More often than not, Donald Trump’s presidential campaign resembles some of the classic patterns and behaviors of a cult.
While political campaigns are often accused of this, I don’t think we’ve seen this many factors in one organization the way we have seen with the 2016 Trump presidential campaign.
- Everything is tied up in the Great Leader. The Trump campaign reflects what Donald Trump wants, not his campaign manager or senior staffers. Frequently the campaign’s schedule is defined by Trump’s idiosyncrasies, they show up in blue states he has no chance of winning, or they blow off events with red state donors. And no matter how screwy the decision turns out, Trump is never wrong.
- His inner circle is almost exclusively his family members and long-time employees. Trump rarely has the standard business back-and-forth exchange of executives and senior personnel with other businesses. They stick with Trump forever and seem to only know how to do business his “way.”
- Nobody can understand the Great Leader but those inside the cult. The media and public at large are constantly derided by Trump and his top lieutenants for not understanding what the Leader said. The press is either accused of plotting against Trump or being too stupid to understand his simplistic sentences. This is nearly textbook cult work, where cult insiders are confused that those outside their circle do not interpret the Leader’s random ticks and tweaks in the way they have after years – sometimes decades – of doing so.
- Relating to that, his inner circle explains away his endless cavalcade of mistakes as screw-ups as evidence of some master plan. Instead of saying “he screwed up,” the Trump cultist instead contorts him or herself into crazy knots to make excuses.When Trump repeatedly misspells basic words on Twitter or re-tweets a white supremacist, it’s never a genuine screw-up according to his followers. Instead it’s a high stakes gambit from Trump to get publicity, never mind that he doesn’t really need that kind of publicity or that his brand is being tainted in a way it never was before.
This leaves them even more flat-footed when Trump walks back a statement or comment. But instead of being upset at the Leader for leaving them high and dry out on the ledge, the cultist lashes out at the media or their ideological opponents for a plot that forced them to behave in a silly manner, absolving the Leader again for any failure.
- When someone from the inside speaks out against Trump or disagrees with him, or breaks from him, he doesn’t just let bygones be bygones or disassociate himself from them in an amicable manner. Instead, in behavior straight out of the Church of Scientology, Trump goes to war. In Scientology, those who drop out are called “blown” and often the subject of church-enforced shunning by their friends and families still in the group. Especially if the person leaving scientology speaks out against church practices, the group conducts attacks and smear campaigns against the unbeliever.Trump takes the lead on this within his cult. He derides and attacks those who he praised weeks and months before. Often he treats his discarded Republican rivals with far more disdain than Hillary Clinton, as if they are more of a threat because they’ve seen his inner workings.
- The disturbing way those converted to his entourage uniformly refer to him as “Mr. Trump.” It’s one thing if they are his existing subordinates – though even there it’s a little odd. But look at how Chris Christie went from calling Trump “Donald” when he was campaigning against him to how fast he switched to “Mr. Trump” once he endorsed him. And it’s the same with so many other people in his orbit.It becomes more jarring when people not in his squad like Hillary Clinton call him “Donald.” The cadence and cacophony of the “Mr. Trump” is broken when it should have been that way all along.
I may add to this when I get more evidence, but I think the existing parallels show that the comparison is not simply a “what if” versus “it’s happening.”