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The Trump Cult and Its Future

TRUMPISM EXAMINED-I am quite sure the majority of Trump supporters do not embrace the “theory” that the Democratic leaders are pedophile cannibal satanists whom Trump sought to destroy, to protect the children.

An amazing minority do, constituting a robust and vital idiot stratum within the Trump coalition. (It is not clear however what QAnon will play in the ongoing movement since its shaman-leader seems disillusioned and the religious prophecies of martial law and apocalypse have not materialized.) 

From what I can gather the greater number eschew this mythology but stubbornly maintain that the 2020 election was stolen. They don’t necessarily believe it was stolen by space aliens in collusion with the Venezuelan communists who controlled the voting machines. But it was surely stolen by somebody. This is a central unifying doctrinal point for the Trump community. 

We’re talking people who appear rational in their daily lives, capable of grasping and accepting empirical research results when they’re at work, repairing their cars, balancing their checkbooks, making medical decisions. They can gauge distances and reverse park and figure out their remote control devices. Their brains are normal. They realize there is an objective world outside their own minds. But they are unfazed by multiple vote recounts and court judgments. Their brains reject certain objective facts, as though programmed to shut them out. 

They believe the 2020 vote was stolen, virtually as a matter of religious faith. They are satisfied with the arguments that Trump got more votes in 2020 than he did in 2016, and even won some swing states; ergo, he must have won -- by a landslide! Isn’t that obvious? End of thought process. Plus, the Man Himself said the election was a farce. He immediately, as Commander-in-Chief -- the President, a genius, the most powerful man in the world, with access to all the relevant information -- rejected the fake Biden victory. He called upon American patriots to defend the Constitution by protesting, to “stop the steal” and prevent the radical socialist Democrats from taking our country away from us. (To anyone raised in the “God and country” tradition, or grown-up attending military base chapel Christian services, this conflation of religiosity and butthead patriotism will seem natural.) 

Again, I am summarizing the belief of the more rational Trump devotees. It is precisely analogous to religious conviction. It involves a demigod figure who pontificated for some years via tweet, cultivating a vast gullible congregation, boasting of implausible miraculous achievements, posturing as the savior of a country threatened by a world treating us unfairly. He has formed a cult of resentful racists posturing as injured parties. 

This cult includes all who feel that this most powerful and vicious of imperialist countries is somehow the victim of the world; the victim of foreigners’ freeloading, sneaky trade practices, and disrespect (as when Denmark refused to even discuss the sale of Greenland, hurting Trump’s feelings); the victim of the virus China made and inflicted on us. It feels its traditional white supremacist Christian culture under steady attack as the liberal communist Democrats demand acceptance of people Christians know will go to hell, interfere with God’s plans for men and women, demand white people hate and blame themselves for racism, distort history to make white people look bad, want to flood the country with illegal Mexican rapist and drug-trafficking immigrants, etc. 

The bare-bones doctrine of the cult is as follows. 

(1) Trump is not a normal politician, but a man chosen by God, as shown by his public praise for the Bible and his dramatic display of the Bible in his famous walk across the tear-gas cleared Lafayette Square to St. John’s Church June 1, 2020. He may not quote the Bible or show much interest in it but he’s definitely the leader of the Christians in this country, against the godless Democrats. 

(2) Trump’s victory in 2016 was a turning point in “making America great again.” All the progress of his term -- making the world respect us, again; keeping out Muslim terrorists; building a wall to keep out immigrants; signing brilliant new trade deals; appointing ultra-conservative judges; bringing back Christmas -- is now under threat as Biden promises to make America weak again. 

(3) Trump won the 2020 election in a landslide. But the Democrats—who had attacked him unfairly after his election in 2016, as a Russian puppet who’d won with Russian support—challenged his second win. It is thus fair for Trump to question the legitimacy of Biden as the Democrats had questioned his. 

[Digression: Trump in an Aug. 2015 interview was asked what his favorite book was. He replied the Bible of course. Asked to talk about one or two favorite verses he declined.” I wouldn’t want to get into it because to me that’s very personal. You know, when I talk about the Bible, it’s very personal, so I don’t want to get into verses,” Trump told John Heilemann. “The Bible means a lot to me, but I don’t want to get into specifics.” Asked whether he was “an Old Testament guy or a New Testament guy” he showed little understanding of the question but mumbled, “Probably equal.” In April 2016 asked to comment further and cite an actual Bible verse he could not do so but rambled (to radio talk show host Bob Lonsberry) as follows: 

“Well, I think many. I mean, when we get into the Bible, I think many, so many. And some people, look, an eye for an eye, you can almost say that. That’s not a particularly nice thing. But you know, if you look at what’s happening to our country, I mean, when you see what’s going on with our country, how people are taking advantage of us, and how they scoff at us and laugh at us. And they laugh at our face, and they’re taking our jobs, they’re taking our money, they’re taking the health of our country. And we have to be firm and have to be very strong. And we can learn a lot from the Bible, that I can tell you.” 

Thus Trump indirectly references Leviticus 24:19-21 and the ancient Semitic notion of proportionate punishment. Any Christian knows that Jesus (Matthew 5:38) explicitly repudiated the concept: “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” For Trump to imply that the Old Testament reference is his favorite Bible verse is an admission that he either doesn’t know the Bible very well at all (which indeed we can assume) or that he thinks it’s a bag of quotations from which he can choose random passages out of context to impress his cult followers. 

Trump has cultivated the reputation of a street fighter who meets any criticism with vicious vengeance. His fame as a brute impresses his fan base. The “what-aboutism” underlying the Trump impeachment defense expressed the Trumpists’ indignation at the fact that, while their man had been incessantly smeared as a Putin agent by the Democrats, they were not for their part allowed to smear Biden as an illegitimate president brought to power through fraud. Their notion of “eye for an eye” has nothing to do with objective reality or morality but with typical Trumpian transactionalism and false moral equivalences.] 

So to review the elements of the broader Trump cult so far: 

(1) Trump was chosen by God;

(2) Trump made America great again (a Camelot period);

(3) Trump was denied a second term by massive vote fraud and was right to contest the election (as the Democrats had contested Trump).

Daily poll figures on Trump are no longer available but I think it’s likely he’s experienced a small drop in his overall popularity since the Jan. 6 storming of the Capitol and the uneventful inauguration Jan. 20. Factors include: over 200 arrests of white supremacist Capitol rioters, some stressing that they’d been following Trump’s orders and some now damning him as a disappointment; a concerted media campaign to depict Trump followers as dupes in need of deprogramming; religious disillusionment within the QAnon followers; mounting contempt for Trump from the real fascists who feel he’s betrayed the movement by condemning the violence they proudly inflicted; and the passage of time in which Trump is not daily news and is largely silenced by ruling-class consensus. 

I expect breaking news about legal and financial issues to cut into the myths Trump has contrived around himself. Faith in his judgment -- both in proclaiming his defeat a “stolen election” to tens of millions of people trained to take him seriously; and in summoning them to a rally on January 6 near the White House, specifically to “stop the steal” on the day that the election results were to be formally certified as required by the Constitution, in order to incite them the storm the Capitol -- may decline significantly. 

The QAnon shaman has through his lawyer both argued that he was in the Capitol at Trump’s order and that Trump is “dishonorable” for not standing up for those who stormed the building for him. He says he’s disappointed. He was hoping for a pardon while Trump was still president. One wonders how typical he is of that crowd and the whole. 

(4) Now that Trump has been acquitted by the Senate, he has displayed to his base his ongoing mystical power. His retention of base support -- as shown not only by his 74 million votes, but in the polls taken up to his departure -- is simultaneously preservation of his intimidating clout over the amoral opportunistic Republican rank and file lawmakers. 

So he will remain the default leader of the Republican Party during a period of peak polarization. (The theme for the midterms, Lindsay Graham says, will be “Trump plus.”) The destructive enterprise he began in 2015 will blaze ahead as Trump finds ways to vilify each Biden initiative (as a radical socialist communist one); continues to “dumb down” the people to the extent possible; and continues to maintain reverence as the MAGA man, right-wing cash cow and darling of the Evangelical snake oil salesmen. 

The fourth element is thus the belief in Trump as the suffering servant (see Isaiah 53:3), the holy man undergoing a time of trial, treated unjustly as Jesus had been but destined for resurrection. He has been battered by his enemies, but he will return. Believe in him and he will return. Again, this belief may wither as Trump is buffeted by legal exposure and embarrassing lawsuits that reveal among other things his true financial situation. 

The Democrats, disgusted with the Republicans’ mix of vile racism and religious ignorance, can either reach out to make deals with them, caving in in the process and splitting their own party ranks, or draw the line clearly. They can either plainly call evil or follow Biden’s career pattern of seeking the approval and cooperation of white racists “who never called him boy” to show his commitment to bipartisan compromise. 

So to repeat: (1) God’s chosen, (2) best presidency ever, (3) stolen election, (4) second coming. The failure of the second impeachment effort to convict Trump and exclude him from a second run makes a second run very possible. 

What is the future of a cult that believes this? 

The Trumpist Creed 

I believe in Donald Trump, President of the United States, who made America great again, who was the best president ever, including the best president for black people, better even than Lincoln. 

I believe he made the world respect us, after making fun of us too long.

I believe he made great trade deals.

He protected us with a Wall and firm policy against the Hispanic rapists and drug-dealers, and the Muslim terrorists.

He kept out the Chinese who started the Kung Flu China virus, doing more than anyone anywhere to stop the virus.

He made it okay to be white again, and Christian again, proudly defying political correctness, radical leftist propaganda posing as “science” and school’s promotion of Marxist “critical race theory.”

He led the successful drive to produce a vaccine, like no one thought possible.

I believe Donald Trump was persecuted by Nancy Pelosi, lied about, disrespected, unfairly denied a second term, by massive vote fraud.

I believe that top officials violated the Constitution by certifying the fake vote, ignoring their Commander-in-Chief’s command to reject it.

I believe Donald Trump bears no fault for any actions of the people who stormed the Capitol, whether Antifa or patriots.

I believe in God, Jesus Christ, the Bible, America, our Constitution, the Founding Fathers, our brave military, loyal police, Andrew Jackson and Robert E. Lee.

I believe I am in the majority of the American people.

I believe Trump speaks the truth, is my leader and will return as my president.

 

(Gary Leupp is Professor of History at Tufts University and holds a secondary appointment in the Department of Religion. This piece appeared on CounterPunch.org. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He can be reached at: gleupp@tufts.edu). Photo: kelly bell photography – CC BY 2.0. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.