Big surprise the head deplorable is pumping out his glut of disruptive horribles. Apparently, our flawed Electoral College – failing miserably as foil for unfitness – crowned our first cult president. Whoever Trump really is, the last two weeks confirm that his sham, duplicitous campaign. full of gaseous sound and fury, has morphed into a belligerently dishonest, if not venal, cultist presidency. Award points for consistency and damage begun.
Strange how often the whining Trumpster sounds like the loser, as if the “rigged” election did him in. Does he not still fulminate, arms askew, at every perceived slight, as if griping still equates with dominance? Does not melodrama, even hysteria, work to deflect his epic cascade of ethical and legal violations? What makes Trump look illegitimate is not only compromised election results, but that he increasingly performs like a cult leader – not so different from his craven birtherism days, NRA lying, apocalyptic doomsayers, or militant ideologues like the KKK and Neo-Confederates – all glorying in clannish, fixated contrariness.
Cults resist culture
Formally, a cult is any social, religious, or political minority that worships (from its root cultus) non-standard beliefs, if not its self-appointed “dear leadership” sanctified with godlike powers. Every cult insists its unique, transcendent worldview sets them apart both from the evil status quo and every other disagreeable, wrongheaded (even satanic) cult. Cultish certitude defies correction to its absolutist dogma (especially by facts or reality). What makes a growing cult an agent of disorder goes beyond pushing absurd conspiracy theories and surreal predictions. Disruptive cults argue that violent means are justified by their righteous ends (like assassinating abortion doctors to “preserve life”). No wonder “cult” implies fixated, obsessive, deluded and sinister dimensions.
What better concept captures the irrational side of Trumpery – further seasoned with narcissism and the arrogance of great wealth. Who but a mental case fetishizes his every private, transient moment as if flawless wisdom? Thus does Twitter fit this erratic, petty mind, perfect for dumping on federal judges, trading partners, national leaders, “fake news” media, dissenting government employees, crooked state vote counters, plus badgered corporate and union leaders, minorities, sexually-victimized women, and, yes, even that Gold Star family more aggrieved than Rust Belt fans.
Par for the cultist course
Scattergun, incredibly personal bullying is rare in the presidency but not for besieged cult leaders. Listen to NRA fanatics, or unhinged white supremacists spewing racist, fear-mongering about looming sharia law, let alone deviant fundamentalists who’d make Jesus squirm. Paranoia, over-reactions, and conspiracy delusions are cult nerve centers – just like with Trumpery. Thus climate change isn’t just wrong but a hoax, vaccines jeopardize health, not heal, gay marriages threaten straight unions, or scientific evolution is sacrilege. The Big Lie works not just for small fry but intellectual fascists as well. And Trump increasingly qualifies as an intellectual fascist on the way to governing like one.
Trump’s now laughable cult audition was harping on disgraced birtherism. Then came his alarming primary surge, rewarding schoolyard onslaughts and mugging to the camera. That descended into unapologetic, dishonest, name-calling, contemptuous mockery. Then, like arrogant godlike cult brethren, Trump boasted he alone can fix everything, taking even the Big Lie ploy to staggering extremes. Thus, the Trump cult swallowed up the Tea Party/GOP cult – upping insularity, resistance to facts, and obsession against big government (except for walls, defense, militarism and subsidies)
What Trump added to tepid, low-energy primary foes is a flashy cult of personality, informing his TV star charisma with a moralistic, religious-sounding messaging – redeem America’s greatness by returning goodies to its rightful, white, male, aggrieved Christian heirs. How otherwise could 80% of evangelicals (more than Romney) go for Trump, despite for decades parading his scandalously immoral, hedonistic life-style. Give the devil his due: Trump conned an outraged base desperate for self-esteem, renewal, jobs, and cultural leverage. Because the larger GOP cult had slighted them, the “forgotten” embraced the Trump cult, having internalized those fear-based, FOX TV horror shows. Going Trump wasn’t simply about voting or donating but something beyond politics: a movement for blue-collar liberation, rife with delusions Donald’s golden touch would rub off on them. What cult doesn’t promise direct payoffs to the aggrieved for adoring its champion?
Reign of disorder
Victory then spurred Trump to partner with genuine cult leaders, like Stephen Bannon the alt-right flame-thrower. Is not Brietbart, lost in its own propaganda, a successful if extremist cult? Bannon is the ultimate ideological cult figure, judging everything by how well it advances or sabotages his holy war delusions against domestic enemies and the Muslim menace. See Damon Linker from This Week on “Stephen Bannon, the real radical in the White House.”
Bannon at least has ideas (vs. Trump’s instinct), and he knows how to capitalize on political/media chaos, the first in his revolution. For the lightweight, unprincipled Trump, disruption work as an end, a shock tactic to gain media attention and frame the daily conversation. For Bannon, the cult of chaos is simply a means to incite conflicts wherein white, western supremacy, and corporate billionaires, permanently expand geo-political power. Forget the brash hypocrisy – playing to the rubes while picking the most reactionary cabinet in eons – that perception doesn’t filter down to Trump’s true believers. Trump’s strut is about ego, feeding his fame and glory, while Bannon’s wants to own the future. Both are con men who gesture with the visible hand while the other is emptying your pockets.
Surface chaos, deeper agenda
What makes Trump dangerous is how well he leveraged his celebrity cult of personality into a potent political cult of personality. That’s why he reduces all of politics to person-to-person relationships with leaders, as with Putin. Bannon is about world change, not temporary or personal triumphs of the will.
What we don’t know yet is who’s ultimately in charge. Will Trump remain the front man, leveraging his faux populism into greater popular support? His debut show hit a wall, considering his abysmal approval ratings and the millions already mulling over, if not actively welcoming impeachment. No doubt President Pence would absorb much of Bannon’s apocalyptic vision so we’d hardly be out of the woods. Trump or Pence, this administration and GOP leaders will continue to scapegoat an enemies list while serving international corporatism, the most powerful, coherent cult on the planet.
As we learned from Naomi Klein, shock capitalism depends on leveraging systemic breakdowns – not unlike how clownish Trump uses his chaos style to disrupt, then cover up (so many “never done before”). Until public resistance understands the task at hand, the personality cult of Trump is in the cat bird seat. If the current “Trump corporate deal” gets legs, rather than crash and burn as many hope, it won’t be easy to deconstruct. The good news is Trump is a model of self-destruction and excess, if not derangement. The next few months could at least tell us who’s the rider and who’s simply the horse’s ass – for that will define effective mass protest and resistance.