In an ideal world, Joe Biden’s clear electoral win against Donald Trump – in both the popular vote and the electoral college – combined with his swearing in despite all the post-election conspiracy theorizing, would do the trick. In a liberal fantasy, the scales would fall from the eyes of the most devoted Trump follower as they come to the realization that he twice lost the popular vote, was consistently unpopular, and will be a one-term occupant of the White House.
But we do not live in that fantasy world and to varying degrees, most of those within the cult of Trump will stay there.
We have to live with it.
There has been a lot of talk from liberals in the months since the election that “something has to be done” and resources need to be invested in “deprogramming” these people. The most severely affected appear to be those who believe in the long-debunked QAnon conspiracy, who believe there is a global war against child trafficking going on, with (most absurdly) Trump in the middle of the battle.
These are not people who will ever be swayed by fact. There is no presentation of data that will convince these people to discard what has been operating as their belief system for over four years. It looks absurd from the outside, but to them, these strongly held notions are as real as the faith of Christians, Muslims, or Jews. And simply presenting facts rarely deters a true believer.
So we have to live with it.
Historically there is a solid 30-40 percent of the voting public that Republicans and conservatives can always rely on, no matter what. The same mindset that backed Barry Goldwater and his opposition to Civil Rights legislation and promotion of nuclear strikes (iconically pilloried by Lyndon Johnson) has survived the intervening 56 years and now sees Trump as a God-King.
To these people, the Democratic nominee is always some sort of revolutionary left-wing icon, one step away from Karl Marx and Chairman Mao, even though such comparisons are inane when the Democrats select people like Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama to lead the party.
You cannot have a rational conversation with someone who clings to something so absurd as part of their core. No “deprogramming” will work.
And in fact, that sort of deprogramming is rarely successful in the world of cults. Think about everything that is now known about Scientology. There have been multiple books, movies, tv shows, and investigative journalism of the cult’s practices. A few people have left, with some of them being high visibility actors and actresses. But most scientologists are still scientologists. Famous apocalyptic cults like the People’s Temple and Heaven’s Gate didn’t end when people walked away — they took their own lives.
For the sake of millions of families, hopefully nothing that extreme occurs within the cult of conservatism. But liberals need to understand that they are here to stay. While some natural attrition will occur, the people who believed George W. Bush was some sort of messiah, and now believe Donald Trump was their savior against liberalism, will transfer that belief to the next idol of worship.
The path forward will require political organizing, to keep potentially combustive liberal coalitions together as a bloc. Democrats will have to appeal to voters and turn out their base while also reaching out to “swing” voters in a delicate dance trying not to turn off each group. Passing legislation at the federal and state level to encourage voter participation will be a major help in achieving this goal.
But the cult will remain with us, it will continue to affect American politics, and it has to be outvoted again and again and again. It will not disappear and fade away due to magic, hopes, and dreams. It’s with us forever.
Deal with it.