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Elliot BenjaminElliot Benjamin is a philosopher, mathematician, musician, counselor, writer, with Ph.Ds in mathematics and psychology and the author of over 150 published articles in the fields of humanistic and transpersonal psychology, pure mathematics, mathematics education, spirituality & the awareness of cult dangers, art & mental disturbance, and progressive politics. He has also written a number of self-published books, such as: The Creative Artist, Mental Disturbance, and Mental Health. See also: www.benjamin-philosopher.com.

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Trump at rally

The Cult of Trumpism

Elliot Benjamin

I think that my 8.0 rating indicates, at least for me, a serious possibility of “high cult danger.”

It is not unusual to hear that the base of Trump supporters displays cult-like activity in their adoring dedication to Trump, as they continue to ignore the enormous and continuous amount of ethically and legally disturbing accounts of Trump's behavior. This includes Trump's alleged numerous sexual affairs punctuated by his paying off a porn star and Playboy centerfold to keep them silent, ripping immigrant children from their parents and using teargas against immigrant babies, believing Putin over the United States Intelligence reports in regard to Russia tampering with our election, and the list goes on and on to the point of nausea. And in regard to the recent Mueller report that lends credibility to Trump's direct involvement in collusion with Russia, I agree with The New York Times opinion columnist Charles Blow in his answer to his hypothetical question: “What if Donald Trump or those closest to him were compromised by the Russians or colluded with them?” in his December, 2018 article "What Happens If . . . The Possibilities Ahead in the Russia Investigation Suggest We Are Not Reaching the End of a Nightmare, But Rather Entering One" [1]:

“But for the people who support and defend Trump, this has already been absorbed and absolved. They may not like it, but they are willing to overlook it. Indeed, they are so attached to Trump that his fortunes and his fate have become synonymous with theirs. There is a spiritual linkage, a baleful bond, between the man and his minions.”

I understand that some Trump supporters do not particularly approve of Trump's behavior but are able to accept it because they think Trump is doing “good” Republican things with the economy, border control, patriotism, etc. But at the same time there appears to be another factor going on here, and this is the one that ties into the concerns that we are witnessing an enormous uprising of a political/quasi-religious cult in the United States: namely the Cult of Trumpism.

Concerns that Devout Trump Supporters are Exhibiting Cult-Like Behavior

In a June, 2018 article entitled "Trumpism is a Cult" [2], Mark Andersen conveyed some of his concerns about Trumpism being a cult, inclusive of what he perceives as child abuse and seeking inappropriate loyalty to leaders:

“Child Abuse (examples: advocacy for and implementation of documented practices that indefinitely separate thousands of young children from their parents; holding thousands of children in mass incarceration facilities with little to no structured educational or socio-emotional support. . . . Seeking inappropriate loyalty to leaders. . . .”He speaks and his people sit up in attention. I want my people to do the same” [quote from Trump in regard to the North Korea dictator Kim Jong-Un].”

And in a July, 2018 article entitled "10 Signs the Republican Party is Now a Full-Blown Cult" [3], Fairth Gardner gave the following indications that Trump's devout followers are exhibiting cult-like behavior:

“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.”

Gardner went on to convey 10 well-known criteria for being in a cult, and effectively described how all these criteria are commonly satisfied by devout Trump supporters:

  1. The leader is the ultimate authority: If you're not allowed to criticize your leader, even if the criticism is true. . . . .
  2. The group suppresses skepticism: If you're only allowed to study your organization through approved sources. . . .
  3. The group delegitimizes former members: If you can't think of a legitimate reason for leaving your group. . . .
  4. The group is paranoid about the outside world: If you believe the end of the world is near. . .
  5. The group relies on shame cycles: If you need your group in order to feel worthy, loved, or sufficient. . . .
  6. The leader is above the law: If you're held to a different moral standard, specifically in regard to sex. . . .
  7. The group uses “Thought reform” methods: If your serious questions are answered with cliches. . . .
  8. The group is elitist: If your group is the solution for all the world's problems. . . .
  9. There is no financial transparency: If you're not allowed to know what the group does with their money. . . .
  10. The group performs secret rites: If there are secret teachings or ceremonies you didn't discover until after you joined.”

And in an August, 2018 article entitled "Trump's Base Mindset/Cult and the Dunning-Kruger Effect", the author using the name Shockwave described a theory referred to as the Dunning-Kruger effect to help explain the cult mindset of Trump's base [4]:

“In the past, some prominent psychologists have explained President Donald Trump's unwavering support by alluding to a well-established psychological phenomenon known as the “Dunning-Kruger effect.” The effect is a type of cognitive bias, where people with little expertise or ability assume they have superior expertise or ability. This overestimation occurs as a result of the fact that they don't have enough knowledge to know they don't have enough knowledge. Or, stated more harshly, they are “too dumb to know they are dumb.”
A new study published in the journal Political Psychology, carried out by the political scientist Ian Anson. . . not only found that the Dunning-Kruger effect applies to politics, it also appears to be exacerbated when partisan identities are made more salient. In other words, those who score low on political knowledge tend to overestimate their expertise even more when greater emphasis is placed on political affiliation. . . .
While the results of Anson's study suggest that being uninformed leads to overconfidence across the political spectrum, studies have shown that Democrats now tend to be generally more educated than Republicans, making the latter more vulnerable to the Dunning-Kruger effect. . . .
Perhaps this helps explain why Trump supporters seem to be so easily tricked into believing obvious falsehoods when their leader delivers his “alternative facts” sprinkled with language designed to activate partisan identities. Because they lack knowledge but are confident that they do not, they are less likely than others to actually fact-check the claims that the President makes. . . . "

So, less educated or less knowledgeable people have become the main target for the Trump machine. . . . We are dealing with a Trump base that has been brainwashed over the years and now has become a cult. Trump is their L. Ron Hubbard [founder of Scientology].”

The Bonewits Cult Danger Scale Applied to Trumpism, From My Perspective

Given the above considerations and concerns, I thought it would be interesting to apply the experiential cult danger analysis scale that I have previously used in a number of “modern religions” and contemporary spiritual/philosopical organizations, inclusive of Ken Wilber's Integral Institute [5], to do my own informal analysis of the cult dangers of Trumpism. The scale is the Bonewits Cult Danger Scale, and its categories, in the version that I have previously used [6], are as follows [5]:

  1. Internal Control: amount of internal political power exercised by leader(s) over members.
  2. Wisdom Claimed: by leader(s), amount of infallibility declared about decisions.
  3. Wisdom Credited: to leaders by members, amount of trust in the decisions made by leaders(s).
  4. Dogma: rigidity of reality concepts taught, of amount of doctrinal inflexibility.
  5. Recruiting: emphasis put on attracting new members, amount of proselytizing.
  6. Front Groups: number of subsidiary groups using different name from the main group.
  7. Wealth: amount of money and/or property desired or obtained, emphasis on members' donations.
  8. Political Power: amount of external political influence desired or obtained.
  9. Sexual Manipulation: of members by leaders(s), amount of control over the lives of members.
  10. Censorship: amount of control over members' access to outside opinion on group, its doctrines or leader(s).
  11. Dropout Control: intensity of efforts directed at preventing or returning dropouts.
  12. Endorsement of Violence: when used by or for the group or leaders(s).
  13. Paranoia: amount of fear concerning real or imagined enemies, perceived power of opponents.
  14. Grimness: amount of disapproval concerning jokes about the group, its doctrines or leader(s).
  15. Surrender of Will: emphasis on members not having to be responsible for personal decisions.

Based upon my own experiences and accumulated knowledge about what I will refer to as “devout Trump supporters,” here is what I have come up with for my Bonewits Cult Danger Scale scores, followed by my explanations for my obviously subjective ratings:

Internal Control 10
Wisdom Claimed 10
Wisdom Credited 10
Dogma 10
Recruiting 3
Front Groups 3
Wealth 7
Political Power 10
Sexual Manipulation 7
Censorship 10
Dropout Control 5
Endorsement of Violence 8
Paranoia 10
Grimness 7
Surrender of Will 10
AVERAGE SCORE 8
Table 1.
Bonewits Cult Danger Scale scores for Donald Trump.

DISCUSSION

Donald Trump as cult-leader
Is Donald Trump a cult leader?

First off, what is especially striking about my ratings is that I gave the highest rating of “10” in over half the categories—8 out of 15. From my perspective, Trump exerts extreme influence over his base, regardless of the documented falsehood of what he says, as he refers to anything not of his liking as “alternative facts.” These “alternative facts” are swallowed up in full by his devoted base, and these considerations, along with his repeated dogmatic pronouncements about immigrants or whomever he does not like at the moment, resulted in my ratings of “10” in the categories of Internal Control, Wisdom Claimed, Wisdom Credited, and Dogma.

But it cannot be denied that Trump has been overwhelmingly successful politically, as he “somehow” managed to become the President of the United States, and has succeeded in getting his tax cuts to billionaires approved, along with two conservative Supreme court justices, amidst a great deal of public outrage related to accusations of sexual misconduct on the part of one of them; thus my rating of “10” for Political Power.

But to try to stay in political power, Trump has gone on full-scale attack mode against anyone prominent who publicly disagrees with him, and this has filtered through his base to malicious internet attacks (which admittedly has gone both ways), and in some cases deadly violence, to people who prominently voice their anti-Trump opinions (perhaps I should be worried?), and thus my ratings of “10” in the Censorship and Paranoia categories.

And putting all this together, what I see is that Trump's devout supporters have “surrendered their wills” to Trump, and thus my “10” rating in the Surrender of Will category.

Perhaps my ratings of “8” in Endorsement of Violence, and “7”'s in Wealth and Sexual Manipulation, may come as a surprise that they are not higher than they are. My reasoning is that while there is a significant increase in hate crimes that appears to be directly related to Trump's rhetoric and presidency [7], one cannot actually say that Trump himself has directly “ordered” violence on people (in spite of his insinuations and his policies) so giving him the benefit of the doubt, I moved my rating down a few notches to “8.”

Regarding Wealth, yes Trump is wealthy and enjoys the support of a number of billionaires to market his message to the masses, but it is also the case that a significant part of Trump's base is not college educated or wealthy [8]; putting this all together and giving weight to the cult leader, in this case “Individual 1” [9], I came up with the rating of “7.”

And similarly in regard to Sexual Manipulation; it is outrageous how Trump has treated women and there are numerous related lawsuits in various stages of process against him [10]. But thinking of his base as a whole, though a large percentage apparently consists of white uneducated males [8], I do not want to make unwarranted assumptions about their practices of sexual manipulation—thus, giving a similar weight to the cult leader Trump as I have done for my Wealth rating, my rating is “7” in the Sexual Manipulation category.

And I used the same kind of reasoning in the Grimness category; Trump is “grim” and does not engage in humor in regard to his weaknesses (I don't believe he has yet admitted he has any), and many of his devout followers are quite grim in regard to people who find fault with Trump (and again I must admit that this goes both ways), but I do not want to over-generalize here and thus I came up with the rating of “7” in the Grimness category.

For Dropout Control, I think that Trump makes tremendous efforts to try to stop some people from ending their support of him—but this refers primarily to high level politicians and to his base; i.e., his “devout” followers whom he knows he needs to satisfy to continue his ambitions—thus he will do anything to “build the wall,” including shut down the government [11]. But he does not pay much attention to the “middle of the roaders” who I believe have demonstrated “dropping out” of their perhaps mild Trump support, and who apparently had much to do with the Democrats taking over the House in the midterm elections [12]; thus my rating of “5” in the Dropout Control category.

For the category of Recruiting, I am giving Trump the benefit of the doubt here, as it seems to me that he is generally content to maintain his strong support of his base and not try to recruit new members, as can be seen from his midterm election strategy [12], though of course he still engages in some level of trying to recruit new members, and thus my rating of “3” in the Recruiting category.

And finally, in regard to Front Groups, I'm sure there are some groups that are Trump-based without it being obvious from their name, and includes some Trump supporters not wanting to publicize their support of Trump. But I see the multitude of devout Trump supporters as being very willing to publicly display their adoring veneration of their leader without the need of any front groups to masquerade behind; thus my rating of “3” for Front Groups.

Conclusion

Well I think we must take a lesson from the House victory midterm elections, and vote the cult out of power.

So what does my average rating of “8.0” signify here? Well as I described in Note [6], my whole cult danger analysis must be taken with a grain of salt, as in addition to being just my own subjective analysis, my previous cult danger analyses were all involved with religious or spiritual/philosophical organizations and included two additional cult analysis scales, and I am now applying my cult danger analysis to a political organization using just the initial Bonewits Cult Danger Scale.

But taking this into consideration and going ahead with my comparison numbers anyway, I think that my 8.0 rating indicates, at least for me, a serious possibility of “high cult danger.” The only two comparable numbers that I have previously come up with (both of which were somewhat higher than 8.0) are for Scientology (rating of 8.7) and The Unification Church (rating of 9.0), which were the only two organizations, out of approximately 20 organizations that I experientially analyzed, that I put in the category of “high cult danger” [5]. The next highest rating I gave was to the organization Avatar (rating of 5.4), which I put in the “moderate cult danger” category [5].

Thus my subjective numerical cult danger scale ratings for Trumpism clearly indicates to me that the devout supporters of Trump may very well be engaging in a high degree of cult-like behavior in their adoring veneration of Donald Trump. And this is consistent with everything that I have learned about devout Trump supporters, as well as with the concerns of the authors that I have included in this essay.

Needless to say, cults are dangerous—and I think it is essential that they not be permitted to run the show. In the case of the United States, a rough estimate is that excluding the impressionable children growing up in Trump supporter households, perhaps approximately 20% of the country, which means around 50 million people, are involved on at least a moderate level in the cult of Trumpism [13]. So what can be done about this? Well I think we must take a lesson from the House victory midterm elections, and vote the cult out of power. And this is about the most positive thing I can say right now in regard to the cult of Trumpism, so I will end here.

Notes and References

[1] Charles Blow, "What Happens If... The possibilities ahead in the Russia investigation suggest we are not reaching the end of a nightmare, but rather entering one.", Dec. 2, 2018, www.nytimes.com

[2] Mark E Andersen, "Trumpism is a Cult", June 24, 2018, www.dailykos.com

[3] Faith Gardner, "10 signs the Republican Party is now a full-blown cult", July 30, 2018, www.dailykos.com

[4] Shockwave, "Trump's base mindset/cult and the Dunning-Kruger effect", August 02, 2018, www.dailykos.com. The quote is from: Bobby Azarian, "A Neuroscientist Explains How Trump Supporters Are Easily Hoodwinked Because of This One Psychological Problem", July 23, 2018, www.alternet.org

[5] See Elliot Benjamin (2013), Modern Religions: An Experiential Analysis and Exposé. Winterport, ME: Natural Dimension Publications; and Elliot Benjamin (2006). On Ken Wilber's Integral Institute: An Experiential Analysis, July 2006, www.integralworld.net

[6] There are additional categories in later versions of the Bonewits Cult Danger Scale, but I have chosen to use the same initial version that I have used in my Modern Religions book [5] and related articles, as well as not give varying weight to the categories, in order to maintain some degree of reasonable comparison between my cult danger rating of Trumpism and my earlier cult danger ratings in religious and spiritual/philosophical organizations. It should also be noted that the scale I am presently using for Trumpism, which represents a political entity, is a scale that I have only previously used for religious and spiritual/philosophical organizations, and that in my previous cult dangers analyses I also used two additional scales to more fully make a conclusion about the cult dangers of a religious or spiritual/philosophical organization that I had been involved with.

[7] The Federal Bureau of Investigation November, 2018 report indicated a 17 percent increase for 2017 in hate crimes; and nearly 60 percent of these hate crimes are tied to race. And in the book The Constitution Demands It: The Case for the Impeachment of Donald Trump (Fein, Bonifza, & Clements (2018)), the following material about Trump's rhetoric is included, which I find particularly disturbing in relation to the above FBI 2017 hate crimes statistics.

“Since entering office, Trump has urged police to be “rough” with suspects, given aid and comfort to neo-Nazis and other white supremacists, and suggested that the military should commit war crimes against Muslims. On July 28, 2017, in a speech to police officers, Trump openly encouraged police to be “rough” with people they arrest.” (p. 97)

“A survey of more than 10,000 K-12 educators by the Southern Poverty Law Center found that the 2016 presidential election led to increases in “verbal harassment, the use of slurs and derogatory language, and disturbing incidents involving swastikas, Nazi salutes and Confederate flags, with over 2,500 educators describing specific incidents of bigotry and harassment that can be directly traced to election rhetoric.“ (p. 101)

“A peer-reviewed epidemiological study of the 2016 election found that cities experienced a 12-percent increase in assaults on days when Trump held a rally, as compared to days when there was no campaign rally.” (p. 101)

[8] See an August, 2018 analysis of the voters who constitute Trump's base at www.dataforprogress.org

[9] See a December, 2018 description of the use of the terminology “Individual 1” for Trump: Chuck Rosenberg, "Michael Cohen named Trump as 'Individual-1'. Here's why prosecutors haven't identified him in court", Dec. 12, 2018, www.nbcnews.com

[10] See Eliza Relman, "The 22 women who have accused Trump of sexual misconduct", 27 Sep 2018, www.businessinsider.com

[11] See a description of the December, 2018 meeting between Trump and Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, in which Trump said he would be willing to shut down the government to build his wall: "Trump Threatens Government Shutdown Over Border Wall Funding", December 12, 2018, www.npr.org

[12] See the references in my November, 2018 article"Reducing Trump's Destruction, Rethinking Impeachment: A More Integrative Perspective", November 2018, www.integralworld.net

[13] See: "Analysis: Just how big is Trump's Republican diehard base?", 3 Sep, 2018, www.nzherald.co.nz





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