The cult of Trump

I was talking to my wife, and some friends of ours, and I casually mentioned that I thought that trump supporters were a cult. She looked at me and said “do you really think so?” I replied that I did - they have all the earmarks of a cult - willingness to follow their leader to their deaths, persecution complexes, cult symbols, etc.


Pretty much. Certainly a cult of personality.

Not everyone who voted for Trump is part of it, but boy howdy there are a lot of them.

Not just Trump, but there is an ethos of “follow the leader unquestioningly.” Especially among some evangelical circles where they take it further to “Do not speak against the Lord’s anointed.” (to the point where even some Christian false prophets are considered “anointed” and shielded)

There is some sort of “give an inch and the libs will take a mile” fear among the right-wingers, where they fear that if they concede that Trump did anything wrong, libs will go all mile on them. So they double down by refusing to admit anything wrong by Trump.

I found a list of cult characteristics and listed below the extent to which I feel Trumpism fits. Its a bit of a mixed bag. Trumpism shares qualities of requiring blind faith and devotion, but doesn’t exert the control over its members lives that a real cult would.

Maybe its just a religion.

The group displays an excessively zealous and unquestioning commitment to its leader, and (whether he is alive or dead) regards his belief system, ideology, and practices as the Truth, as law.

Questioning, doubt, and dissent are discouraged or even punished.

Mind-altering practices (such as meditation, chanting, speaking in tongues, denunciation sessions, or debilitating work routines) are used in excess and serve to suppress doubts about the group and its leader(s).

The leadership dictates, sometimes in great detail, how members should think, act, and feel (e.g., members must get permission to date, change jobs, or marry—or leaders prescribe what to wear, where to live, whether to have children, how to discipline children, and so forth).

The group is elitist, claiming a special, exalted status for itself, its leader(s), and its members (e.g., the leader is considered the Messiah, a special being, an avatar—or the group and/or the leader is on a special mission to save humanity).

The group has a polarized, us-versus-them mentality, which may cause conflict with the wider society.

The leader is not accountable to any authorities (unlike, for example, teachers, military commanders, or ministers, priests, monks, and rabbis of mainstream religious denominations).

The group teaches or implies that its supposedly exalted ends justify whatever means it deems necessary. This may result in members participating in behaviors or activities they would have considered reprehensible or unethical before joining the group (e.g., lying to family or friends, or collecting money for bogus charities).

The leadership induces feelings of shame and/or guilt in order to influence and control members. Often this is done through peer pressure and subtle forms of persuasion.

Subservience to the leader or group requires members to cut ties with family and friends, and radically alter the personal goals and activities they had before joining the group.

The group is preoccupied with bringing in new members.

The group is preoccupied with making money.

Members are expected to devote inordinate amounts of time to the group and group-related activities.

Members are encouraged or required to live and/or socialize only with other group members.

The most loyal members (the “true believers”) feel there can be no life outside the context of the group. They believe there is no other way to be, and often fear reprisals to themselves or others if they leave—or even consider leaving—the group.

While at the same time, Trump would go a mile while his supporters claim it was only an inch.

I think the entirety of the group called “Trump supporters” is too large and diverse to be defined as a cult in and of itself.

There are lots of cult-like tendencies within the group, such as the pervasive use of what are called thought-limiting cliches - slogans like Make America Great Again and Stop The Steal.

What I find much more interesting is the enthusiastic level support that Donald Trump gets from people that are already in cults. Authoritarianism is addictive.

The Washington Times, one of the hardest Trump supporting media outlets, is owned by the Moonies. Trump spoke at one of their events on 9/11.

One of Moon’s sons has started an even more militant pro-Trump cult, called the Rod of Iron ministries.

The Epoch Times, another pro-Trump news outlet, is the media arm of the Chinese Falun Gong cult.

Trump has significant support among the polygamous cults in the American Southwest. At least one insurrectionist has an address in Hilldale Utah, one of the two towns that comprise the notorious FLDS compound.

And here’s Don Jr consorting with a leader of another polygamous cult, the Kingston Group, which is less notorious than the FLDS but more noxious.

And then there are the numerous evangelical churches that are extreme enough to qualify as cults, mostly independent post-denominational churches affiliated with the New Apostolic Reformation movement and the older Independent Fundamentalist Baptist churches.

I think lots of Trump supporters, maybe most Trump supporters, are in a cult or cult-adjacent. But I don’t think just being a Trump supporter qualifies a person as a cult member.

But I want to finish with this older article. The title alone is epic.

I’m generally in agreement with your analysis but I have a couple of nits to pick.

I think Trump rallies qualify as mind-control sessions.

And - this is more a beef with the Cult Research Institute’s checklist - recruitment isn’t necessarily a requirement of cults. Once a cult has been around long enough, it makes new members instead of recruiting them.

The large generational polygamous cults, for example, are very insular and do absolutely no recruiting of outsiders.

I might rate this as a “Maybe.” It does seem to me that a lot of Trumpists have cut ties with family members and friends who are liberals or otherwise aren’t supporters of Trump (anecdotally, I have several cousins with whom I grew up, and have been close to as adults, who have essentially stopped speaking to me over the past year, as they completely went into the tank for Trump).

That said, I’m not sure if that’s technically a “requirement,” so much as a “complete rejection of those who don’t share my views.”

They say at the top of the page, that this isn’t a check list of characteristics that every cult has to have. Its meant as a set of warning signs to look for. So its certainly possible to be a cult without having active recruitment, its just that many cults do have aggressive recruitment. So if a group is setting up in bus stations inviting anyone who looks a little unsure of themselves whether they would like to come to the compound for a warm meal and a place to spend the night, be wary.

Yeah that crossed my mind, but It didn’t seem to me to be so much that the Trump cult was demanding that they cut off ties to friends and family, it’s just that continuously and aggressively spouting nonsense has the result of causing the friends and family to distance themselves.

I’ve been saying this for years now, and COVID has transformed the Trump cult into a literal death cult.

I do not mean this phrase metaphorically: members of the cult must be willing to sacrifice the lives of other human beings to demonstrate their loyalty to the cult. Spreading misinformation about vaccines, opposing mask mandates, lying about ICU numbers, falsely claiming that antiparasitic medications or aerosolized hydrogen peroxide will treat COVID–these are all actions that result in deaths of real people, and they are all actions encouraged and supported by the cult.

I really like this cult trait framework. Not every trait applies to the Trump death cult, but a lot of them do.

I don’t fully agree - the reason being that generally, none of the people who do those things think it will lead to their death.

A true death cult would be Jonestown or Heaven’s Gate. For that, you gotta intentionally off yourself in the name of the cause. But not a single Trump supporter who has died of Covid said, “I know Covid will kill me and I’m doing it to prove I’m a true Trumper.” Rather, they claimed Covid was a hoax or overblown hysteria.

This is a great point. Heaven’s Gate, the archetypal death cult, also didn’t believe they were dying: they believed they were becoming immortal extraterrestrial beings by shuffling off their human form.

Self-awareness isn’t a requirement for identification as a death cult. Deadly actions intentionally taken as a sign of loyalty to the cult is.

Trumo definitely scores better on this list than the one I posted. In this one I think he ticks all the boxes except 1, 6, 9, 10, 17, and somewhat 12 and 13.

I love these images (and there are many), but people in the cult are also embracing the phrase, in a different way…

I saw this video on YouTube a little while ago and it addresses pretty much everything on the right:

It’s hard to answer the question in the OP without defining what a cult is. And one of the challenges is that cults have incredibly fuzzy borders - they are often a relatively small group in the center of a much larger organization.

Cults can be embedded in the center of church and Bible study groups and yoga, mediation and other self-help groups. Generally the groups are involved in an outward activity that’s almost always universally considered to be highly positive.

When someone starts taking yoga classes or going to a church or a meditation circle, they get a lot of positive reinforcement from their peers.

For a lot of people, it stops there. No one makes any moves to recruit them. They just do their yoga or meditation or Bible study a couple of times a week, sometimes for years. They may be genuinely helped by these practices and they may genuinely help others in terms of community service activities.

But the leaders of the group are going to be looking for a certain type of person, the one that comes 4 or 5 times a week instead of 2 or 3, the one that shows an interest in the lifestyle aspects of the practice or joining the “security force” of the church, the one that seems to be searching for something. And sometimes they will court someone just because they are financially well off.

And they will suck that person in. I know it’s a cliche, but it almost always seems to start with some sort of retreat, a weekend or longer, where they are introduced to a more radical version of the practice. The details vary, the yoga cult may teach extended mediations, the evangelical church may do some sort of paramilitary cosplay.

From that point increased obedience is required, and they may ultimately end up being full on cult members living on a compound, but they are still surrounded by the people that take a class or read the Bible a few times a week with varying degrees of awareness as to their cult adjacency.

But I think this dynamic makes it hard to label Trump supporters as cult members in a wholesale fashion. Some are, for sure, but you need to take it on a case by case basis.

I can’t remember all of the details, but from what I remember from Moore’s Fahrenheit documentary, Trump wasn’t planning to run for the Presidency. Rather, he wanted to prove to network heads that he had showbiz pull (I think they didn’t want to pay him more even though his show was doing very well), so he staged a mock rally and recorded it to prove so. He was surprised to find that many who were not hired attended because they thought that he was actually planning to run for President.

At the same time, he was a good friend of the Clintons, a supporter of the Democrats (outside the documentary, one news article reports that the Trumps also provided campaign funds for Harris in earlier elections), got along with the richest politicians and celebrities, availed of provisions from the Bush and Obama admins, and so on.

One curious point raised elsewhere is that he probably ran because they (both political parties) wanted to make sure that Clinton would win. That’s why, as shown in the documentary, almost everyone (save for Moore and Coulter, I think) predicted that Clinton would win. And when Trump won, it appears that even he didn’t expect it.

Today, one poll reports that he might win against Biden or Harris in a future election. Meanwhile, Biden’s ratings are dropping, and both he and Trump are even being heckled. In one recent rally, Trump was booed by his own fans when he pointed out that he was vaccinated, while more are now complaining about vaccinations and/or masks and lockdowns.

In which case, what we’re probably looking at isn’t not just a “cult of Trump” but a cult of personality that values exceptionalist principles, i.e., the belief that the U.S. is free, beautiful, kind, powerful, generous, rich, and always right.

I’m reminded of one other documentary from the BBC where one pundit on elections brought out a yearbook of U.S. politicians from the nineteenth century. He pointed out that most of them were not attractive to the point of being telegenic, although many of them were certainly brilliant.

Jump to several decades later, and more look like JFK and Reagan, at the very least able to use the power of television, among others, to sway others. Given that, one might see connections between that and why Trump won.

Meanwhile, behind such cults of personalities where people favor one politician over another, one wonders if it’s all just a veneer to cover alliances based on pragmatic ethics.

I am going to guess in the case of POTUS 45, it was his dancing skills:

There can be layers to a cult.

There are a couple of extreme forms of Orthodox Judaism that have an inside circle which is very much cultish, checking off most of the boxes (including recriting, albeit, they recruit only among Jews who are not as observant as they are).

Outside of them, you have a ring of very observant Jews, who look to the cult leader for information, but don’t check as many boxes, mainly by not living in common with the inside circle, not recruiting, and by looking to additional sources for information, while still holding the cult leader in high regard.

You get a further circle, who models a lot of their behavior on the behavior of one of the rings further in, rather than directly on the cult leader’s declarations, and are more observant that a typical Jew, but live pretty much in the secular world.

Outside that, you get people who identify with the desire to be observant, and try to be so, maybe modeling their behavior on the circles further in, or maybe on other thing. They are more or less observant depending on their mood on a particular day. Their main connection to the cult is that they are vociferous in their defense of the more cultish people’s right to “Jew what they please,” and be left alone. Sometimes you meet people in this outer region who confess that they’d like to be more toward the inside, but they have a serious problem with a specific doctrine (usually having to do with the treatment of LGBTQ people, or women).

So, you definitely have a cult. The inner circle is a cult. The second circle, maybe. The outside circle, no, but they allow the cult to continue, and lend it a legitimacy that may result in other people moving into the inner circles.

Thing is, the groups don’t have the clear divisions I’ve outlined. They’re actually graduations. So it’s very hard to tell exactly where the cult stops, and where the people you might just call “supporters” begins.

Personally, I think Trump has something like “worshippers” (not literally), which is to say, the people in the ring who are true cultists.

Then there are “fans,” and those are the people who can’t get enough of the MAGA hats, have bumper stickers all over their trucks, and Trump flags flying in their yards, just below their US flags, but for who rallies feel more like a tailgate party than a worship service, and who may even occasionally disagree with Trump, but just consider any area of disagreement “not important.”

Finally, you have the supporters. Those are all the people who voted for him because they really thought that someone who could run a business well could run the country well (and that Trump had acquired his money by the sweat of his brow). They might disagree with Trump on several things, but they didn’t care for the other candidate either. They’re by far the largest block of voters.

There’s a concept in psychology called “cognitive dissonance,” which means holding two beliefs that are in conflict.

A lot of Trump supporters probably at some time had to resolve cognitive dissonance. Some may have decided that whatever Trump had expressed in the past was no longer his view; some may have decided he wouldn’t let personal views influence policy making. Some may have revised one of their beliefs slightly.

The point is, that having done so once makes it easier to do again. Resolving cognitive dissonance can look a little cultish on the outside, and it probably is something cultists do in the beginning. Not everyone moves on from there to the inner circle, though.

You mean like this?