I read a piece about how the point of a religious cult sending their flock door to door to proselytize isn’t about winning converts but strengthening their hold on its members.
The success rate of converting hungover people on a Saturday morning who just want to be left the fuck alone is abysmal. As a recruitment strategy, it makes zero sense. What does make sense is how it makes those sent out to engage in these destined to fail recruiting tactics feel.
It makes them feel like the rest of the world hates them.
And so, the only safe place they have is with their own kind, with the cult. Everyone else hates them, but the cult loves them. It reinforces the tribalism and makes it difficult to leave.
I’m seeing a lot of parallels with Trumpism.
Shouts of “Send her back!” in reference to Ilhan Omar at a Trump rally is their way of pushing the “us vs. them” narrative to the limit. It may have seemed a spontaneous chant, but it was Trump’s tweets that spawned it. And Trump let it go on. He did not decry it until the following day.
Cruelty is a powerfully binding force in the cult of Trumpism.
Decent people cannot help but react to such blatant racism with scorn. When Trump and his followers behave in such egregious ways, we’re angered and lash out like a Jehovah’s Witness interrupted our sleep to tell us we’re going to burn in hell. And such a reaction reinforces their dedication to their racist master, because he professes to love them, while the rest of the world appears to hate them.
There are a couple of significant differences between religious cults and Trumpism, however.
The religious cult members are more likely to be victims, caught up in a need to belong to something. They’re often not beyond hope. They’re misguided. I have a close friend who managed to break free from such a controlling cult. She is an amazing human who got taken advantage of during a vulnerable time in her life.
What’s more, what they’ve been sold isn’t such blatant hatred. The prejudice is camouflaged by a fuzzy coating of peace, love, God, and heaven. They got sucked in, or were born in, and we should feel at least some sympathy for that, for the pawns being controlled, if not the leaders.
When such a misguided cult member comes to my door, I don’t greet them with hostility. My go-to response is to smile, tell them I’m doing fine, and wish them a nice day. I won’t reinforce their tribal devotion to a cult by making them feel like the world hates them. I mean, unless they’re waving an anti-choice poster in my face, then they can fuck all the way off.
But I can’t show any sympathy for Trump supporters.
These are not vulnerable people who got taken advantage of. They are not merely misguided.
When you’re chanting “Send her back!” about a U.S. citizen and congressperson who came to America as a refugee, you have crossed the line into evil.
There is no choice. Such behavior cannot go unchallenged.
This is something we cannot abide.
For the love of all that decent, resist.
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James S. Fell, MA, MBA, has bylines in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, the Guardian, TIME Magazine, and many other publications. His blog has millions of readers and he is the author of two books: The Holy Sh!t Moment: How Lasting Change Can Happen in an Instant (St. Martin’s Press, 2019), and Lose it Right: A Brutally Honest 3-Stage Program to Help You Get Fit and Lose Weight Without Losing Your Mind (Random House Canada, 2014). Order them here.