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade, by noted American historian Alfred McCoy. Of it we read:
The first book to prove CIA and U.S. government complicity in global drug trafficking, The Politics of Heroin includes meticulous documentation of dishonesty and dirty dealings at the highest levels from the Cold War until today. Maintaining a global perspective, this groundbreaking study details the mechanics of drug trafficking in Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and South and Central America. New chapters detail U.S. involvement in the narcotics trade in Afghanistan and Pakistan before and after the fall of the Taliban, and how U.S. drug policy in Central America and Colombia has increased the global supply of illicit drugs.To be noted as well is Johann Hari's Chasing The Scream, which tells the tragic tale of America's long-standing offensive against drugs, and the way to end such a war worldwide -- that several nations are successfully embracing.↩