CultNews recently received some interesting questions from a reader concerned about President Donald Trump.

The reader said, “I often wonder if my cousins are members of a cult. They worship Donald Trump. He has become a god-like figure in their lives and no matter what Trump does, their feelings do not change.”

The reader then asks, “If this is the case, will they ever change? I cannot talk with them because they see me as some type of liberal demon. It’s uncomfortable to be around them so I just stopped trying to have a relationship. What do cult leaders really want? What do their followers want?” 

CultNews response

Donald Trump is not an absolute authoritarian “cult” leader like a Jim Jones, Charles Manson or David Koresh. He was democratically elected and is subject to congressional oversight, judicial review by the courts and must run to be reelected. The President of the United States is also constitutionally limited by law to no more than two terms (eight years) as president. None of this matches the history or narrative of cult leaders like Jones, Manson and Koresh.

Trump supporters do seem to be narrowly focused on frequently partisan news sources, which can affect their critical thinking, but these sources of information fit within the boundaries of propaganda and are not part of the framework of an intentionally planned thought reform program (“brainwashing”) run by Donald Trump.

Trump supporters are not cult victims

Moreover, most Trump supporters already shared and appreciated Donald Trump’s ideas, feelings and attitudes before they voted for him. He didn’t change them deceptively through coercive persuasion without their knowledge and consent. Instead, like a savvy salesman, Donald Trump effectively marketed himself and his brand to the Republican base. He implicitly understood what that political base wanted in a candidate, which is why he won its primary. And his persistently precise perception of the attitude of the majority of Republican voters has repeatedly proven to be correct according to his polling numbers.

Trump supporters are not cult victims. Specifically, people that support Donald Trump are typically not happy about recent changes in the United States. This includes concerns about the shifting demographics of the country, immigration, increasing frustration regarding “globalization” through entities like the UN and various international treaties and agreements, growing discomfort about interdependent world trading markets, rejection of LGBT rights such as gay marriage, fears about the centralization of government and unhappiness about certain women’s rights such as reproductive choice. Many Trump supporters are also upset about questions being raised about gun rights. There is also substantial resentment and suspicion amongst Trump supporters about the influence and power of the “intellectual elite.” And religious leaders that support Donald Trump seem to be deeply troubled by decreasing church attendance and the corresponding decline of religious influence in the United States.

Trump did not need to implant these preexisting attitudes and concerns through “mind control,” which were already there and quite evident within the Republican base. Again, like a good salesman Donald Trump simply marketed himself and tailored his presidential campaign to effectively capitalize on those concerns.

Cultural divide

Summarizing the situation, Trump supporters appear to be generally uncomfortable and/or unhappy with recent cultural change in America. And to a large extent there are cultural lines of separation, or a cultural divide, which has become increasingly evident between urban and rural Americans, as well as between coastal Americans and those that live within the middle of the country.

Apparently, Americans that support Donald Trump feel that he represents meaningful resistance to unwanted change. And Trump supporters think he can reverse certain cultural trends. Trump’s most popular slogans and mantras like “Build the Wall” and “Make America Great Again” seem to reflect this sentiment.

Some cult-like aspects, but not a “destructive cult”

There are aspects of Donald Trump and his supporters that may appear at times to be cult-like, such as Trump’s rather narcissistic seemingly messianic claim made in 2016 that “only [he] can fix this,” or his supporters apparent penchant for cognitive dissonance. CultNews commented about this in 2016. But it’s just too simplistic to dismiss an entire political movement and a democratically elected president as a “destructive cult” without noting the distinct differences that separate Donald Trump from historical cult leaders and his supporters from the victims of destructive cults.

Instead of characterizing devotion to Donald Trump as a “cult” without qualification, it’s preferable, more objective, accurate and concise to recognize the nuances and complexity of the cultural currents and rifts that are polarizing Americans. Donald Trump may have a kind of fan base or “cult following” like many celebrities, but he does not match the criteria that defines cult leaders who have historically exercised virtually limitless unchecked dictatorial power over their followers. Trump is also not empowered by a deliberate “brainwashing” process deceptively done through a premeditated intentionally planned thought reform program with the goal of “mind control.” It serves no useful purpose to reduce the word “cult” to a “buzz word,” rather than recognize its precise range of meaning and boundaries.

Deprogramming Trump supporters?

It’s also important to note that true believers cannot be “deprogrammed” regarding their personally held individual beliefs. Simply put, they were not programmed in the first place and therefore cannot be deprogrammed. Such true believers may eventually become disillusioned and move on, but this will be a personal choice, not the result of an intervention.

Historically, cult deprogramming is essentially an educational process, which centers upon the examination and unwinding of a thought reform program deceptively used without informed consent and knowingly maintained by a group or leader that uses coercive persuasion. This does not fit the profile or the circumstances of typical Trump supporters who already agreed with and endorsed Donald Trump’s core beliefs and the proscribed path he promised to implement for the United States.

Thanksgiving

This Thanksgiving rather than being confrontational with relatives that disagree with your politics, it’s preferable to avoid conflict and instead focus on the family values, which you share in common. Talk about happy memories that confirm those values and earnestly express your appreciation for the opportunity of gathering for another Thanksgiving dinner together.

Thankfully we live in a free country, not a cult compound, where each election cycle provides an opportunity for American citizens to cast their vote privately and decide what changes will ultimately prevail in the United States.

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9 comments untill now

  1. Cultic behavior is similar to childish behavior. If you think about it, immature children do not like to share, they cry to get their way, they blame their mistakes on other children, and they are narcissistic.

    Thus, cultic behavior is simply immature human behavior. Many cult leaders are children in adult bodies, whose souls were fixated before they learned to share, learned critical thinking, or learned how to have peers. They must be dominant, up on a pedestal as the worshiped leader. They do not take input from others, because they think they are perfect.

    This is all part of growing up, and thankfully, most of humanity learns these lessons as they grow into adults. Other people must grow up as adults, and are lucky to become mature in their forties, fifties, or sixties. Many people live their whole lives as children. That’s all I’m saying. I don’t want to pass judgment on those who follow Trump, but they live in a world of alternate facts. They only trust Fox News, and consider all other media suspect. Many are also followers of Bible-based cults who point to Trump as a divine being, touched by God.

    We have a lot to learn to repair the damage and bring people back into the world where the facts they believe once again coincide with reality.

  2. Thank you for your comments.

    It’s important not to use the word “cult” carelessly and/or to needlessly politicize it. Instead we must recognize its historical range of meaning.

    The objective historical definition of a destructive cult is based upon structure and behavior, not beliefs or the preexisting individual personality traits of cult members and/or their family backgrounds.

    We typically and historically look for very specific core characteristics, which can be objectively observed. Here are three that have been repeatedly cited:

    1. The authority and nature of the leader. That is, an absolute authoritarian dictator without meaningful accountability who becomes an object of worship and is the defining element and driving force of the group or movement.

    2. The mandated use of coercive persuasion to recruit, retain and manipulate followers. That is, a mindset is molded through coercive persuasion, which begets subservient and dependent followers. This mindset reflects the leader’s value judgements and worldview, rather than the original thoughts and feelings of his or her followers and their own personal histories.

    3. The exploitation and often profound harm done to followers through undue influence obtained and perpetuated through coercive persuasion.

    These three core characteristics that form the basic primary building blocks of a destructive cult can be seen as the nucleus for the definition of a destructive cult.

    Donald Trump and his followers do not fit these criteria and therefore cannot be considered a destructive cult, despite having some cult-like aspects or features.

    It diminishes the meaning of the words “destructive cult” and it is disservice to cult victims to diminish this definition and reduce it to what seems like political buzz words.

  3. Even though Donald Trump is not technically an absolute authoritarian dictator, as our country’s constitution does state he is supposed to be under the rule of democracy and an accurate vote. He does often present himself as though he is. More importantly and (likely more accurate) many of his followers see him as a “chosen” and *do* believe he has absolute authoritarian dictatorship. Do all of his followers think that? No. However, enough do, and have said it. My last submitted post is not able to be edited, and there are errors.

  4. If Donald Trump aspires to be an “absolute authoritarian leader” that doesn’t make him one, any more than if some of his supporters would like that. The facts are that Trump doesn’t fit the profile of a destructive cult leader and his followers are not cult victims. It’s important not to indiscriminately politicize the word “cult,” which actually has a rather narrow definition and precise meaning. Donald Trump is not Jim Jones or David Koresh and we need to make those distinctions.

  5. Don’t forget -his followers *see* him as Chosen. This is a difference between Trump and other “political leaders”.This description I give is not political. I get there is a gray area here. But the unquestioning devotion and statement that he is a “chosen” one by God and not to be questioned is dangerous . Take my statement as a whole -not just part. I have a lot of respect for your work-and it is important to remember that something unique can come along with all the parts but may not fall neatly into a category. The cults in the eighties were closely studied to see how to seduce people. In many, it was Guns, American entitlement, Pyramid schemes, and scapegoats or imagined enemies
    .

  6. I get, and appreciate you have saved a lot of lives-and pardon the multiple posts right under the other. Don’t hesitate to email me, Kind regards!

  7. Dorothy Vorhees @ 2019-12-11 00:55

    Puh-leeezzzz. For anyone who has been in a cult and struggled to get out of it, this theory about Donald Trump is an insult. After leaving my cult/sect/whatever, it took decades to clear my mind. For better or worse, a month after Trump leaves office, he will be consigned to the history books, like his predecessors.

  8. Thanks for this post. I’ll quote you and respond.

    “1. The authority and nature of the leader. That is, an absolute authoritarian dictator without meaningful accountability who becomes an object of worship and is the defining element and driving force of the group or movement.”

    If the Democratic Party did not control the House of Representatives, Trump would have no meaningful accountability. On the political right, he is absolutely an object of worship and the defining element and driving force of their group.

    “2. The mandated use of coercive persuasion to recruit, retain and manipulate followers. That is, a mindset is molded through coercive persuasion, which begets subservient and dependent followers. This mindset reflects the leader’s value judgements and worldview, rather than the original thoughts and feelings of his or her followers and their own personal histories.”

    Trump’s propagandists, including Fox News, are not doing coercive persuasion, but it is persuasion that recruits, retains, and manipulates followers. Consider Cesar Sayoc, who attempted to murder Trump’s most well-known critics. It is true that Trump simply capitalized on views long held by the political right, but it also true that he has exacerbated the intensity of the views. He’s gotten them to despise his opponents and view them as evil.

    “3. The exploitation and often profound harm done to followers through undue influence obtained and perpetuated through coercive persuasion.”

    The persuasion is uncoercive, but is definitely exploitative and profoundly harmful. Trump’s policies have done and continue to do great damage to his supporters, particularly his environmental policy. It’s not hyperbole to say that Trump’s environmental policy endangers the lives of his supporters, as well as the lives of his opponents.

  9. You are not making much sense here.

    1. You admit that Donald Trump is not an absolute authoritarian leader and then speculate about how he wants he to be one. However, there is ample evidence he is not and is accountable to the courts and Congress.

    2. You confuse propaganda with coercive persuasion. They are not the same. Trump supporters have not been changed by coercive persuasion, but rather already supported and voted for Donald Trump because they agreed with his views.

    3. Your disagreement with the policies of Donald Trump is evident, but that’s not about cult victims. Trump supporters have not been personally exploited like cult victims. And it denigrates the suffering of cult victims to confuse this issue. Trump supporters want the changes promised by Donald Trump.

    It’s important to maintain clarity regarding who is a “cult leader” and who are “cult victims” and not politicize these terms based upon political disagreements.

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