The comparisons have come hard and fast, at least since 2015. Trump is like Silvio Berlusconi, like Adolf Hitler, like Boris Johnson. A 2018 film called “The Trump Prophecy” took the evangelical route, comparing Trump to Cyrus the Great, the 6th century BC Persian monarch chosen by God to free Jewish captives in Babylon.
But maybe it’s time to stop searching for the exact analogy for Trump, be he Cyrus or Boris, Adolf or a Silvio. What demands analysis is less the arrogant 73-year-old mediocrity in the Oval Office, but the worshipful attitude so many Americans have toward him.
A lot of nut jobs have peddled lies to Americans before, and even styled themselves as messianic. But at no time in history have so many Americans been drawn to what’s looking increasingly like a cult. I don’t use the term recklessly.
When Steven Hassan, an expert in cults and an ex-Moonie (as in the Unification Church, founded by a Korean businessman, the Rev. Sun Myung Moon), published “The Cult of Trump” last spring, some reviewers objected to his use of the cult framework as incendiary and not all that useful.
Indeed, for Trump critics to call his admirers cult members might be just another salvo in our nasty political warfare. It’s similar to the Trump psychologizing over the years that often doubles as name-calling: He’s a baby, a psychopath, a stone-cold narcissist.
The discourse around cults partakes of some woolly theories. “Mind control” and “brainwashing” are shibboleths from the 1950s, when the coinages were used to describe what Chinese Communists did to convert freethinkers to their cause. The implicit suggestion is that unsavory ideas and ideologies can only win adherents using extreme and witchy measures.
All that put me off the notion of Trumpism as a cult. But then in August, Trump looked heavenward and called himself “the chosen one.”
Suddenly, among evangelicals, it wasn’t enough to make comparisons with Cyrus or even King David. He had to be the savior himself. The far-right radio host Wayne Allyn Root called Trump “the second coming of God.” Then former Energy Secretary Rick Perry straight up affirmed Trump’s craziness, telling him, “You are here in this time because God ordained you.”
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