Trumpism is not just a political movement, with populist tendencies. It is also a cult, with some of the chief characteristics of one. This is a cult with unquestioning of the leader, and increasingly us v them way of looking at the world. There is orthodoxy in the belief system and it is increasingly isolating its members, even as the administration comes to an end. Let's be clear about cults. They rely on a leader, a strong man if you will, who gives them a sense of their future, their present, and their past. We have understood this since at least the Second World War, and the writing of a classic, The True Believer by Eric Hoffer. We are dealing with true believers in our midst, as well as a cynical leader who knows the future of the movement depends on the past. In fact, that past is a great place, where things were better.
There is plenty of psychology written on this. One of the common things in cults is what is called personality fusion, where people subsume their person to that of the leader. This is not limited to Donald Trump. It can happen with any cult. Right now we are experiencing the dissonance that comes when reality intrudes. This is also why senior Republicans are coddling the president. They fear his base, which they coddled and enabled for the last four years. There is a continuum of cultish behavior in my view. It ranges from the cynics manipulating them, or the true believers' Republican leaders know that Donald Trump gave them what they wanted. This is the most extreme judiciary in modern times. One that they expect will slow down progress as they are a minority party. That we all knew. They accepted the abuses of power because it would allow them to maintain some power even after the cult leader is gone.
Some observers believe that Mitch McConnell and Lynsey Graham are standing with Trump in this battle to preserve the presidency for Trump is either a coup attempt or about the Georgia run-off election. Of course, it is both. This is not either situation. Republicans have a long history of believing Democrats have no legitimate right to govern. So trying to overturn the decision by we the people before elections are certified should surprise no one. They are also afraid of a Trump base that sees shadows everywhere. They believe in conspiracies and these politicians, cynically, have engaged in the same talk.
Let’s be clear. This started to be on iota in the 1990s with Newt Gingrich who opposed anything Bill Clinton wanted to do. The Reagan revolution was at risk, and Democrats are always commies who want to destroy real Americans. In my mind, this goes all the way to Watergate and the consequences following Richard Nixon's resignation. Democrats prosecuted a president in Congress for a righteous reason. That was the worst political scandal since the Tea Pot Dome scandal of the early 20th century, and it led to the president ultimately resignation. Ever since Republicans have been fixated on political payback, and the last four years did not help. After all, Donald Trump is the first president to be impeached in the first term for cause. Democrats concentrated on trying to enlist a foreign government to influence an American election.
The fact that Republicans will never hold Donald Trump accountable may be partly cult behavior, but it is also a long-standing belief that no matter what, a Republican president can do no wrong. Or if they do, we need to cover for him. It is corrupt, but it is also partisan.
democratic nations have a series of customs and traditions that politicians usually follow they include things like releasing tax returns and generally speaking being open to the people when there is a crisis. Instead, the president keeps undermining democracy at every turn. It also includes not undermining his successor. But what did the Democrats do about Trump? Fair point, except that the president has been attacking these norms and the law from before he took power. Just because the Department of Justice says you cannot prosecute a sitting president, does not mean that the president did not break the law. This was in the Mueller report. Moreover, Trump has argued, repeatedly, that unless he wins, the election is rife with fraud.
What is happening now is unprecedented. If Hillary Clinton won in 2016 Trump would have declared that the election is fraudulent, except we would have had a smooth transition of power, exactly as we did in 2016. Why? President Barack Obama accepted the result of that election, even if he was not pleased with it. The will of the people is the cornerstone of the American political system. His political party, ranging from Senate Leader Mitch McConnell to the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is taking all of us down a road of delusion. The Secretary of State has gone so far as to state that there will be a second Trump term. He told the media that he is getting ready for that transition. This sounds like crazy talk to most Americans, it is. It also is exactly what you expect like the language in emerging democracies that still have to have regular peaceful transfers of power. It also sounds very fascist.
There is a purge at the Pentagon with the removal of the Secretary as well as key under-secretaries. This should alarm you, especially since the people put in place are loyalists, and hardly fans of democracy. This, we are told, is also coddling a seventy-four man-child. Trump told us last week that he was a poor loser. We expected this. The party that is doing this to protect his fragile ego is a serious problem. However, this is not just about Trump or Georgia. These are both easy answers. This is about a party that does not believe in democracy itself.
There are reasons for this. The party has become a minority party, that still controls some areas of the country. It has also become a white supremacist nationalist party under Trump. We can argue that it already was, and just needed to fully embrace this. But these views are not consistent with democracy.
Articles of Faith in the New Age
We are watching a conspiracy take form and become mainstream in real-time. We are also entering a dangerous moment when the president is seen as illegitimate by half of the country, no matter who wins. This pattern started with Bill Clinton, but now it is alarming. Democrats saw the first term of the Bush administration this way because he won through the electoral college. Bush, however, understood this and became an American president,. Trump never pretended to do this. He kept dividing along with party and regional lines. He pitted red states vs blue states for example, and urban v rural. It became an article of faith under Trump that some people can never be American.
Ergo an old chestnut has become an article of faith for Republicans. Fraud (in mostly Democratic, majority-minority) cities is rampant, even when in reality there is no fraud. This question the legality of ballots cast by African Americans and Latinx. White supremacy is at the core of Republican ideology. That they attract the votes of minorities could be puzzling. That is until we examine a few other aspects of the ideology.
At its core, this is populism and transforming Republicans into a party of the working class as opposed to elites. In this mythology, Democrats are coastal elites that are trying to change how real America lives. They are foreign to the core of what is to be an American This central tenet is also attractive to the same minority voters who would be under attack by Republicans. However, these voters like the populism that modern-day Republicans represent, as well as a form of toxic masculinity and misogynism that comes with it, even if Trumpism wants to deprive them of health care, and social security, they like the rest. There is a certain level of denial as well. The Republican party is Orwellian at this point, and Democrats, in particular, center-right Neoliberals need to find out how to frame issues. They have not. They keep giving in and triangulating, even when every time they do it, they are portrayed as weak.
There is another tenet of faith for modern-day Republicans. The deep-state wants to destroy the republic. There are traitors in our midst. These are pedophiles who engage in human sacrifice and drinking of blood to remain young (This is classic blood libel and it is antisemitic as hell.) QAnon has gained wide distribution. They also claim that the United States is going away, under the United Nations, or other globalist forces. This is straight out of the John Birch Society balder bash that was rejected by Republicans in the 1950s. QAnon is the mother of all conspiracies, so it should come as no surprise that it has wide appeal. In the age of a pandemic and the uncertainty it brings, it has grown even more.
The cult is growing, and the paranoia and articles of faiths are spread by a far-right media scene that spreads this. It is not just Fox News, though many are migrating to even more radical versions of state tv.. This large ecosystem of far-right media, ranging from blogs to so-called media outlets spreads this with gusto.
The cult practices projection,. This is why it calls the other side losers, and traitors, It is they who are losing their minds and personas by fusioning with their leaders.
This is not New
We keep hearing from our leaders how unusual this is. How much we have never seen this before. I will be brutal. We have. This is exactly what happens in emerging oligarchies and authoritarian states. A strong leader can lie his way to permanent power, and this is exactly what Donald Trump (and Republicans) are attempting. This is very familiar to those of us who are students of police states.
We already have some of the elements in place. Trump is already engaging in a dirty war within American borders. At the moment he is purging the Department of Defense from any who would oppose him, and in their place has placed loyalists. These people will obey any order. Ilegal, amoral, or not. This is the danger. We need to be clear-eyed about this. We may need to take to the streets once again, in order to ensure a transition of power. Micahel Cohenwarned us that Trump would not go peacefully into that good night. His party had a chance to indict him after he was impeached. They missed that, and now they are coddling him. The reason is, they believe in what he wants. This is not about letting him prepare himself mentally for the loss. If this should work, they would be able to impose their way on all of us.
The system, so far, is working. But this is hardly unusual or unprecedented. For historians and students of police states, all of this is utterly familiar.