What is rather astonishing is the observation that Trump can more or less do anything without in any way disrupting the support he enjoys amongst his devoted followers.
Let’s play a small thought experiment.
Let’s suppose that he was caught boasting on tape about committing sexual assault upon women … oh wait, that has happened, and yes, it really did not in any way bother his core voters.
OK, let’s try something else. Let’s suppose that he was caught lying about something … oh wait, that has also happened many many times, and yes, once again, his core voters are not in any way concerned.
Third attempt. Let’s suppose that he was pandering to daft conspiracy theories, for example promoting anti-science nonsense such as claiming that Climate Change was a myth, or that vaccines cause autism, all on the basis of no evidence at all … oh wait, that has also happened, and continues to happen.
And so on and on we can proceed to list rather a lot of things, each of which should cause considerable concern, but none of it does.
We already now reap the harvest from the emergence of this fanatical cult. Within just one week an isolationist xenophobic stance that will cost billions and yield no benefit begins to emerge. Jobs will be lost, the economy will be impacted, human rights are already being grossly abused … and still his core followers retain their devotion to their new glorious messiah because despite all evidence to the contrary, the belief that he is leading them into the promised land of “greatness” persists.
Explaining The Trump Cult
Sheldon Solomon at Skidmore University utilises an aspect of social psychology called terror management theory to explain what is happening …
When researchers show experimental subjects a photo or phrase that reminds them of terrorism, war or death, this triggering actually changes voting preferences and political opinions among the study participants, as confirmed in several experiments going back to the early 1970s. Specifically, research subjects preferred authoritarian figures over more knowledgeable or skilled politicians when they had previously been primed with visual or verbal cues (photos of bombings say, or World Trade Center or 9/11) related to violence or threat, whether the politicians were real-life political figures or invented ones. Solomon and his colleagues apply terror management theory in a forthcoming chapter in a book explaining the Trump election.
The Trump rally speeches go through a litany of perceived threats to the American worker: the immigrants taking “our” jobs, the terrorists who want to kill “us,” the media who want to silence “us.” Trump is no social psychologist, but he has an instinctive sense for crowds: the purpose of this rhetoric is to tear down the listener to a point of malleability, at which point, he “alone” supplies the answer (as in his “I alone can fix it” speech at the Republican National Convention in the summer).
He drowns the listener in fear and then reaches out a helping hand from the threat that he, himself, has conjured. This verbal waterboarding breaks down the Trump fan into a panicked rage and then channels that fear and anger into the pretend solution of a giant wall or jailing Hillary Clinton, which not incidentally, also places Trump at the center of power and control over his fans’ lives. Fear actually short-circuits rational thought and gets the rally-goer to accept the strongman as the only way to avoid the perceived threat.
Is “cult” really the correct term to utilise?
That is generally used within a religious context to describe an extreme irrational and very controlling belief.
Let’s step back for a moment and take a look at the attributes that we normally associated with the word “cult”.
Leadership – Within cults we tend to see a strong leader who dominates and controls everything. Nothing the leader does is wrong, no matter how obnoxious it might be.
Fear – Those outside the cult are demonised
Money – No meaningful financial disclosure regarding budget or expenses, such as an independently audited financial statement. Anybody seen those promised tax returns yet?
Manipulation – Disinformation and emotional manipulation are used to hook and retain devotees. Press briefings are propaganda and not factual.
Control – The flow of information is strictly controlled, those inside are kept inside the bubble. Outside sources of information are discredited and declared “fake”..
Make no mistake here, the cult of Trump ticks all these boxes are more. It is not a political movement, instead it is a political cult that instills fear to draw people in and utilises emotional manipulation via propaganda to keep people in line.
Why does knowing this matter?
If you care about basic human rights such as freedom of religion, freedom of the press, freedom of speech, women’s rights, LGBT rights, or simply care about the natural environment and want clean air to breath and clean water to drink, and would like to see challenging problems such as climate change actually being addressed in a meaningful way, then you have a duty to #resist the cult of Trump.
Not just once, but each and every day.