The Trump re-election campaign just touted, in all caps: Biden Would Let Antifa Destroy Our Nation! American citizens have been barraged by similar unfounded statements that are designed to gain compliance rather than to engage in thoughtful debate.
By making grandiose promises, dismissing science and reason, and inculcating an ‘us versus them’ dynamic, Mr. Trump has accomplished what many cult leaders before him have done. He has captured the minds, hearts and psyches of devoted followers who systematically, but unknowingly, surrendered their grasp on reality and replaced it with a new cosmology-one that primarily benefits Trump himself. He is revered for his business know-how and his supporters feel as if they are participating in something important, something historic. His cultic techniques are fueled by QAnon and a well-endowed propaganda machine that targets the far right and the far left and impacts all of us. These controlling tactics are eroding America’s capacity for balanced critical thinking and civil discourse. This is by design. The instability that he actively promotes, is precisely the platform necessary for a good cult leader to stand on.
Two of America’s better known cult figures are Jim Jones of Jonestown and David Koresh of Waco TX. When followers adopted their leader’s apocalyptic ideas it resulted in 909 people drinking cyanide-laced kool aid and dying in the jungle of Guyana and 76 others choosing to perish in flames with their leader in Texas.
There was an unimaginable tragedy in Guyana and in Texas, but their leaders were wrong: the apocalypse never happened.
Although we do not hear President Trump making predictions for the end of the world, his rhetoric promotes apocalyptic thinking in both his supporters and opponents. Social psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton created the phrase ‘the dispensing of existence’ to describe how authoritarian leaders use an apocalyptic narrative to control people.
Whether or not preacher Jim Jones truly believed armageddon was upon the earth is irrelevant. He used this complex biblical passage to capture the minds, hearts and ultimately the lives of his followers. The same devastating pattern has been repeated innumerous times by cultic groups throughout the geologically brief period that humans have dominated the earth.
But the earth exists today. This is reality. It is reasonable to believe the earth will be here while you finish your cup of coffee. It is reasonable to believe the earth will endure beyond the US 2020 election. It is reasonable to believe the earth will be here for our grandchildren and for theirs.
The unpredictable and erratic statements President Trump doles out on a daily basis serve to keep the country in a state of imbalance to assure that he holds the power. This is a verifiable reality. The apocalypse is not.
I received an email from a friend who commented on the importance of connecting with each other in these unpredictable times. She closed with, “at least the earth is still on its axis!”
Indeed, it is.