“The first part of the book was great, but then why did you have to go there?”
I was talking to my brother-in-law’s book club, a group of Lutherans who call themselves the Churchies. (I don’t think they’ve registered that clever name, so feel free to borrow it.) They had been reading my book Honestly: Telling the Truth About the Bible and Ourselves.
This Churchie — who I’ve met and is a lovely person — was pained that after reading chapter upon chapter about how we have not told the truth about the Bible I brought it all home by talking about the most divisive person in America: Donald Trump.
“The first part of the book is so good that I could give it to any of my family members who support Trump, and we could have a meaningful conversation that might begin to open their eyes,” she said. “But then you had to go there.”
Naming the greatest liar in American history is a deal breaker to open the eyes of his base to see he is a liar.
What’s so frustrating about this woman’s comment is she’s right.
Many — but not all — of Trump’s loyal base believe he is the only one telling them the truth. This is the height of his deception and one key indicator of why Trumpism is a cult. A classic marker of cult leaders is they convince their followers they are the only person telling them what’s true — against family, friends, religion, common sense.
Trump has a Ph.D. in cult leader techniques. Consider when he was booked into the Fulton County Jail this summer on more charges of interfering with an election and used the event to accuse the Georgia legal system of perpetrating voter suppression. He’s always the victim, even when he’s really the perp.
This story is so old and worn that it’s hardly worth repeating. You know how it goes. It’s a much more serious version of the playground bully who always says, “I didn’t hit him! He hit me!”
Yet how can we talk about such a great menace without calling him by name? Must he be given power like Voldemort in Harry Potter?
Otherwise, we would be left warning people to be careful about drinking Kool-Aid without mentioning Jim Jones or warning the dangers of going to Hollywood without naming Charles Manson.
Our family members and friends are held in just that same kind of spell by Donald Trump. He is a dangerous cult leader. And just as in trying to deprogram members of other cults, convincing them their revered leader is a fraud is the hardest task of all.
“We must continue to name the insanity of his statements as a warning to others who still could fall under his influence.”
Yet we must continue to name the insanity of his statements as a warning to others who still could fall under his influence. When the road has washed out, we must put up explicit warning signs.
Bullies derive their power from making people fear calling them bullies. Just look at the “we’ll get you” warnings both Trump and Rudy Giuliani put out after their arrest in Georgia. In other words, don’t mess with the mob.
So in that sense, we have to “go there.” We must “go there.”
But what of those who so desperately seek a way to remove the blinders from the eyes of their loved ones? What help can we offer them?
I’ve spent a good bit of time researching this, hoping to find a helpful answer to share here. And I’ve come up empty-handed. Even those who have escaped other cults and now write and speak about their experiences don’t have any magic solutions to offer. Generally, they say, people will see the light when they’re ready to see the light and not much anyone else does will change them.
It is helpful, they say, to keep a line of communication open to the extent you can. Without validating their alternate reality.
“There is something every American can do to break down the cult of Trumpism: Vote.”
But there is something every American can do to break down the cult of Trumpism: Vote. The best way to end Trump’s spell over America is to deny him the oxygen of attention he craves and send him packing.
That’s one of the conclusions in the most helpful piece I’ve found about this dilemma, published on The Big Picture.
The march of time ultimately will kill Trumpism, the authors predict, because younger people aren’t drinking the Kool-Aid.
“Trumpism — and Republicanism generally — has no plan to win over this generation, just as they have no solid plan to woo large numbers of minority voters or suburban women. To the contrary, their policies, actions, and laws seem only to further alienate these groups. MAGA is caught up in its own extremist cult trap, and it is bringing the rest of the GOP down with it.”
GOP leaders know this, which is one reason they’re so obsessed with gerrymandered districts and restrictive voting laws. They know their star candidate cannot win on the merits of any policies or ideas.
That’s cold comfort for today, though.
In the meantime, the best way to help those trapped in the cult of Trump is to lead them outside their information bubbles.
From the article: “Today, deprogramming could begin the very moment when Trumpist cult members wander outside their information bubbles and come to suspect that their leader is not who they believed him to be. But as with cultists behind physical walls, those behind informational walls need to find their own way out.”
When we publish article after article calling Donald Trump a liar and a cheat and a mentally unstable and immoral person — all of which is true — we do so not with the hope of converting anyone out of the cult. We do it so there will be a record of the lies and deception, a stack pole of truth to validate those who see the light.
And we do it to help people like you, dear reader, understand you are not the one detached from reality.
Mark Wingfield serves as executive director of Baptist News Global. He is the author of Honestly: Telling the Truth About the Bible and Ourselves.
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