Escaping the Cult Commander in Chief
Biden is in and Trump is out, but it's nowhere near the end of our problems as a democracy in dire need of systemic reforms and more widely shared prosperity
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As I write this, I worry about how the coming days will unfold leading up to January 20, and what will happen in the months and years after. Will we see more of what we saw on January 6? I don’t know. But what I do know is that there is a division in this society that is continuing to grow as entire alternate realities develop like bubble universes around us, the contents of which depend entirely on the content we have chosen to digitally feed ourselves.
I watched the events unfold on January 6 and in real-time witnessed an alternate reality rapidly be constructed in the form of passing blame to antifa from the mob who marched on the Capitol after direct incitement to do so from Trump. Trump himself has now apparently taken up this fictional explanation of the events that unfolded.
A sitting member of Congress actually cited an article on the House floor that was so absolutely false that it was soon deleted, but only after becoming the 11th most viewed article in the country. No, there were not known antifa recognized by facial recognition technology, and the company cited as the source actually reached out via their lawyer to say the truth was that they’d identified two neo-Nazis and a QAnon supporter. And yet because the lie was told, and because the lie was shared, people actually believe it, because they want to believe it.
People don’t want to believe that the President they support attempted a self-coup with their support. They don’t want to believe that they are in any way to blame for the deaths in D.C. that day. All of this because they don’t want to believe that Trump fairly lost the election, when he did, and has since lost over 50 times in court.
I remember asking myself repeatedly on January 6, “How the hell are we going to fix this?” I’m still asking myself that. I’ve been told a Big Lie before. I was lied to in such a big way, for so many years, that I swore to myself I’d never let it happen again for the rest of my life. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. I know how hard it is to come to terms with a Big Lie. It can feel like entire years of your life have been completely wasted. Those years will never come back. But they weren’t wasted.
It is possible to get out of a cult. It’s really difficult, but it’s possible. It is possible to see a cult leader for what they are. It helps to learn more about narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). I find myself thinking about concepts like Narcissistic supply lately, and just how much of a textbook narcissist Trump really is.
“The narcissist’s achievements can be imaginary or outward fraud but he will bask in them as long as others believe them to be true. Truth does not matter to the narcissist, only the perception matters. Appearance is more important than substance; in fact, it is the only thing that counts to a narcissist.”
The United States of America has been under the spell of a narcissist cult leader for four years now. His teachings have been propagated as gospel and people feel special in a way that they haven’t felt for a long time, or possibly ever, like they alone know something of divine truth, because they are smart enough, special enough, and worthy enough to have discovered it.
Whatever happens between now and Biden’s inauguration and beyond, this mess isn’t over just because we have a new president and a new Democratic Congress. People don’t just lose their religions. People kill over religions. They die over them. The loss of religious beliefs is a profoundly difficult personal decision. They aren’t just taken away like toys. Losing a religion involves voluntarily giving it up.
Please just try and keep that in mind as the future unfolds. The tens of millions of Americans who love Trump aren’t your enemy. They aren’t evil. They’re in a cult. They are living on a steady diet of “truth” as fed to them by those restricted to the same diet.
Yes, some of them may be racist, and some who are racist may also be neo-Nazis, but the 74 million Americans who voted for Trump are not all neo-Nazis, nor all they all racists. They believe what they believe because of the information diet that they’ve consumed for years or even decades, that has only grown more polarized, especially since the creation and rise of social media.
Unifying this country, if it’s even possible now, will require the same effort required to get loved ones out of a cult. It will require time and deprogramming. It will require being a good friend. It will require recognizing that people tend to enter cults because of vulnerabilities born of instability in their lives, feelings of personal failure, purposelessness, and problems at home. It will require radical empathy.
This isn’t to suggest that we should ignore systemic injustices born out of racism, or let criminal acts of terrorism slide as water under the bridge. We need to confront the racism twisted into the roots of this country, and there needs to be justice in response to acts of domestic terrorism. I’m just trying to appeal to our collective national membership in this tribe we call the United States, because as Lincoln said, “a house divided against itself, cannot stand.”
If we just give up on each other as a result of diametrically-opposed belief systems as a result of self-inflicted bifurcated reality, that way lies civil war. We need to find things we actually do agree on, and build off that. $2,000 is something four out of five of us agree on. Let’s start there. Let’s also focus on democracy reforms that improve representative democracy itself, like political donation vouchers that reduce the political influence of wealthy funders, ranked-choice voting which encourages aisle crossing, and multi-winner congressional districts that end gerrymandering.
Above all though, we need to make life less shitty for so many people, so that we don’t lose them into the abyss of false truth that cult leaders will never stop offering. And that’s why the most important policy of all is unconditional basic income.
Until we improve the living environments that all of us exist within, so that we can all thrive instead of just survive, there will always be another mirage to become lost within, in our search for a better truth than the real one.
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I think the main lession we need to draw from the current situation is that we need to be very careful about any claim that is made in the media, whether mainstream or social or even in private conversations. Take everything with a grain of salt. Propaganda and disinformation have reached levels that are typical for dictatorships.
What we need to learn is living with uncertainty. Uncertainty about whether the side we stand on is right or not. People are played by people in power behind the scenes who determine what is presented in the media. The situation has become a huge clusterfuck and is probably going to get worse before it gets better.
At least Trump has revealed how corrupt the system really is. Fixing that will be a difficult task, no matter what side will be in power.
Humility is the solution, epistemic humility to be precise: We should not be sure about what we think we know. After all, everyone of us could be in a cult and fail to realize that.
"If we just give up on each other as a result of diametrically-opposed belief systems as a result of self-inflicted bifurcated reality, that way lies civil war. We need to find things we actually do agree on, and build off that. $2,000 is something four out of five of us agree on. Let’s start there. Let’s also focus on democracy reforms that improve representative democracy itself, like political donation vouchers that reduce the political influence of wealthy funders, ranked-choice voting which encourages aisle crossing, and multi-winner congressional districts that end gerrymandering."
This is the most important part of this, Scott. Our politics have gone the way of everyone making it clear what they stand against, and rarely what they're for. It reminds me much of how often the Christian church broke apart over the centuries. It was, and still is, difficult for people to take a stand for things.
It ultimately comes down to an offensive vs. defensive mindset. It's far easier to play defense and move the goalposts to avoid failure. Some is going to need to step up and risk their neck to move us forward.