I just slated a book I reviewed for being shallow on analysis and replete with facile Freudian symbols, and I just hope this post, which is about Trump, the US Presidential election and reactions to it, won’t do the same. This is also someone else’s election, in the sense that I couldn’t vote in it and it’s happening thousands of kilometres away, so what right have I to comment on it? The answer, of course, is that, to pluck a cliché out of my well-used bag, when America sneezes the whole world catches a cold.
There are three issues to address here: cults, the manipulation of opinion and evidence for and against electoral fraud. It’s also important to attempt to maintain respect for people, understand their thoughts and feelings on their own basis, and look for similar things in myself, or ourselves, but I’m not you either.
One of the first issues to address is the deeply problematic US presidential electoral system, and I would also level similar criticisms at our own system used in general elections (we don’t get to pick our head of state of course). Presidents are not directly elected by the populace but by an electoral college consisting of representatives from each state. There are attempts to balance these via allowing states with smaller populations to have more votes per capita, and the situation generally reminds me of our old “Rotten Boroughs”, although it isn’t quite as serious as that. The reason for this system is that when the US was first established, communications were poor and would’ve taken a long time, so they had representatives from each state elect the president rather than voters themselves. This situation would be appropriate today for an interstellar republic or empire, but not for a territory smaller than a solar system. But we in Britain also have an awful system. I mention the US one because it’s only marginally democratic compared to other liberal democracies, meaning that Trump actually lost the popular vote but was still able to win because of this system, assuming there was no fraud. There are, nonetheless, claims that there was fraud, as there was in previous elections, but the point is that the election isn’t fair in the first place.
I’ve sought evidence quite carefully for the claim that the 2020 election was fraudulent and that Trump won by a landslide. These have included photographic and video evidence of shredded ballot papers and ballot papers being packed into suitcases and moved. Against this, I would repeat the following counterclaims (and don’t want to dwell on it): the shredded paper was from envelopes used to post ballot papers, not ballot papers themselves and ballot papers in suitcases are standard procedure. Postal voting is also less susceptible to fraud than voting in person. The problem with pictures which may be mislabelled is that they have a lot of persuasive power, and in the light of deep fakes, the time may have come for us to attempt to interact with social media, to the extent that that’s a good idea anyway, using text-only interfaces where possible. It’s notable also that it’s a lot more difficult to do that than it used to be, not because of a conspiracy but because technology simply changes in that direction – one reason is that it’s harder to find a pre-compiled version of Lynx that runs on the most popular operating systems which supports HTTPS rather than just HTTP, although it is possible. Returning to my point, we need to be careful not to treat images as worthy of worship, as it were. Not that text-based interaction is without its problems.
It is of course easy to make a claim about an image of shredded paper or ballot boxes in suitcases, in either direction. Less easy is streamed video evidence of volunteers counting ballot papers which was publicly available after the election, which I presume is archived. That too could be faked of course. However, the counters concerned are often members of the Republican or Democratic parties themselves or simply ordinary members of the public, so one way of keeping an eye on the process, which in this case would’ve happened from both sides of that two-party system, would have been to volunteer to count the votes oneself. I don’t know if this happened or not among the people who claimed the election was rigged. But if you know and trust someone who did it, you presumably trust the process more, at least locally. That said, I can certainly relate to disengagement with party politics. This division between people who have washed their hands of the process and feel disenfranchised says a lot in itself.
There are numerous ways of stating the situation. My choice is to ask why a poor person would imagine that a billionaire would care about them at all. It’s possible they would, of course, perhaps if the billionaire were a philanthropist, but they’re unlikely to understand their needs even if that were true. However, ideally politics is not to do with personalities. Taking Corbyn as an example, it isn’t him who is important but the policies he wished to pursue.
This is going to seem like a tangent, but here goes.
When I first left home and went to university, I missed one of my friends very badly and became quite depressed and demotivated, though not academically. After a few weeks, I was befriended by Christians in my hall of residence and made a commitment to Christ which still has a major influence on my life today, although I’d now describe myself as a theist rather than a Christian partly due to the behaviour of Trump-supporting Christians in the States. That said, I am still a Christian in the sense that one cannot lose one’s salvation, and as I’ve mentioned before on here to presume that someone was never Christian in the first place if they apostasise is to presume to know the mind of the person concerned better than they know it themselves or to accuse them of dishonesty. I won’t go over old ground. My point is that my current understanding of what a Christian is – that they are someone who has honestly repented of their sins and committed to Christ as their sacrifice for sin and the uniquely human and divine son of God (it’s all in the creeds) – is based on the influence those Christians at the beginning of my adult life had on me. I hope I come across as liberal and tolerant, but my view of what defines Christianity is absolutely rigid and along the lines of something like Calvinist evangelical Protestantism. It’s still pretty hard for me to accept, for example, that Roman Catholics can possibly be Christian due to this very narrow and rigid definition. And that’s there because of the psychological situation of how I became Christian. It isn’t particularly amenable to rational argument or persuasion by non-emotive means. This is because of the cultish tendencies of the Navigators, the group which supported me in the first few steps of my journey of faith. I was, at least as an eighteen year old, susceptible to brainwashing by a religious cult. I’m not saying the Navs are broadly a cult or that how they were in 1985 reflects how they are now, or even that they didn’t ultimately have some positive influence on me. I am saying that I can relate to being emotionally vulnerable and therefore susceptible to suggestion. I missed my friend terribly and it had led me into a depressive state. I often reflect that the behaviour of people in my sixth form seemed more mature than much of the behaviour I witnessed as an undergraduate at university, and I think this is partly due to homesickness and fear. However, susceptibility of this kind is not confined to young adults.
When I think about the death of Jesus, I see the disciples as a mourning community who saw him everywhere, as often happens when you lose someone, and I wonder if this is one way to understand the resurrection. I’ve experienced this myself with another friend who went missing and turned up dead. I would expect the high hopes voters had that Trump would win a second term could become the belief that he did and that Biden’s victory is fake, and I can understand why some people might find that result difficult to accept emotionally and find themselves rationalising that it didn’t happen. We should probably accept that the people concerned are suffering what might be described as “disenfranchised grief”, that is, grief whose seriousness is not widely acknowledged. This isn’t meant to be patronising either. That’s how I understand much of what I and other people close to me experience on occasion. In fact, missing my friend may even be an example of that disenfranchisement from my teenage years. We’re all vulnerable to it and what they experience is often in ourselves in different circumstances.
I’ve come across a couple of people whom I thought I knew well who “went over to the other side” regarding their beliefs and values when I found them supporting Trump. It’s important to get this in perspective. Everyone is merely a plaything of vast, impersonal political forces and for whatever reason, and it’s doubtless an important one which needs to be understood, it threw Trump into that position for a reason, in the sense that the causes of his presidency can be traced, some of which doubtless involve a subjective impression of being an outsider and disenfranchised. Nonetheless, in both cases I’ve found their change incomprehensible at first, then on reflection I remember my conversion to Christianity and think the two are probably similar in some way, not because of the Christian faith itself but because it was a cult with a superficially Christian perspective.
We should always hold our leaders accountable, and Trump certainly has been by many people on the Left. This atmosphere of critical scrutiny in itself is healthy and should continue with Biden, and should have been in place with Obama. This is more along the lines of all power corrupting than a partisan-based criticism of any particular president. They are public servants, as are prime ministers.
There is continuity between abusive relationships and cult leadership and many of the same traits turn up in both. Therefore in this case, a cult leader’s personality may be very relevant. Cults can be defined in terms of a number of identifiable characteristics, and they can appear in surprising contexts such as multi-level marketing. They involve:
- Great or excessive devotion to a person, idea or thing.
- The use of thought-reform programs to persuade, control and socialise members.
- Inducing states of psychological dependence.
- Exploitation of members to advance the leaders’ goals.
- Psychological harm to members, families and the community.
Early in the Trump presidency , there was a tendency to conflate Donal Trump’s personality with the office of the President, and to object to any criticism of him as a criticism of the office. However, no institution should be above criticism and an elected head of state is the servant of her people, even if they didn’t vote for her. There should never be devotion to the person as a person. If Jeremy Corbyn had become Prime Minister, he would rightly have been just as open to criticism as anyone else, and it wouldn’t have been about his personality or what a great guy he might or might not be. Moreover, it’s professionalism to continue to serve the people. MPs do it with their constituents for example, regardless of whether they voted for them.
I would say QAnon and Fox News amount to thought-control programs. Just a minute of Fox News is enough to persuade most people of this. For instance, Fox News once criticised a free laptop program for students on the grounds that Linux, which needn’t turn a profit for anyone, was so hard for a particular student to use that she had to leave university. It’s blatantly obvious that the real reason for the criticism was that it wasn’t a Microsoft or Apple product, and in fact the version of Linux, Mozilla and Free Office installed on the laptop were almost indistinguishable from their commercial equivalents. This kind of thing happens across the board with Fox News to the extent that it’s almost laughable. It did the same with Trump. QAnon alleges that there is a circle of cannibalistic Satanist paedophiles running the US government, and accuses many liberals, Democrats and celebrities of being part of it. It sees Trump as the opponent to it and as planning a day of reckoning.
If you want an example of the exploitation of members, you need look no further than the campaigns to fund Trump’s lawsuits against the government. The man is a billionaire and has no need of funding. There are plenty of others.
Then there’s the BITE model:
- Behaviour control
- Information control
- Thought control
- Emotional control
With the exception of behaviour control, these are quite easy to identify. Information control involves the identification of outsider vs insider groups, obvious examples being Whites and Non-whites, and “Christians” and Muslims. Access to non-cult sources of information is discouraged, for instance via Trump’s early refusal to engage with the media which wasn’t biassed in his favour. There’s also the extensive use of cult-generated information, and here QAnon comes to mind again, but also the Epoch Times, to which I shall be returning. Thought control is found in the form of members internalising group doctrine, such as Pizzagate, organising people into us and them groups, thought-terminating clichés (such as the idea that queers are after recruiting your children or having sex with them) and the rejection of criticism, which I’ve already mentioned. Finally, emotional control is about inducing extreme highs and lows, as found in rallies and demonstrations for example, and inducing fear of thinking independently.
Other people have done a better job than I at this but I’m in a hurry. I now want to turn my attention to the Epoch Times, a publication and website which defends Falun Gong. The Epoch Times is an enthusiastic supporter of Donald Trump because he’s anti-communist and against the Chinese state. Falun Gong are an initially innocuous-seeming new religious organisation which has genuinely been persecuted by the Chinese government. Before I say anything else, I want to point out that the treatment of dissidents by China is morally indefensible, and we could assume that it’s true that China is murdering Galun Gong members and harvesting their organs for transplant, torturing them, brainwashing them and incarcerating them. None of that is remotely acceptable, any more than it is with the Uighur. However, that’s the behaviour of a totalitarian state against any dissidents, and the same kind of thing would happen with murderers, and it would still be wrong. Falun Gong is an apocalyptic cult which is opposed to Chinese “communism” (which is a misnomer because, for example, Shanghai has a stock market and there are Chinese entrepreneurs) because it sees communism as a Western idea and it’s deeply traditionalist and believes in racial segregation. Hence a European idea is automatically opposed. Armageddon is prophesied as a battle between communism and anti-communism. The belief system opposes feminism, homosexuality and pop music. Also, the taking of medication is wrong because disease is seen as arising from internal evil induced by aliens from other dimensions. The cult is also opposed to science and high technology such as computers and air travel. Falun Gong have spent more money promoting Trump than Democratic candidates have spent on their own presidential campaigns. They believe that their own organs are being harvested because their spiritual practices make them healthier than other people’s. Another consequence of their belief system is that they believe Covid-19 is a Chinese government conspiracy and that there should be no vaccines against it.
Falun Gong and “Trumpism” share elements of cult-like behaviour and characteristics. It seems the support the former gives the latter is coincidental, along the lines of “my enemy’s enemy is my friend”, but to me, because I do believe in the Christian idea of Satan, it feels like it’s too much of a coincidence to be accidental. You obviously don’t have to buy into that thought of course because it sounds delusional, but perhaps bear this in mind. Christianity is, as I understand it, about putting Christ at the centre and, in fact like Judaism and Islam, about not worshipping anything other than God. It would therefore, from a Christian perspective, seem unlikely that Falun Gong would support God’s aims, since Master Li, the founder of the movement, is seen as making a special spiritual discovery through bringing the exercises and practices to the Chinese people, and perhaps more widely to the human race. It isn’t at all clear that God as understood in Christian terms would employ the Epoch Times to support Trump for that reason – Falun Gong is incompatible with Christianity as understood by evangelical Protestantism, for which, whether or not I believe it myself, I have a strong intuitive feeling.
God does, from a Christian perspective, use people who are not Christian. I find this difficult to comprehend, since if God can influence non-Christian attitudes that easily, it seems that God could also prevent people from damning themselves. There is limited free will in that situation if God really is using Trump the way God used King Cyrus, which is the popular claim. Whereas it’s impossible to say for sure whether Trump is Christian or not, he has made statements plainly in front of a Christian audience which are incompatible with a conservative evangelical view of what constitutes being a Christian, i.e. “saved”. But the suggestion is that God is using him. I actually think this may be true, but for all anyone knows he might be used as a way of putting people off adopting his views.
From a secular perspective, it’s a question of how to approach friends and acquaintances who have been induced into cult-like behaviour, and one way of doing that is to reflect on ways in which one has personally been drawn into it, if one is unlucky enough to have had that happen. What I see in my own life is that it was the result of loneliness and isolation, in other words emotional vulnerability, and perhaps meaninglessness. I see that operating with my relationship with the Navigators, with Falun Gong and with cultish support of Trump, and the solution is presumably to help provide meaning, emotional support and companionship from outside those cults.