Waiting for the Miracle
Here’s the routine. First, Donald Trump says something misleading, racist, or illegal. Then, when people actually call him out, he says he was only “joking” or he denies ever having said it. The latest is Trump’s dangerous urging of North Carolinians to vote twice in the upcoming election. Of course, that’s illegal, but coming from Trump, its par for the course.
A lot has been said about the cult-like qualities of Trump followers. No matter what he says or does, they stick to him like glue. Yes, one might easily conclude that he is grooming a cult following, gas lighting them and feeding them a steady diet of solutions to problems he himself has created. And now the latest, is his scheme to deplete Social Security by 2023 with a payroll tax cut. Don’t worry, he’ll fix the problem he created and take all the credit.The assertions by religious extremists, that he has been sent by God, are particularly disturbing, sealing the case as to whether Trumpism is in fact a cult.
We Want to Believe
Cults of all kinds are alluring to us, because humans are hardwired, deep down, to believe. Personally, I think God made us this way so we might worship Him. But this wiring can easily be manipulated. I was in a play in ninth grade about a cult. In a long since forgotten play, my character, a member of said cult, said something I will never forget:
“It is the faith which counts, not the miracle. If we are to be disappointed, at least we dared to hope. We dared to believe in something, even if it was the wrong thing, and dared strongly enough to risk the ridicule and laughter of others. Let them scorn. It scarcely matters, with all the speed, progress argument and noise. I’ve reached a harbor here. I’ve found politeness, serenity.”
That serene feeling of believing, of certainty, of being part of something larger than ourselves, is very strong. It’s like a drug. It goes directly to our primitive limbic brain. Belief then becomes an addiction, one that must constantly be fed. The cult leader intentionally divides his followers from the dreaded “other.” The darker he paints his enemies, the more control he has over the message, the stronger is their belief that he “alone can fix the system.” The leader becomes their very life line against their common “enemies,” who in this case are:
- “mainstream” media
- people of color (thugs)
- the LGBDQ community
- any political opponents
- “nasty” women
- “rapist” immigrants from “shithole” countries
- and now, as it has just come out in the Washington Post, even “losers” who were “stupid enough” to serve and die for their country in the U.S. Military.
- who knows, you may be next.
So how can I be so sure that Trump has cult followers and not just ardent supporters? Aren’t people entitled to a difference of opinion? Of course they are. But this is different. Because his supporters can plainly see, if they choose to look, all the crazy, dangerous things he says and does. For instance, U.S. intelligence agencies have proof that Russia is working with trump to get him reelected. It’s right out in the open for anyone to see. And still they support him. Cult leaders and would be dictators know they must work incrementally, little by little, moving the needle of what is acceptable, “normal” behavior from their leader. He does this repeatably. Repetition of a lie, is key to moving that needle.
Repetition is the Key
“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.” Joseph Goebbels
Each offense is laughed off or dismissed, until his followers eventually become immured. Slowly but surely, he is disabling their ability to discern, one minor offense at a time. He is inoculating them to his conspiracy theories, little by little, planting seeds of doubt, here and there, retweeting some right wing conspiracy theory and offering himself as the only solution to the myriad of problems he has manufactured. He openly flaunts the law and still calls himself a “law and order” president. His morality is beyond reproach, even though he has paid strippers for their silence and managed to avoid facing allegations of raping a thirteen year old girl.
More importantly, he has empowered his followers to believe they are part of his great mission, and that peace and prosperity are right around the corner, even as he flames the fires of discontent in our cities and destabilizes the world economy. Almost 200,000 lives have been lost to Covid19, due to his gross mishandling of the crisis. A growing list of rogue Republicans dare challenge his judgment. Add to the list former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, who knows a thing or two about the gross mishandling of a crisis (Flint!).
We forget that the German people were once proud of their strong leader and believed he was the savior of a broken Germany. He pointed to the Jews as their common enemy. Long before there were gas chambers, there was a simple suggestion that the Jews might be the problem. Eventually, he made the case that fear and ultimately hatred of the Other was warranted. The “miracle” Hitler promised was a world of prosperity and righteousness and a return to German Greatness. We forget that he was democratically elected, that the church was with him all the way and that many in America supported his cause. Germans believed he was the only way forward, right up to the bitter end. In history books, we only study the fall. We forget to learn about the rise. That’s where we need to look right now. I read “The Rise and Fall of Adolf Hitler” when I was in forth grade. I couldn’t understand how he could have fooled so many people. I do now. I can see where we are heading. We are still in the infancy of the Trump Era. We can only guess where it will end.
So why do they follow him, even with his dark backstory and all we know about despots and dictators? Because he provides his followers hope for a return to American Greatness. That is the miracle his followers hold firmly in their minds when casting their votes. That is the miracle they are waiting for so ardently to see fulfilled.
In my ninth grade play, we were waiting for a spaceship to arrive that was going to take us away to a better place. Spoiler alert: it never came.