Rescuing Republicans from The Cult of #45

88% of self-identified Republicans currently support the President. About half of those Republicans support him enthusiastically. That means that approximately 20% of the overall electorate are hardcore Trump supporters (Republicans make up around 40% of the electorate total).

To the vast majority of political observers, the President’s first 6 weeks in office have been a complete disaster. The entire media spectrum, with the notable exception of the fringe right, has come to a general consensus on this point. The left-leaning media are more vocal in declaring his Presidency a disaster already, but the centrist and right-of-center mainstream agree that the first month has been marked by incompetence, radical and likely unconstitutional executive orders, conflicts of interest, ethical violations, and the like. Almost half the electorate think the President should be impeached, an historic record to this point in any American President’s initial weeks in office.

Why are so many Republicans still supporting Trump? The most obvious is reason is he is doing what they want. Republican support of his initial executive orders varies from 71–83%. The bigger questions are (a) why would they support these outlandish and anti-American policies and (b) why aren’t they bothered by the President’s compulsive lies?

Hardcore Trump Supporters Vs. Other Republicans

Although Republicans have grown homogeneously white, male, and older, there are still big differences between Trump’s supporters and other Republicans. First, his supporters tend to hold racist views:

Per public policy polling’s recent survey, which followed Black History Month:

“…Only 47% of Trump voters know that Frederick Douglass is dead, compared to 78% of Clinton voters who know that. Even though they evidently need it, Trump voters aren’t very excited about Black History Month. Only 45% of them have a favorable opinion of it, to 35% with a negative one. By contrast it’s 81/9 for Clinton voters. And in yet another measure of the terrible economic anxiety gripping Trump voters though, 46% of them think there should be a White History Month.”

The hardcore Trump supporters are also less educated than average. 68% of white men without degrees approve of his performance to date.

Hardcore Trump Supporters Live in an Echo Chamber

Trump voters, and Republicans, are unique in their distrust of any news source but those that reinforce their biases. “According to Edelman’s annual Trust Barometer study, only 21% of Trump voters said they trusted the media before the election. After the election, that number had fallen even further, to just 15%. In other words, 85% of Trump supporters now don’t trust the media. By comparison, more than half of Clinton voters said they do.” This has been going on a while — remember Palin’s branding of the ‘lamestream media?” The relentless skepticism of the press among the fringe right media has been taking a toll on Republican’s trust in the media establishment:

Correlated with this distrust in centrist media, the hardcore Trump supporters are very likely to believe anything the President says. For example, Trump lied that millions of people voted illegally. From the recent Public Policy poll, 28% of respondents said yes to the following question:

“Do you think millions of people voted illegally in the 2016 Presidential election, or not?“

This correlates with the percentage of enthusiastic Trump supporters. Many Trump supporters also think it is acceptable to live in an echo chamber; they do not mind being isolated among only supporters like them. 51% of conservative republicans think it’s OK to only see news from one side of the spectrum. Their news sources are Hannity and Limbaugh. Interestingly, Breitbart’s audience demographics are almost identical — old, white, men.

Trump’s Mastery of His Base

Of the traits below, see how many you think apply to Trump:

1. He has a grandiose idea of who he is and what he can achieve.

2. Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, or brilliance.

3. Demands blind unquestioned obedience.

4. Requires excessive admiration from followers and outsiders.

5. Has a sense of entitlement — expecting to be treated special at all times.

6. Is exploitative of others by asking for their money or that of relatives putting others at financial risk.

7. Is arrogant and haughty in his behavior or attitude.

8. Has an exaggerated sense of power (entitlement) that allows him to bend rules and break laws.

9. Is hypersensitive to how he is seen or perceived by others.

These are 9 traits that are associated with dangerous cult leaders. The entire list has 50 traits. By my count, our President exhibits 43 out of 50. Per the FBI agent that compiled this listing of cult leader traits, based on his career in the field, in Psychology Today:

Having studied at length the life, teachings, and behaviors of Jim Jones (Jonestown Guyana), David Koresh (Branch Davidians), Stewart Traill (The Church of Bible Understanding), Charles Manson, Shoko Asahara (Aum Shinrikyo), Joseph Di Mambro (The Order of the Solar Temple aka Ordre du Temple Solaire), Marshall Heff Applewhit (Heaven’s Gate), Bhagwan Rajneesh (Rajneesh Movement), and Warren Jeffs (polygamist leader), what stands out about these individuals is that they were or are all pathologically narcissistic. They all have or had an over-abundant belief that they were special, that they and they alone had the answers to problems, and that they had to be revered. They demanded perfect loyalty from followers, they overvalued themselves and devalued those around them, they were intolerant of criticism, and above all they did not like being questioned or challenged. And yet, in spite of these less than charming traits, they had no trouble attracting those who were willing to overlook these features.

Trump has an audience primed to believe only him, to distrust contrary evidence, and many of whom lack a lot of the critical thinking skills one typically learns in college. Trump is also unique in normalizing racist and xenophobic attitudes which characterize his strongest supporters. This is one reason he engenders such strong support — he is the only ‘mainstream’ politician willing to unequivocally align himself with this viewpoint, and he does so with a salesman’s ability to pitch the message. First person accounts by his supporters show that he makes them feel special and reinforces their view that they are uniquely American and the protector of American purity (white, Christian, native). Trump has therefore honed his message to please an overwhelmingly white, older audience who have racists attitudes, is virulently anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant, and is terrified of the downfall of (white) America.

Trump will say anything, true or false, as long as it serves his agenda, which is maintaining the devotion of this particular audience. He uses every single trick in the salesman’s trade — extremely simple speaking style, delivered with great emotion and total confidence, and paints a dramatic, frightening narrative. He uses his audience’s familiarity with the right-wing media’s conspiracies to fill in gaps in what appears to be incoherent phrases. For example, in his recent visit to Florida for a campaign rally, he referenced a terrorist attack in Sweden that did not happen. The mainstream media pointed this out, as did all the comedians; it became another example of his well-known behavior.

However, his hardcore supporters know that Sweden has had a lot of Muslim (and/or Middle-eastern — close enough) refugees and immigrants, and so Trump was really just implying that is a big problem. His audience knew exactly what he meant — Sweden is a white Christian country that has taken in a lot of non-white, Muslim immigrants and refugees. This is going to lead to trouble, per this narrative. Likewise, the phony Bowling Green massacre “accidentally” referenced by Kellyanne Conway didn’t have to be real. Conway could have said anything and it would make no difference, because her point was accurate to Trump’s base regardless of the facts — Muslims are a danger to the country.

Trump’s hardcore supporters have determined that they will support him in advance of what he says of does. They have already decided he knows something everyone else doesn’t. They already trust him. It doesn’t matter what he says. The only thing that will shake this condition is if something happens to them personally.

Reclaiming the Republicans from the Cult Members

  1. Only half of Trump supporters approve strongly of everything Trump does. Not all Republicans are Fox News junkies who believe anything he says. The non-strong supporters distrust the media, but they have shown in polls to be less certain of Trump, less confident in his ability, and more willing to say they disagree with him. Our language needs to stop berating all Republicans and really draw a border only around his most ardent supporters. The rest of the Republicans must be treated like they live in the world of facts.

2. The majority of the electorate across the political spectrum —75% of us — need to unite to reclaim a shared reality. This doesn’t mean we all vote the same way. It just means we agree on a set of facts and values that we can debate. We can debate how to deal with climate change. We can’t debate if it’s real. We can debate on how to reform our immigration system. We can’t deport 9 million people using the national guard. We can debate on how to fund infrastructure programs. We can’t just ignore it. We can debate on how to safeguard our elections from foreign intervention. We can’t lie about Americans voting illegally and use that to restrict voting.

3. The mainstream media needs to report on the brainwashing of Trump supporters. That millions of people believe outright lies, and disbelieve credible new sources, IS A BIG STORY. They need to investigate it. To interview people and show them evidence of his lying. They need to show Fox’s bias, how far out of the mainstream the alt-right is, and show historical examples of charlatans and how people become dupes. The majority of the country need to start understanding that this isn’t a matter of perspective — this is one group of people believing lies, and everyone else standing outside of this. It’s not a partisan issue.

4. The mainstream media needs to educate viewers on how their stories are created — the fact checking process, using multiple sources, the time required. They need to contrast that with fake news sites to show the difference. Both sides of the mainstream spectrum — WSJ and NYT, for example, have to do this — mainstream Republicans need to start trusting mainstream media again, and dispense with conspiracy theories about the ‘liberal media’. Republican politicians should lead the charge by supporting regular news outlets and denouncing these conspiracy theories

5. The mainstream media should continue cutting off and blacklisting all Trump surrogates who lie and call them fake news. They need to demand a basic standard of truth from the White House.

6. The media need to call on other Republican leaders to deliver traditional Republican opinions on issues, and to debate Democrats in the real world. We need to be reminded how the government worked prior to the 1990s. We have to recreate normal political discourse.