Some Thoughts on the Trump Cult
From Michael D. Langone, “Clinical Update on Cults,” in Psychiatric Times, July 2, 1996:
The manipulativeness of cults is similar to the debility-dependency-dread (DDD) syndrome explanation of how the Chinese communists were able to gain a high degree of control over American POWs during the Korean conflict (Farber and colleagues). Contemporary cults, which operate in an open society and do not have the power of the state at their disposal, cannot forcibly restrain prospects and run them through a debilitating regimen. Instead, they must fool them. They must persuade prospects that the group is beneficial in some way that appeals to the targeted individuals. As a result of this deception and the systematic use of highly manipulative techniques of influence (see Cialdini for an overview of social-psychological manipulation), recruits come to commit themselves to the group’s prescribed ways of thinking, feeling and acting. By gradually isolating members from outside influences, establishing unrealistically high, guilt-inducing expectations, punishing any expressions of “negativity,” and denigrating independent critical thinking, the group causes members to become extremely dependent on its compliance-oriented expressions of love and support. Once a state of dependency is firmly established, the group’s control over members’ thoughts, feelings and behavior is strengthened by the members’ growing dread of losing the group’s psychological support (physical threat also occurs in some groups), however much that support may aim at ensuring their compliance with leadership’s often debilitating demands. Thus, the new DDD syndrome is one of deception, dependency and dread.
“Isolating members from outside influences, establishing unrealistically high, guilt-inducing expectations, punishing any expressions of ‘negativity,’ and denigrating independent critical thinking.”
The result of this gradual process of separating a mind from its normal thought processes and past relationships, fostering exaggerated feelings of dependency on the cult leader’s larger-than-life personality as “the only answer” to perceived or real problems, and a related inclination, strengthened by collective social pressure and fear of ostracism, to punish dissenters or critics as evil, is a growing unwillingness even to acknowledge the possibility of an alternative opinion (“independent critical thinking”) on any issue which may not be easily dismissed as evidence of a conspiracy against the cult leader, or mental illness on the part of the dissenter.
Today Donald Trump, emboldened by his entire party (minus one) having decided not merely to acquit him of the impeachment charges — fair enough, as each congressman and senator is responsible for his own vote and his own conscience — but to throw a week-long post-acquittal victory celebration, fêting him as a persecuted champion of liberty, is taking swift steps toward pardoning the three operatives within his team who were convicted of crimes during his first term, while demanding that any member of government or the U.S. military who criticized him or testified against him during the impeachment proceedings be both fired and officially disciplined.
And the cult’s reaction to this new and obvious (and predictable) uptick in Trump’s authoritarian audacity? “Yeah! Go get ’em Donald, destroy ’em all! More swamp-draining!”
These people — not so much Trump himself, who is just a garden variety demagogue, and an unusually stupid one at that — these people, meaning his supporters and apologists, his mindlessly obedient and delusional cult, are a serious menace to their society, and indeed to the very idea of society.
I am done arguing or pleading with them. They will not be saved; nor do they deserve to be saved. But their country and our world do deserve a better fate than this.
And for the umpteenth time, lest any stray cultist accidently stumble upon this and be inclined to raise any of the standard talking point objections, I will simply save your breath by pointing out in advance that no, I do not “hate Trump,” and no, there is no such thing as Trump Derangement Syndrome. It’s not me. It’s you.
Once a state of dependency is firmly established, the group’s control over members’ thoughts, feelings and behavior is strengthened by the members’ growing dread of losing the group’s psychological support (physical threat also occurs in some groups), however much that support may aim at ensuring their compliance with leadership’s often debilitating demands.
The self-perpetuating mechanisms of mass compliance and moral dependency, aimed at facilitating the leadership’s debilitating demands, are on display daily in the Trump-McConnell GOP — with “debilitating,” in this case, meaning politically self-emasculating and slavish.