Column: The dangerous cult of Trumpism

Richard Weber
special to The Hays Daily News

I’ve often wondered how Trump’s base could remain so fiercely loyal after all the damage he has done to the country. The answer seems to be that these people are guilty of LUI — Living Under the Influence. They thought they were electing a President and what they got was a crafty cult leader.

It could happen to anyone and it sort of happened to me when I was in college. My friend and I were taken by a fast-talking bait-and-switch artist at a carnival. The con man and cult leader have much in common. Both are masters of deceit.

Trump has overtaken the Republican party by force. His policies contradict much of what the party once stood for — fiscal conservatism, a balanced budget, national defense, a strong military, support for our allies. And he even got the religious right to turn a blind eye to his moral transgressions. The Republican party has become the party of Trump.

In an interview with Kseniya Kirillova, the cult expert Steven Hassan said that Trump “displays the features of a typical cult leader — malignant narcissism; egocentrism; a tendency to believe his own greatness and to exaggerate achievements; constant fantasies of his own power…a lack of empathy; a tendency to sadism; anti-social behavior and lying.”

These traits were on full display throughout Trump’s Presidency. He admires autocrats and thinks white supremacists are “good people”. He has a special affection for Putin and takes his word that Russia did not interfere with our election, though our own intelligence agencies have proven otherwise.

He attacked Gold Star families, trashed the military brass, and remained silent when Putin put a bounty on our soldiers in Afghanistan. At a WWII cemetery in France he dishonored the dead by calling them “suckers”.

According to The Fact Checker, Trump has told more than 20,000 lies. Controlling information is his favorite strategy of deceit. The message is driven home by arousing fear and panic. Unfavorable news is dismissed as “fake news” and unpleasant facts are replaced with “alternate facts”.

Trump’s “malignant narcissism” took a more deadly turn when the pandemic hit. Instead of mobilizing the country to fight the virus, he chose to ignore it — not because of incompetency as we once thought, but because he simply didn’t care about saving lives. All he could think about was how the pandemic would affect his chances of getting re-elected.

In Bob Woodward’s recent book, we learn that Trump’s downplaying of the pandemic was a willful act of deceit. He knew as early as Feb. 7 that the virus was “deadly stuff”, that it was five times more dangerous than the flu and that it could be transmitted through the air.

And yet he continued to mock people who wore masks and he disregarded the CDC’s guidelines on social distancing. He held big rallies that endangered the lives of thousands. He urged the states to reopen even as the coronavirus cases kept climbing. He put economics ahead of health because it was a political advantage to do so.

Trump’s denial of the science played a role in further dividing the country, and views on the pandemic were influenced by partisan politics. The republicans were more inclined to follow Trump and the democrats to follow the science.

The coronavirus has claimed nearly 200,000 American lives, and a thousand more are dying every day. Many of those people died because of Trump’s extreme narcissism. The only question is, how much more damage will Trump do to the people in our country?

John Urquiza was a life-long Republican who lived in New Mexico. The governor, a Trump puppet, said it was safe to go out without a mask and engage in normal social activities. So, having faith in his government, he went to a Karaoke party with a group of friends, caught the virus and died.

John’s daughter Kristin said that her father felt betrayed by Trump. She ended with this comment: “My dad was a healthy 65-year old. His only preexisting condition was trusting Donald Trump.”

Bait and switch. Trump campaigned as a Republican. He said he would “drain the swamp” in Washington and make America great again. But it never was about the party, or the people, or Washington, or the country. It has always been about nothing but Donald J. Trump.