Steve Hassan’s The Cult of Trump is brilliantly and sensitively written, accessible, and non-judgmental. The Trump phenomenon is a dramatic, if not dangerous example of how cults are hardly a fringe experience. They only seem that way because of a mass denial and lack of education that runs as deep and as wide as society itself. Hassan’s book is a critical and bipartisan step toward addressing—indeed healing--this national gap in education. The book is timely and, for those who value democracy, it is immensely important.
Some people feel, however, that it is wrong to view Trump followers as cultists because it demonizes them. Some feel Hassan is a partisan who happens to disagree with Trump’s political agenda. Some feel it’s wrong to describe tens of millions of people as being brainwashed. Afterall, how would you feel if you were told you were being brainwashed? Is telling people who are being brainwashed that they’re being brainwashed the most effective way to snap them out of it?
Separate from how people feel, the fact is that destructive cults do have things in common. For instance, they operate in a largely closed information bubble. The information flows from the so-called leader and there is little-to-no checks on that information. Destructive cult leaders create alternate realities for people. Facts and physical reality have little currency in the world of a cult. Cult leaders merely need to imagine something and to say it--and that becomes peoples’ reality. For instance, a cult leader can say, “We should think about injecting household detergents into our bodies to combat a deadly virus” but the next day, that same cult leader, when questioned, may say, “I never said that, you’re making it up. Fake news!” This is called gaslighting—making up your own reality. Cult leaders do it all the time. It’s straight out of the cult-leader’s handbook. The point here is that the behavior of Trump and his millions of followers closely models that of a destructive cult. I say this not as a Republican or Democrat but as someone who has close friends who vote blue and close friends who vote red. This is not a partisan issue, it’s a matter of recognizing in a significant portion of the American voting population a dance on the edge of fascist thought where rule of law, where checks and balance, where the United States Constitution is no longer respected, no longer applies.
Should we step timidly with such an understanding so as to not hurt peoples’ feelings? Should George Orwell not have put forth Animal Farm, 1984, and Homage to Catalonia, so as not to have upset anyone--particularly the fascist powers ravaging Europe? Steven Hassan boldly and sincerely confronts the truth of what’s happening, not in the fairyland of powerful, delusional peoples’ imaginations but in the real world. The world where if you drop a brick, it falls. Hassan explains these dynamics far better than I ever could in this needed, timely book, The Cult of Trump.