Howard Dean gets to the tragic crux of why the cult of Trump exists

Originally published at: Howard Dean gets to the tragic crux of why the cult of Trump exists | Boing Boing


It’s a subtle take from a very smart and compassionate. Dean isn’t asking us to convince the Know-Nothing 27% to vote for the Dems or for someone like Romney or even not to vote, but rather to find a way to stop them from self-harming. It’s effectively a plea for us to find a way to de-program members of a death cult.


Bob Altemeyer’s excellent (and free!) book The Authoritarians looks at this subject and suggests that the problem isn’t necessarily with the authoritarian leaders (because generally they are incompetent and paranoid) but with the inescapable fact that a largish chunk of the electorate are “authoritarian followers”. And the relevant question is whether or not that chunk of the population can achieve sufficient critical mass to tip the political balance. (It worked over here in the UK with Brexit - only about 10% of the electorate were even remotely bothered about the issue, but circumstances conspired to put them into the driving seat at a crucial moment.)


For others curious, here’s the “about” at the linked site:

Bob Altemeyer is a retired professor of Psychology at the University of Manitoba, where he studied authoritarianism for forty years. His studies of authoritarian aggression won the prize for the best research in the behavioral sciences awarded in 1986 by the American Academy for the Advancement of Science. He wrote three academic books presenting his findings, the last being The Authoritarian Specter published by Harvard University Press in 1996. He continued doing research until 2008, and The Authoritarians is the most comprehensive report of his findings available. It was written for non scientists in the relaxed, conversational style that drove various editors to painful deaths over the years


I’ve been wondering about this since just after the 2016 election. How exactly does a society go about reprogramming a sect that has completely lost touch with reality? Because let’s be honest, trump is a fucking idiot. Not like “I disagree with him and am incapable of nuance”, but like “holy shit, there’s not a coherent thought coming from this moron”. I know that a lot of people are just stupid in the most literal sense and I can accept that (hell, I had to in the community I was born into). And of course there are the sociopathic and avaricious that the GOP leadership comes from.

But the majority of them are fairly… for lack of a better word… normal. Sure, they’re insulated from death and destruction by the great lottery of being born white in the USA, but how do so many get to the point where they willingly surrender all critical thinking skills to elect a man who is the diametric opposite of the things they claim to believe in? And how in the hell does a society reintegrate them before round 2? That’s what scares me.

ETA: Also, this isn’t a rhetorical question. I really would love some guidance. @Scurra’s reference is intriguing and I’ll look into it, but it doesn’t really answer my broader question (not that it was meant to). It seems that some societies like Germany recover quite quickly from cultish authoritarianism, while others like Russia are still struggling. I can’t believe it’s as simple as cultural differences.


So how did we get here?

Part of it is that the US form of representative government is slow by design, and when legislation gets passed it’s typically a watered down version of what would otherwise be an effective law.

This makes people frustrated. “What’s the point of government anyway?” Our short attention spans mean we don’t notice that a law passed two years ago made our lives better today.

We’re also taught from grade school on that the USA is the greatest country in the world, and that our form of democracy is the best. It’s a lot easier for some to believe in weird conspiracies than to look at flaws in the way our government has evolved in 200 years.

Arguably the biggest problem is that the USA is run by two political parties, which means partisanship is guaranteed.


So well put.

Obviously, I don’t have an answer, but I wonder about a couple of experiments. Do these same individuals feel differently if they have work they find meaningful, if they perceive their life circumstances as secure (food security, personal safety, financial stability).

I’m not claiming that most QOP folks are poor. The statistics don’t support that, but we have built a society around manufactured anxiety and meaningless make-work for the benefit of commerce and investment. That has to be some factor in why people see themselves as helpless victims in need of a savior.


In the case of Germany, it wasn’t quick, it wasn’t cheap and it wasn’t complete either.
Four nations occupied Germany militarily, instituted extensive (if inadequate) reforms to the whole of society, and stayed there for fifty years, trying to ensure that that particular strain of authoritarianism was stamped out of the culture.

However, it’s not gone, it never went away completely, (A lot of top people in Industry, government and the Bundeswehr had interesting biographies, shall we say) and with the AfD, they’re sliming their way back into respectability.



If one looks at the process of de-programming, that is, in the “traditional” sense, it’s difficult to see how Trump cultists can as a first step be 100% isolated from toxic Trumpian rhetoric; cultists are steeping in toxic messaging from like-minded family members, friends, media, and politicians. How to pull them out of that miasma!


Yes. I’ve said this many times before here on bbs. I find myself thinking of ways to talk to them that can break down internal barriers. It’s difficult because they will spew all kinds of tidbits of crap they hear from the conservative echo chamber. I have regularly gone and fact-checked stuff I hear from my local Trumper, and if I ever run into him again (I haven’t seen him since the beginning of the pandemic) I will basically just say “you know man, you should probably go fact check that, because 90% of the stuff you’ve told me over the years turns out to be false when I go research it. Politifact, snopes, factcheck org, whatever-- they all show their work, like a math problem, they don’t just spout answers, they show WHY such-and-such is false or true.”


Their perception is their reality.


Sure, I understand that and that…

As I have met plenty of Americans who have espoused these beliefs before there was a useful idiot to latch onto. But there was a dramatic change of course in Germany, nonetheless. Maybe getting smacked down twice by the international community has something to do with it, but going from a violent, nationalistic society based on anti-semitism to a liberal democracy is radical and indicates something cultural that goes beyond governance.


My conclusion is that the Trump cult is the logical result of people who want a Big Daddy figure to tell them the nature of reality. It is no coincidence that evangelicals are rabid Trumpists. It’s no coincidence that they often conflated their Sky Daddy with their Golden God Trump figure. It’s also no coincidence that Trump spent a lot of time telling his followers that he alone is the source of the absolute truth. Not the media, not other politicians, not intellectuals, not scientists, not doctors, not experts who spend their lives and their careers studying in their field. Only his “truth” mattered.

Trump’s genius (and it pains me to use that word) was in absolutely understanding how to manipulate his true believers. He consciously destroyed their ability to discern true from false. He specifically uttered nonsense and made them believe it, divorcing them further from objective reality. He joined with them in their “two minutes of hate” at rallies. And he understood perfectly how to use their sense of grievance and their feelings of lost white power to enrage them and further their support. He never backed down. He never admitted to uncertainty. He always tried to project strength, all of which played to their deepest desires.


It almost sounds like Governor Dean is suggesting that Trump followers lack self esteem. That’s an interesting thesis that bears testing. But I can’t help thinking about the largely debunked common wisdom that suggested bullies somehow lacked self esteem also.


At the core, it’s the failure of neoliberalism which is to say the relentlessly extractive, exploitative economy implemented during Reagan and accelerated, as it were, by the response to the 2008 financial collapse.
A huge number of people know that something has to be wrong but have no idea what or why so Donnie and his lie, sure, why not.
And it’s not just the US, it’s throughout the west.


At this point, why should I care, when they pose a real and present danger to the rest of us. I mean, I guess Dean’s a better person than I am, but I’m sick of these people getting pass, after pass, and continuing to be welcomed back into society with open arms with no consequences for their actions.

it all goes back to white supremacy - all of that mentioned. They were very much in favor of big government when it benefited white Americans.

We’re never going to fix this if we don’t start taking white supremacy seriouslly in this country and white people start actively giving up privileges and ensuring that we all have the same rights in society.

Until that happens, this will keep happening here.


it means there are an awful lot of Americans who have given up on themselves and we have to figure out how to motivate them not to do that."

Dont pretend its fucking rocket science Howard –– start by attending to the minimum wage, at 25 or $30. And monthly checks till the pandemic is done. And fucking medicare for all - quit pretending that anything else is anything but immoral. You god damn Democrats know full well why Americans are desperate and hopeless. Stop pretending you don’t and stop playing to your monied doners.


It would be nice if we’d all stop ignoring the dominant WHITE SUPREMACIST wing of the GOP, maybe?


I know where you’re coming from. I’ve pretty much thrown up my hands and written them off. That doesn’t make them and their toxic effect on the polity disappear, though, so it’s probably not the best approach.

That said, don’t think Dean is suggesting there should be free passes and no consequences. From what I understand, cult de-programming and addiction rehab both explicitly require consequences, the most important of which is acknowledging dysfunctional behaviour that affected others and trying to make amends to those who’ve been hurt by it.

Also, contrary to the myths pushed by the “Just Say No” crowd, harm reduction does not of necessity imply coddling and appeasement. That’s true whether we’re talking about a heroin addict or a MAGAt. It’s basically about trying to replace a self-harming behaviour with one that’s less toxic.