The Republican Party is no longer a political party—it’s a full-blown cult. Look at any list that has the features of a cult spelled out and you’ll recognize not only Trump, but his devout followers. The ones who will follow him blindly through every scandal, every gaffe, every hypocrisy, every blow to their very livelihood. The ones who will betray even their most highly held ideals to excuse his deplorable behavior. The ones who invent a new reality when the one they live in doesn’t agree with their cult leader. Cults follow no logic. They make no sense. They prey on the weak, the downtrodden, the gullible, the disillusioned. And they are not uncommon. In fact, in a period of time that constitutes a blip in our history books, a cult has taken over a major political party.
1. The leader is the ultimate authority
If you’re not allowed to criticize your leader, even if the criticism is true, you’re probably in a cult.
Trump is considering yanking security clearances for those who criticize him. He blocked his critics on Twitter. He has called his critics “very dangerous for this country.” He bans reporters from press events. He has asked aides if reporters could be punished for asking questions. His puppetmaster Vladimir Putin has been linked to many journalists’ deaths for criticizing Putin. And guess what? That frightening behavior doesn’t even faze Donald Trump.
2. The group suppresses skepticism
If you’re only allowed to study your organization through approved sources, you’re probably in a cult.
FAKE NEWS! Trump has called CNN “fake news.” He has labeled the New York Times, NBC, ABC, and CBS “fake news” and “the enemy of the people.” The list of times he called something “fake news” in 2017 alone is jaw-dropping. He reportedly only allows TVs tuned to Fox News on Air Force One.
3. The group delegitimizes former members
If you can’t think of a legitimate reason for leaving your group, you’re probably in a cult.
When Steve Bannon left the White House, Trump said Bannon “lost his mind.” Just this past weekend, Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani went on TV and said Michael Cohen has “lied all his life.” Not to mention the lengths Trump has gone to to discredit James Comey after he failed Trump’s loyalty test—calling him a “nutjob,” a “slimeball,” a “showboat,” a “leaker,” a “disaster,” and so much more.
4. The group is paranoid about the outside world
If you believe the end of the world is near, you’re probably in a cult.
King of Conspiracy Theories, Trump is now saying that the Russians are going to hack 2018 … for the Democrats! He claims the “deep state” inserted a spy into his presidential campaign. He claims Obama has wiretapped him. He claims millions of “illegals” voted in 2008. Trump’s supporters, of course, buy into his conspiracy theories despite there being no evidence to support them.
5. The group relies on shame cycles
If you need your group in order to feel worthy, loved, or sufficient, you’re probably in a cult.
Shame is the basis for so much of Trump’s rhetoric, rooted back in the very beginning of his campaign. This Nation article from 2016 describes how Trump has weaponized shame.
Indeed, his skill is precisely this: to create an entire national theater of shame in which he induces that very emotion in his followers, on the one hand, while on the other saving them from having to acknowledge its pain by publicly shaming others instead. This has been the central action of his campaign from the outset. He tells people that “we don’t win anymore,” that we are losers, losers who “don’t even have a country,” because it has been overrun and “raped” by immigrants and foreign powers.
The very slogan “Make America Great Again” is laden with shame, implying that this country is no longer great. Every use of the term “SAD!” in his tweets is an attempt to shame someone.
6. The leader is above the law
If you’re held to a different moral standard, specifically in regard to sex, you’re probably in a cult.
Trump has broken too many laws to count, but let’s focus on the part in bold up there. While Trump’s largely evangelical base holds sex to be a sacred act between a married man and married woman, Trump has had numerous affairs, has paid hush money to porn stars, has groped women and kissed them and bragged that he grabbed women “by the pussy.” From our view on the left, this hypocrisy is mind-boggling. How evangelicals can defend his behavior is madness. But it makes perfect sense within the context of a cult.
7. The group uses “thought reform” methods
If your serious questions are answered with cliches, you’re probably in a cult.
“MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN.” “Fake news!” “Drain the swamp!” “Lock her up!”
8. The group is elitist
If your group is the solution for all the world’s problems, you’re probably in a cult.
Remember when Trump said “I alone can fix it” during the campaign?
I am your voice, said Trump. I alone can fix it. I will restore law and order. He did not appeal to prayer, or to God. He did not ask Americans to measure him against their values, or to hold him responsible for living up to them. He did not ask for their help. He asked them to place their faith in him.
Not only that, millions of his supporters truly believe God made him president.
9. There is no financial transparency
If you’re not allowed to know what the group does with their money, you’re probably in a cult.
That reminds me, where are Trump’s tax returns?
10. The group performs secret rites
If there are secret teachings or ceremonies you didn’t discover until after you joined, you’re probably in a cult.
Does this count?
Insinuating a bizarre night time ritual, Wolff said Trump demanded a key to his bedroom, locking his wife and the secret service out so he could binge on cheeseburgers while watching not one but THREE televisions.
Wolff also alleges Trump likes to head beneath the duvet at 6.30pm.
I’m kidding. Being that I am about as far from Trump’s inner circle as one can be, I have no idea what kind of, if any, bizarre rituals he has for his people. We do know he demands loyalty oaths—an unprecedented ritual for a president.
Okay, so if the party of Trump is a full-blown cult, the next logical question is … how do you convince people to leave cults?
Number one: you’ve got to start with a person close to you. And—as difficult as this may sound—the advice I see online is to take a kid gloves approach.
The most important piece of advice is to not criticise, condemn or judge, even if you have serious concerns. Instead, focus on why this person identifies with the group so much, and what they believe they are getting from it. And try to reinforce the message: “It’s great that you’re developing yourself and your skills so positively and that the group is making you so happy.”
It may feel cheesy, but the point of this approach is to draw on the psychological technique of motivational interviewing, so that these positive statements, similar to those the person has made themselves, will eventually lead them to question whether they are really true – we call this the “strategic and personal oriented dialogue” approach. This means you have to keep talking. Keep the dialogue going and help your loved one measure the group against their own hopes and standards. In time, the scales will start to fall from their eyes, and you can be ready for that moment.
According to CULTWATCH, the golden rule is to keep communication open with the cult member. This would go against every instinct I have personally these days with Trump supporters, which is to defriend them and block them on social media, cut off ties in real life, and give them the finger. But maybe I should reconsider my strategy and work hard on coming from a place of patience and kindness when dealing with individuals, however much of a lost cause they may seem.
The other piece of advice on there is to find ex-members to ask for advice on how to reach current members. Find those Republicans who abandoned their party, who didn’t vote for Trump, who didn’t vote at all, and ask what their advice is on how to reach these folks.
Empathy and kindness are the recommended antidotes. But how do you empathize with people whose very belief system constitutes a fundamental lack of empathy? Do they deserve our empathy? One thing we know is that a person alone is a far different beast than a person in a cult or group. Mob mentality warps and changes the human mind and clouds the human heart. So while I truly believe Trump and his family and close circle are lost causes, perhaps our relatives and friends who lost their way and got swept up in Trumpmania are not.
What do you think? Is the Party of Trump a cult? Are cult followers lost causes? Have you ever known someone in a cult? How did you deal with them?
Have you ever changed someone’s mind?
The blockquotes describing signs of a cult were taken from this blog.