What is the hold that Trump has over his followers?
Do you cringe every time you hear Trump’s voice on a news clip, a bar tv turned to Fox, or your elderly parent’s tv set? What do people see in this guy? From being proud of sexual molestation to tax evasion, gold toilet seats and constant bragging- I wouldn’t even have a beer with him, much less let him run the country.
But despite being caught in over 30,500 lies while in office, his base believes his Big Lie about the stolen election. They reject the election process, the courts, and Trump’s own lawyers’ words. Instead they trust the known liar and are willing to dismantle democracy to support him. With violence if necessary, as they deemed it necessary on January 6, 2021. Why?
It hit me during this video clip of a member of the Proud Boys during the Jan. 6 hearings.
WATCH: 'Trump asked us to come,' rioters said during Jan. 6 attack | Jan. 6 hearings
The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack presented in its first hearing June 9 a series of video…
Eric Barber says, “For everything he [Trump] has done for us, if this is the only thing he asks of me, I’ll do it.” You and I might be wondering- what do you think Trump has done for you? While there were some wage increases, and some tax benefits, for the most part these went to the top ten percent- not to Eric and his friends. Meanwhile their health insurance premiums went up, the cost of goods from China went up, small farmers were forced out of business, and life became more stressful for anyone not at the top of the pecking order.
But when Robert S. spoke I could see it was not about the numbers. “Trump has only asked me for two things, my vote and he asked me to come on January 6th.” Watching this guy, I could see his real love and devotion to Trump. It struck me that Trump makes this guy feel loved, accepted and important. He feels like he has a rich buddy, a crazy guy with a gold toilet, who treats him, a working class dude, like he is important.
Clearly there is no amount of logic that will displace that feeling of belonging. And this is Trump’s real appeal. He does not require that his followers become less racists, more environmentally aware, healthier, more informed, or more active. He loves them just the way they are. The only thing he demands is absolute loyalty. Which they gladly give.
Hitler analogies have been flying back and forth across the political playground for so long that they are practically meaningless, and yet, it is hard to ignore the similarities in this respect. The German people were beaten down after WWI. They were defeated. Hitler made them feel good about themselves. He wasn’t followed, he was adored.
I remember seeing part of a History Channel special on Hitler with the scenes of women throwing him flowers, screaming like girls at an Elvis concert, reaching out to try to touch him. These people did not care about Hitler’s politics, they loved how he made them feel.
What are sane people to do when a cult leader becomes a world leader?
The first step is to treat this like the cult that it is. It is not the world falling to pieces, it is a select group of people falling prey to easy answers.
The structures and relationships that used to make poor, white people feel safe, are being disrupted- by the truth. With no place left to stand, they look backwards to a mythical past and cling to the father figure who makes them feel safe. Trump followers and their kin around the world are not … evil, so much as they are vulnerable. Their fear and isolation make them easy targets for a political cult.
We are in an age of Truth and Choice.
The Truth about racism, capitalism, US foreign policy, economic inequality, sexual assault, climate, drug prices … It seems everything in our society has a dark underbelly that is coming to light. This is a good thing. But it is also messy and scary. We stand on shifting sands, not sure how to keep our balance, how to be safe.
Choice. Most of history has been shaped haphazardly. But with today’s technology, communications and longer view backwards and forwards, we are able to shape our future. Do we choose to live underground while climate change induced disasters turn the earth’s surface into a wasteland? Do we choose a society with armed guards at every public building where everyone learns to shoot as soon as they learn to walk? Do we choose to let some people starve while others grow fat? Or not. We are waking up to our responsibility for creating the future.
You and I believe that this is the first step in building a better world, whatever that might look like. We talk about it in terms of logic and policy, even poetry and dreams. But it also requires faith.
Faith that humanity is capable of something better.
Where does this faith come from? Perhaps personal success and agency in our own lives. Perhaps strong family or other personal connections that make us feel solid and secure. Perhaps imagination or even science fiction. Who knows.
But without that faith, we too might be tempted to cling to what is known, no matter how flawed. That is what the Trumpsters are doing. Banding together to protect what they have. Clinging to a father figure who assures them everything is ok.
Perhaps this is not a war between ideologies, but a war between those with faith in a better future and those without faith. Instead of focusing all our energy on a war against the Doubters, let’s also make sure to address the fear. How can we make that better future real enough that their fear is replaced by faith?
I don’t really know much about deprogramming people from cults. But I do know that we cannot just offer judgement and condemnation. Becoming a Progressive requires a lot of work. You have to study the environment, you have to read all the food labels, you have to read newsletters about what is toxic, what companies are using child labor, where your beef is raised, and where your toilet paper comes from. (Yes, I say this from experience-that is my life.)
And don’t forget the personal development. You have to become a better person, root out your own prejudice, sexism, and your discomfort with those who are different. It might be easier to get into heaven or pass through the eye of a needle, than it is to be a good Democrat/progressive/liberal. If you aren’t “woke” enough you can be cancelled, shunned, fired, blacklisted- by your own people!
Or, you can put on a red cap, blame your problems on the immigrants, and feel the love when Trump says “you are great people.” Really, is it any wonder? Life is stressful enough.
I would like to wrap up with the magic formula for pulling folks out of the Trump cult and getting back to reality based politics. And then go on a book tour. Ha. If we think of Trumpsters from this viewpoint- how can that shape some of our actions and reactions?