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Cults and ideology

June 13, 2022

The Constitution is the lodestar claimed by the MAGA movement, and its predecessor Tea Party. So someone in the future casually reading a history of our times might be puzzled that the president they supported was the first to attempt a coup to retain power after losing an election, contrary to the Constitution and law written under it. And retaining the movement’s full support during and after that attempt.

The explanation is that they are a cult movement. Their ideas are not serious. Cultic thinking forwards  ideology as a tool to maintain group loyalty and to neutralize outside information. It is little more than a set of stock memes that get pulled out to suit. Anything that looks like social welfare is credited with causing cultural decay. Immigrants get damned whenever disease or crime are raised. The American revolution and the Third Reich are on tap in any argument over gun control. Courts and state agencies are corrupt when their decisions aren’t in the direction MAGA favors. “Communism” is trotted out as the universal perjorative. “The Constitution” is the universal ideal. They are patriots. Rallied against enemies trying to destroy America. Anyone on the right who doesn’t adhere to the cult’s current agenda is a RINO or cuckservative.

All, not much more than words in a cartoon universe. Cult leaders don’t worry that the ideology will constrain them, because that cartoon universe so easily is redrawn, the labels shifted from here to there. The first president to attempt a coup becomes a defender of the Constitution. If only you believe all sorts of nonsense that no one does, except those caught up in the cult.

Prior to 2016, mainstream Republicans distanced themselves from the cultists. That included Romney and Kasich. McCain played a bit of a dance, famously rebutting Tea Party conspiracy theories regarding Obama. But choosing Palin as his running mate. Trump turned that script on its head, playing to the cult, adopting and amplifying their conspiracy theories, making himself their leader. Honest conservatives ran the other direction. Some sooner, some later. The coup was just the last act in his attempt to spring from cult leader to national strong man.

Trump was foiled largely by Republicans who drew their own lines in the sand, regarding how much cult bullshit they would carry or abide while doing their jobs. By Republican state officials who rejected his lies about electoral fraud. By Republican legislators in swing states who refused to make end-runs around their state elections. By Trump’s own vice-president and Attorney General, who may not have stood up to him for most of his presidency, yet at the end, refused their assigned roles in the coup. And now, by two Republican congressmen helping lay bare the coup. Liz Cheney’s terse summary will go down in history:

I say this to my Republican colleagues who are defending the indefensible: there will come a day when Donald Trump is gone, but your dishonor will remain.

That applies to everyone who cheers Trump or carries his lies.

The best time to leave a cult is always: as soon as possible. You will know you are out when you look back and recognize its nature.

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