Posts Tagged ‘Racism’


Recently Rick Ross, one of America’s leading expert on cults and author of Cults Inside Out, who has long performed a major public service via his sites cultnews.net and cultnews.com (probably the best online sources of news and information on cults), addressed the question of whether Donald Trump and his followers constitute a cult. Ross’s conclusion is that no, Trump and his movement do not constitute a cult.

While I share that conclusion, I believe that some of Ross’s specific reasons for reaching it are debatable. For example, “Trump is not an absolute authoritarian ‘cult’ leader like a Jim Jones, Charles Manson or David Koresh. He was democratically elected and is subject to congressional oversight, judicial review by the courts and must run to be reelected. The President of the United States is also constitutionally limited by law to no more than two terms (eight years) as president.” This ignores that Trump wants to be an absolute ruler and is doing everything in his power to destroy the constitutional and institutional limits on his power, and encourages his followers to support him in doing this.

Rather than go over the other points I consider debatable, I’d encourage those who have the time to read Ross’s article before reading the following, which is a lightly edited and slightly expanded version of a post I published last year.

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Alcoholics Anonymous: Cult or Cure? front coverby Chaz Bufe, author of Alcoholics Anonymous: Cult or Cure?

Of late, critics often accuse Donald Trump and his followers of being a cult. The problem is that they seemingly never define what a cult is, never define the characteristics of a cult, and of course never see how well Trump & co. match such characteristics. It’s time to do so.

Before I began writing AA: Cult or Cure?, I spent well over a year on research, much of it involving religious and political cults. I discovered that all cults, whatever their nature — religious, political, commercial (e.g., multi-level marketing scams) — have many characteristics in common. By the end of my research, I had discovered 23 separate characteristics common in cults; some cults exhibit almost all of them.

(Robert Jay Lifton in his groundbreaking and influential Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism lists eight cult-like characteristics; while I included Lifton’s characteristics in the list I compiled, I strongly believe that his book would have been better if he had included more such characteristics — ones I believe are obvious. The same goes for Rick Ross’s discussion of the cultlike aspects of the Trump movement.)

Let’s see how many of the 23 cult characteristics Trump and his followers exhibit:

1) Religious orientation. Are Trump and his followers religiously based? Yes.

Trump’s core followers are conservative evangelicals. He received the votes of 81% of them in the 2016 election, and that level of support remains virtually unchanged. As well, Trump — who’s about as religious, and has about as much knowledge of the Bible, as the average poodle — routinely panders to evangelicals, flattering them endlessly and doing his best to ram through anti-choice, anti-LGBT judges and repressive, religiously inspired laws. Of late, Trump and his followers have even taken to describing him in purely religious, messianic language, as “the chosen one.”

2) Irrationality. Are Trump and his followers irrational, do they discourage skepticism and rational thinking? Emphatically yes.

Trump and his followers are characterized by their ignorance of and contempt for science and rationality. The examples of this are manifold, with climate-change denial being the most obvious and dangerous. Climate scientists — who arrived at their conclusions through massive, decades-long research and application of the scientific method to the data they’ve gathered — are virtually unanimous in the conclusions that climate change is due to human activity (especially the burning of fossil fuels) and that it’s a dire threat to humanity. Trump and his followers irrationally and dangerously deny this.

3) Dogmatism. Are Trump and his followers dogmatic? Yes in the case of Trump’s followers, no as regards Trump himself.

Trump’s most fervent followers, evangelicals, Bible literalists, are by definition dogmatists. They believe (or at least insist that they believe) that a 3,000-year-old book written by Iron Age slaveholders is inerrant, true in every respect. This leads them to insist on absurdities, such as that the Earth is only 6,000 years old; that humans and dinosaurs lived at the same time (or that the devil placed fossils in the earth to mislead humans); that, for that matter, the devil actually exists; that the sun stood still; that a dead man arose after three days and walked out of his tomb . . . The list of dogmatic absurdities goes on and on. In contrast, Trump himself is an amoral opportunist with no apparent beliefs who will say and do anything as long as he thinks it’s in his self-interest to do so.

4) “Chosen People” mentality. Do Trump and his followers have such a mentality? Yes.

Trump’s evangelical supporters routinely and self-flatteringly refer to themselves using terms such as “God’s people,” “the elect,” and “the righteous.” They also consider themselves above other people, especially atheists and muslims, with a great many evangelicals (and other conservative religious folk) saying they would never vote for an atheist or muslim for public office. Trump himself is a very privileged rich kid with a massive sense of entitlement. He was a schoolyard bully as a child; he believes he has the right to grope women — and has bragged about that groping; and seems to abuse almost everyone unfortunate enough to come in contact with him. Only someone who thinks he’s better than other people, who thinks he’s entitled to do such odious things, would do them. One might also mention “American exceptionalism” here, a belief apparently held by almost all of Trump’s followers and, perhaps, by Trump himself.

5) Ideology above all else. Do Trump and his followers elevate their ideology over experience, observation, and logic? Yes, absolutely.

Again, the most obvious example is climate-change denial. But other examples abound, such as the insistence that grossly ineffective abstinence-only sex “education” is the only type that should be taught in public schools; that a few cells the size of a pinhead are, somehow, a “person” (apparently in the same manner that an acorn is an oak tree); that massive tax cuts for the top 1% are somehow good for the bottom 99%; and that America is the land of “equal opportunity” in the face of gross inequality in wealth and income and equally gross inequality in the quality of education for the rich and poor.

6) Separatism. Are Trump and his followers separatists? No.

We might be better off if they were. Instead of being separatists, they want to impose their beliefs on the rest of us through the coercive apparatus of the state.

7) Exclusivity. Do Trump and his followers present themselves as the exclusive holders of the truth. Yes.

Trump has been quite explicit about this. At a VFW convention on July 24, 2018, Trump said, “Just remember, what you are seeing and what you are reading is not what’s happening. Just stick with us . . .” As well, Trump’s core evangelical followers, biblical literalists, by definition consider themselves the exclusive holders of the (religious) truth. (The same holds for his Mormon and conservative Catholic backers.)

8) Special knowledge. Do Trump and his followers claim to have special knowledge that will only be revealed to the initiated? No.

Not unless you count Trump’s for-profit “university” scam, and that would be a stretch.

9) Mind control. Do Trump and his followers employ mind-control techniques? No.

Even Trump’s most hardcore followers don’t employ mind-control techniques such as sleep deprivation, deliberate near-starvation, hypnotic chanting, and thought-stopping techniques (e.g., reciting a mantra over and over again to ward off unwanted thoughts).

10) Thought-stopping techniques. Do Trump and his followers employ thought-stopping language? Not really. 

The childhood indoctrination of Trump’s religious-believer backers (evangelicals, conservative Catholics, Mormons), in which children are routinely warned that doubt comes from the devil (and, from my childhood, that you should pray the rosary to ward off doubt), is as close as you’ll get to thought-stopping language in the Trump movement.

11) Manipulation through guilt. Does Trump manipulate his followers through guilt? No.

Rather, Trump manipulates his followers through fear, hate, bigotry, and scapegoating. His appalling attacks on Mexicans and his fear-mongering about an “invasion” of immigrants is only the most obvious example.

12) The cult of confession. Do Trump and his followers use confession for purification and to tie believers to the movement? No. 

The closest any of Trump’s followers come to this is the practice of conservative Catholics who use that “sacrament” for purification and to tie themselves to the church.

13) A charismatic leader. Is Trump a charismatic leader, and do his followers treat him as one? Clearly, yes. 

I’d use many other terms in place of “charismatic,” but the adoration of the Dear Leader by his glassy-eyed followers is all too obvious. The fact that by their own lights he’s moral garbage matters not a whit to them. Nor do his constant, obvious lies and boasting, frequent self-contradiction, bullying behavior, and shameful self-serving. All too many of Trump’s followers worship him no matter what.

14) Hierarchical, authoritarian structure. Do Trump and his followers belong to a hierarchical, authoritarian structure. Yes, more than one.

First and most obviously, the Republican Party has been on a decades-long crusade to restrict individual rights (notably reproductive and LGBT rights) while simultaneously expanding the wealth and power of the rich and the corporations, and has likewise been on a decades-long crusade to entrench itself in power via gerrymandering and voter suppression — that is to entrench itself in power by destroying what passes for American democracy. As well, Trump’s conservative Catholic and Mormon followers (and to a lesser degree the evangelicals) belong to clearly hierarchical, authoritarian — “thou shalt”; “thou shalt not” — religious structures.

15) Submission of the individual to the “will of God” or God’s appointed representatives. Do Trump and his followers insist on such submission? Yes.

Trump, hypocritically so. But all too many of his followers are sincere in wanting to use the coercive apparatus of the state to force everyone to submit to that “divine will” (as they define it). Trump is only too happy to oblige.

16) Self-absorption. Are Trump and his followers self-absorbed? Yes.

Trump’s narcissism and self-absorption could hardly be more obvious. It’s almost equally so with his Republican Party, with its phony, preening nationalism, and its amoral, ends-justify-the-means mentality that pursues permanent entrenchment in power no matter how foul the means nor how much damage to the country.

17) Dual purposes. Does the Trump movement have dual purposes, are its real purposes other than those it presents to the publicYes, absolutely.

This is very obvious in very many ways. Trump — who received over $400 million from his dad — presents himself as the champion of the working man, yet he’s intent on squeezing money from the poor and working classes, and what’s left of the middle class, and transferring it to the top. He recently gave the largest tax cut in history to (primarily) the top 1%; he opposes raising the federal minimum wage; he opposes labor unions; he and his minions in Congress have partially dismantled Obama’s (grossly inadequate) healthcare plan and have offered nothing to replace it; and he opposes extending Medicare to all Americans, thus ensuring that tens of thousands of poor and working class Americans die from medical neglect annually. All of these things hurt working people, who he pretends to represent.

18) Economic exploitation. Does Trump economically exploit his followers? Yes.

Sometimes directly, as with Trump “University,” more often via government economic and taxation policies which work to the advantage of Trump and his billionaire buddies and against the rest of us. Trump’s tax scam (touted as tax “reform”), which will give close to two trillion dollars to corporations and the top 1% over the next decade, is the most obvious example of this.

19) Deceptive recruiting techniques. Do Trump and his Republican Party use deceptive recruiting techniques. Yes.

In addition to hypocritically presenting himself as the working man’s champion, Trump presents himself as the embodiment of patriotism in order to attract those who fancy themselves patriots. But his “patriotism” is the exact opposite of real patriotism, which is trying to do what’s best for the country and following one’s own conscience, doing what’s right in the face of disdain and abuse. For Trump and his followers, patriotism seems to consist of making a fetish of the flag (instead of honoring what it supposedly stands for), military worship, “patriotic” bumper stickers and hats, and engaging in domination/submission rituals at the beginning of ball games. One might also mention that Trump and other Republicans attempt to appeal to Christian moralists by posing as guardians of morality, when they themselves are moral sewers.

20) Possessiveness. Does the Trump movement go to great lengths to retain members? No.

Cults often go to great lengths to retain members, doing such things as threatening permanent disconnection of family members who leave the cult. Trump doesn’t do this nor does he advocate it.

21) A closed, all-encompassing environment. Has the Trump movement created such an environment? No.

Many cults (e.g., Rajhneeshees, Branch Davidians, People’s Temple, FLDS) set up isolated environments in which they control all aspects of members’ lives. The closest Trump’s followers come to this is having a single primary news source (Fox News for 60% of them) and being immersed in the Facebook echo chamber where they hear almost nothing but views they already agree with. But this is a far, far cry from Jonestown.

22) Millenarianism. Does Trump prophesy the end of the world? No.

The closest he comes is dire warnings about what will happen if the Republicans lose power. But some of his followers, hardcore evangelicals, do prophesy that the end is near and are actively trying to bring it about, to bring about Armageddon (through enthusiastic support of Israeli militarism and expansionism, and encouragement of American military interventionism in the Mideast) so as to usher in “the rapture.” Still, Trump is definitely not a millenarian himself.

23) Violence, coercion, and harassment. Do Trump and his followers engage in or encourage these things? Yes.

Recall Trump’s remarks that some of the murderous neo-Nazis in Charlottesville were “very fine people.” Then recall his attacks on the press as “enemies of the people” and his encouragement of violence against protesters at his rallies. Then recall the huge uptick in racist and anti-semitic violence by his alt-right/neo-Nazi supporters since he took office. Finally, let’s not forget that some of Trump’s “right to life” supporters routinely stalk, harass, threaten, and occasionally bomb or shoot abortion providers.

IN CONCLUSION

So, do Trump and his followers constitute a cult? Many of the cults I studied while researching AA: Cult or Cure? exhibit almost all of the above characteristics: the Moonies 22 out of the 23; the Church of Scientology and People’s Temple 21 of the 23; and Synanon 20 of the 23. In contrast, community-based Alcoholics Anonymous only exhibits 11 of the 23, “institutional” AA  (the 12-step treatment industry, which I dubbed “Cult Lite”) exhibits 16 of the 23, and the Trump movement exhibits 13 of the 23, so it’s not accurate to say that the Trump movement is a full-blown cult, though it does have distinct cult-like tendencies. However, and disturbingly, almost all of the cult-like tendencies exhibited by Trump and his followers are also characteristic of fascist movements.


“It’s all American music.”

–Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown

I had a long talk this pm with my pal George, an old-pro and great drummer I still sometimes play with, an Italian guy from New Jersey, who was Frank Sinatra Jr.’s drummer for years; we talked about music, musicians, and racism. (George loved Frank Jr., says he was a great guy.)

He told me a story about one of the first things that happened after he moved here (Tucson) from New Jersey. George has the gift of gab, and he got a job working for one of the local Ford dealerships. On his first day, he all but sold a Lincoln to one of the ranchers from up Route 77 north of town, and the jerk came in the next day, spoke to the manager, and said he wanted the car but didn’t want to buy it from an Italian. The manager saw George, said “stay out of the way, I’ll sell the car, you’ll get the commission, and from now on your last name is Joseph.”

George was shocked by the anti-Italian prejudice, something he’d never run into on the East Coast.

But race prejudice and anti-semitism was something he well understood, from anti-black, anti-white, and anti-semitic prejudice in daily life and the band scene in NJ. (There were white-racist and also all-black clubs where they didn’t want mixed-race bands, which is what George always played in.)

It’s so fucking stupid as to be mind boggling.

But it’s there.

And it breeds in isolation. In isolation from people of different races and ethnicities.

That’s one of the great things about most types of American music, especially blues and jazz: you end up playing, often for long periods, with musicians of other races and ethnicities. And you become friends, you come to understand the brotherhood of man (at least the brotherhood of musicians).

In my case, I’ve for years played with black folks, white folks, Mexicans, Native Americans, and Jewish folks. That’s pretty much par for the course for a blues musician. After a while playing with someone, you simply stop thinking about race or ethnicity. You just take them for who they are: Cliff, my black pal the drummer, becomes simply Cliff, my pal the drummer.

About the only places where you’ll still find race prejudice in the American music scene is in (yes — shocking, I know) country and certain types of hard-core rock and roll.

Other than that, we all tend to get along. We have to. It just works that way.

It works out the same in neighborhoods. I live in the most densely populated, most integrated neighborhood in Tucson, which is the most integrated major city in the country. My neighborhood (Keeling — neighborhood motto, “It’s better than it looks”) is about 65% Mexican, 25% white, and 10% black (almost no Native Americans or Asians). And we mostly get along fine. We’re on top of each other, interact every day. And it’s fine, very relaxed.

As a middle-aged ex-gang banger neighbor from Cleveland (a self-described “retired Crip”), put it, “it’s paradise.” In other words, almost no racial tension and almost no overt race prejudice. I couldn’t agree more. This neighborhood is dirt poor, “hard scrabble” as the local paper put it a decade or two ago, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

If you want to get rid of race prejudice, get rid of race isolation. That’s the way it works in bands, and that’s the way it works in neighborhoods. Isolation breeds fear and hate.

 

 

 


Yes, plural: linings, not lining. Let’s begin with the most obvious:

  • Trump has laid bare the racism that is the foundation of the modern Republican Party. Since the 1960s, with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the partial demise of the Jim Crow system, the Republican Party has pursued a “Southern Strategy” that appealed to racist whites through both anti-black/anti-Latino actions (e.g., the “war on drugs” and mass incarceration) and scapegoating rhetoric. Until recently, that rhetoric was of the dog-whistle variety, the use of code words (e.g., “illegal aliens,” “food stamps,” “welfare queens,” “tough on crime,” etc.) that GOP leaders could (im)plausibly deny were racist. Now, the GOP’s racial bigotry is overt. With Trump, the festering racism that is the basis of the Republican Party’s strategy has oozed out from under its rock. In a way, it’s refreshing to see racists being racists, rather than hypocritically asserting that they’re not. (Some Republicans still make that pro forma assertion, but you can tell their hearts aren’t in it, and they don’t seem to expect any but the most willfully ignorant to buy it.)
  • One of the primary reasons the GOP got away for so long with its implausible denial that it’s a racist party is that the corporate media allowed it to. For over half a century, corporate outlets virtually always, under the guise of neutrality, balance, allowed Republican politicians and pundits to deny that their code-worded racist terms and rhetoric were in fact racist. (The way “neutrality” works can be exemplified by the following: “Some say the sun rises in the East. Others say it rises in the West. The controversy continues.”) Now, at least some corporate media outfits (e.g., AP, NBC, CNN) are calling the GOP’s racism “racism,” and some are calling Trump’s, and occasionally other GOP leaders’, lies “lies,” rather than “misstatements,” “erroneous statements,” or “untruths.” I don’t expect this to continue past Trump, but it sure is refreshing while it lasts.
  • Trump’s overt racism has laid bare the GOP’s claim to represent all of America, all of the people. By definition, racists do not represent all of the people, but rather one “superior” group. (While Trump claims to “love” his overwhelmingly white supporters, he, and the rest of the GOP. are cynically manipulating his ignorant, gullible, and mean-spirited followers, while systematically screwing them — consider Trump’s tax scam, his opposition to raising the minimum wage, and the GOP’s perpetual campaign to prevent universal healthcare, leaving tens of millions uninsured or under-insured, with tens of thousands resultant unnecessary deaths annually.)
  • Trump’s overt racism has laid bare the GOP claim to be the party of morality. (The same could and should be said about his sewer-rat personal behavior.) What’s moral about racism? What’s moral about supporting racists?
  • Trump’s racism has also exposed the gross hypocrisy of his evangelical base. Evangelicals claim to be the standard bearers of “family values,” yet Trump’s racist immigration policies resulting in deliberate separation of children from parents, children locked in cages, and U.S. Border Patrol and ICE agents literally ripping toddlers from their mothers’ arms, seem not to bother them at all. These theofascists vehemently oppose women controlling their own bodies, and they whine endlessly about abortion killing “babies” (“babies” including clumps of cells no bigger than the head of a pin), yet when Trump inflicts grievous harm upon actual babies and their parents, these hypocrites are silent, and continue to support the bullying, racist thug who deliberately hurts children. If you wanted to put the hypocrisy and amorality of the religious right under a magnifying glass, Trump’s racism has supplied that glass.
  • Trump’s racism has also exposed the sheer gutlessness, the utter lack of principles of virtually all Republican “leaders.” Since Trump took office, they’ve aided and abetted him in covering up his many and serious criminal activities, and now they don’t even have the guts to denounce his overtly racist statements and actions. Trump’s racism has shown the craven and contemptible nature of the GOP and its leaders.

In short, Trump’s racism has shattered the facade of normalcy in America. It’s pulled back the curtain on many ugly truths. Decent people are repelled by the racism and viciousness of Trump and his followers, and that racism and viciousness have shown how necessary it is to oppose Trump’s “very fine people” in the streets and to crush them at the ballot box next year.

 


(This is an update of a post I wrote about 18 months ago, and have updated a couple of times since.)

No, I’m not kidding. Trump has actually done a number of good things.

First, let’s list only the unalloyed positives:

  • Trump has armed the Kurdish YPG (People’s Protection Units) fighting ISIS in northern Syria, much to the annoyance of Turkish Islamist would-be dictator and ISIS enabler Recep Tayyip Erdogan. (Update: As of January 2018, the U.S. is planning to keep 30,000 troops in northern Syria — the Kurdish part of Syria — and is promising to help the Kurds builda protective border wall on the Syrian-Turkish border, where for once a wall will be a good thing.)

As for the Kurds themselves, the YPG, a major part of the Syrian Democratic Forces, is the most effective military entity fighting ISIS in Syria. It’s also the only secular, democratic, libertarian (with a small “l”) force in the region in which gender equality is actively promoted. (There are all-women YPG units.)

It’s worth noting that to appease Islamist thug Erdogan, Hillary Clinton, had she won, would probably not have armed the YPG. All of the facts noted above have been obvious for years, yet Obama refused to arm the YPG. It’s a good bet that former Obama Secretary of State Clinton wouldn’t have, either.

Update 12-23-18: Trump, as was predictable, just betrayed the Kurds by announcing a US pullout from Syria. There were only 2,000 US troops there, but they served as a trip-wire preventing invasion by Ergoghan’s, Assad’s, Putin’s, and the Iranian ayatollah’s thugs. Trump just betrayed the only real allies the U.S. has in the region, the only ones effectively fighting ISIS. God help the Kurds. And god help the people in the region once ISIS comes surging back, like a virulent case of syphilis after an inadequate course of antibiotics.

(For more info, see “The Anarchists vs. the Islamic State.“)

  • Trump killed the TPP, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a “free trade” pact and mutant descendant of NAFTA. (I won’t even get started on NAFTA here; for now, suffice it to say that it screwed American industrial workers and Mexican small farmers — spurring a wave of jobless workers across the border,  desperate to provide for their families — while vastly benefiting transnational corporations.) Among other things, the TPP would have a allowed commercial “courts” to overrule U.S. laws, would have made the already atrocious copyright situation even worse, strengthening the hold of the media conglomerates, would have allowed U.S. pharmaceutical firms to force companies in signatory nations to stop producing affordable versions of life-saving drugs, and would have allowed foreign firms to sue the U.S. and U.S. state governments over “loss” of projected profits caused by environmental regulations.

Clinton was in favor of the TPP abomination, calling it the “gold standard” of trade agreements. Until she wasn’t in favor of it. If she’d won, there’d likely have been a few cosmetic changes to it which would have made it “acceptable” to her. And we’d have been further screwed. Trump just did her one better by denouncing NAFTA and then delivering . . . . . NAFTA.

Update: Trump just delivered the rather gay-sounding USMCA. (He even mimed “YMCA” in celebrating it.) It’s essentially NAFTA with minor tweaks and a few minor provisions thrown in from the TPP.  Its $16-an-hour provision might, might, serve as a very minor brake to the export of jobs overseas. (Check out what just happened with GM if you believe this.) At the same time, it contained a provision screwing Canadian and Mexican patients in favor of big pharma by increasing the length of time before generic drugs are available.

  • Trump is reportedly going to crack down on H-1B visa abuse. This type of visa allows employers to hire foreign workers for jobs for which there supposedly aren’t enough qualified American applicants. In practice, this program provides employers with indentured servants working for half the prevailing wages (often in the computer industry). Even worse, some “employers” have been more slave traders than job creators, hiring H-1B workers and then renting them to actual employers while taking part of their wages. (Ironically, in 2017 Trump took advantage of the closely related H-2B program to hire 70 low-skilled workers [cooks, maids, food servers] for his Mar-a-Lago resort.)

Update: Nothing has changed.

  • Trump, almost certainly out of personal pique against CNN, has opposed the ATT-Time-Warner merger, which would have further consolidated media control into fewer and fewer hands.

Update: The merger went through.

  • Trump, through his defeat of Clinton, has partially broken the hold of the corporate Democrats on the Democratic Party — the Republicans’ junior partner in the looting of the American working class — and made it at least possible that the “democratic wing of the Democratic Party” will ascend.

For decades, the corporate Dems have had a stranglehold on the party as they’ve catered to the corporate elite (e.g., Obama’s refusal to prosecute any of the banksters responsible for the financial crash), taken massive amounts of money from the corporate elite, and refused to advance policies (most notably “Medicare for all”) favored by a large majority of Americans, and an even larger majority of Democrats.

At the same time, the corporate Democrats have been chasing the chimera of the “center” (the maybe 10% of eligible voters who are so poorly informed that they can’t make up their minds until the last minute) while ignoring the vastly higher number of those eligible to vote who don’t even bother to do it (41% in 2016), largely because of disillusionment, largely because they can’t see any real differences between the parties (at least in terms of economics).

Next, a mixed but overall positive move:

  • Trump has been pressuring U.S. allies to increase their military spending to bring it more in line with U.S. spending and thus, in theory, relieve financial pressure on U.S. taxpayers. Thus far he seems to have had some success with Canada, which will increase its military spending by 70% over the coming decade. This would be far more impressive if the U.S. didn’t already account for 43% of world military spending, and if Trump didn’t want to drastically increase that spending.
  • Trump recently signed a judicial sentencing-reform bill. It doesn’t go nearly far enough but it’s a good first step in ending America’s mass-incarceration nightmare (under 5% of world population; 25% of the world’s prisoners).

As for other good things Trump has done deliberately, none come to mind. But he has also inadvertently done some good:

  • He’s laid bare the hypocrisy of the Republican Party on healthcare. Republicans had seven years in which to prepare a replacement for Obamacare, and, after they unexpectedly won the presidency in 2016 (plus both houses of Congress), they had to scramble to come up with a nightmarish mishmash of cuts and half-measures that would have cost 23 million Americans healthcare coverage.
  • Trump has laid bare the hypocrisy of American foreign policy rhetoric. For decades, American “leaders” have been spewing the same line about “defending democracy,” while they’ve been supporting many of the world’s most barbaric dictators and authoritarian regimes. Trump’s praise for Putin, Erdogan, mass murderer Duterte, and our war-criminal, Islamist Saudi “allies” brings out in the open America’s support for dictators and authoritarianism.
  • He’s laid bare the racism of the Republican Party. For half a century Republicans have catered to racists — restricting voting rights of blacks and latinos, persecuting undocumented immigrants, promoting the war on drugs that has devastated black and latino communities, promoting “tough on crime” (tough on poor people) laws, and promoting outright slavery of the incarcerated — while at the same time hypocritically hiding behind code words and insisting that they aren’t racist. Under Trump, Republican racism is out in the open. (Unfortunately, that racism sometimes takes physical form; the assaults and murders it produces are a hideous byproduct of it.)
  • By acting as an apologist for neo-Nazis in the wake of Charlottesville, and by pointing out that Washington and Jefferson were slaveholders, he’s put a spotlight on a seamy side of American “revolutionary” history that virtually no one talks about. (For more info on this see “A People’s History of the United States, by Howard Zinn.)
  • Trump, by announcing the move of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, has ended the sick charade of the U.S. government’s pretensions of being an “honest broker” in the Middle East. In regard to Middle East policy, for decades the government has been hostage to the extreme right wingers in AIPAC, and to a lesser extent the religious right (some of whom want Armageddon), and has actively aided, abetted, and financed the Israeli oppression of the Palestinians. Trump just tore away the “honest broker” mask.
  • Trump has interrupted the creeping fascism that has been strangling America since at least the time of Truman, in favor of galloping fascism. The good news is that Trump is so repulsive and so inept — good only at manipulating and swindling the fearful, desperate, uninformed, and angry — that he likely won’t succeed in destroying what’s left of our freedoms.

Had Clinton won in 2016, creeping fascism would have continued; nothing would have fundamentally changed; popular discontent and resentment would have continued to fester; even while they controlled both the House and Senate, Republicans would have blamed everything that’s going wrong on the “liberal” (she isn’t) Clinton; and an overt, more competent Republican theofascist would probably have taken power in 2020, which, had Clinton won in 2016, could have meant “game over” for American democracy.

  • Without intending to do it, Trump has spurred a wave of political activism in the U.S., the like of which hasn’t been seen in nearly half a century. This is a good thing for American democracy.

Contrary to popular belief, Trump’s victory in 2016 hasn’t been a total disaster, and in the end might turn out to be a good thing — assuming he doesn’t start a nuclear war or crash the economy. In the long run, a Clinton victory could (in my view would) have turned out a whole lot worse.

Of course, things could and probably will, for now, get worse under Trump. He and his minions will continue to degrade the environment, abet the banksters and other corporate thugs in the looting of the economy, and will continue to impose the evangelical theofascist social agenda on all of us.

Still, they’re probably too inept to stage a Reichstag Fire and get away with it. But god help us if there’s a major terrorist attack. Naomi Klein at The Intercept offers a cogent analysis of this possibility in “The worst of Donald Trump’s toxic agenda lies in wait — a major U.S. crisis will unleash it.”

For now, just be glad that Hillary Clinton isn’t in the White House, and let’s hope for a wave of new social movements; let’s also hope that in the meantime the “democratic wing of the Democratic Party” will at least temporarily stave off the corporate-lackey Democrats and the theofascist Republicans until there’s an opening for real social change.


Yep, a lot of white folks are scared shitless of losing majority status in this country. Listen to the fear-mongering racist jerks and they’ll have you believing it’s a coming apocalypse.

It’s not. In my neighborhood, where white people are a minority, there are plenty of problems, but they aren’t related to race.

A lot of that has to do with Tucson’s being the most integrated million-plus city in the country, and my high-density neighborhood being the most integrated neighborhood in Tucson. People just get along here. We have to.

I moved here (The Keeling Neighborhood — Official Motto: “It’s not as bad as it looks”) in 1992. At the time, it was probably 55-60% Mexican, 30-35% white, and 5% to 10% black, with a scattering of Yaquis and Tohono O’odhams. When I moved in, in terms of violence it was somewhat like, though not as bad, as what I was used to in the North Mission in San Francisco: being constantly on edge and hypervigilant. (A few weeks before I left there, around dusk walking down Mission Street by the armory, I flattened against the wall as I heard rapid footsteps approaching coming up behind me — it was a guy with eyes wide as plates being chased by an equally crazed motherfucker brandishing a machete.)

When I moved in here, there were shots every night, but they were mostly a good half-mile away, not pleasant background noise, but far enough away to ignore. After living in the North Mission, this neighborhood was a relief in comparison.

Since then, things have gotten progressively more peaceful. The DEA hasn’t busted a meth lab on the block in over 15 years (there was only one such bust); it’s been almost as long since they busted the Hell’s Angels clubhouse three blocks south of here; there hasn’t been a murder within half a mile in over seven years; there hasn’t been a shootout on the corner (a hundred feet away — duplexes owned by slumlords) in well over five years (there have been two while I’ve been here); and the last real excitement was about two or three years ago when some asshole half a block down got busted by the ATF for building pipe bombs. Anymore, it’s rare to hear shots — no more than maybe once a month.

It’s become a safe neighborhood. Poor, but a pretty decent place for kids (but for the shitty, underfunded schools).

And you know? That improvement in the neighborhood has corresponded to a decrease in the white population. Right now the neighborhood is probably 65% Mexican, 10% to 15% black, and only 20% to 25% white.

Guess what, folks — we don’t need to fear our black and brown neighbors. All of the real problems, especially the economic ones, are systemic, not due to race. Let’s worry about those real problems, not made-up ones such as white people losing majority status.

 

 

 


Alcoholics Anonymous: Cult or Cure? front coverby Chaz Bufe, author of Alcoholics Anonymous: Cult or Cure?

Of late, critics often accuse Donald Trump and his followers of being a cult. The problem is that they seemingly never define what a cult is, never define the characteristics of a cult, and of course never see how well Trump & co. match such characteristics. It’s time to do so.

Before I began writing AA: Cult or Cure?, I spent well over a year on research, much of it involving religious and political cults. I discovered that all cults, whatever their nature — religious, political, commercial (e.g., multi-level marketing scams) — have many characteristics in common. By the end of my research, I had discovered 23 separate characteristics common in cults; some cults exhibit almost all of them.

(Robert Jay Lifton in his groundbreaking and influential Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism lists eight cult-like characteristics; while I included Lifton’s characteristics in the list I compiled, I strongly believe that his book would have been better if he had included more such characteristics — ones I believe are obvious.)

Let’s see how many of the 23 Trump and his followers exhibit:

1) Religious orientation. Are Trump and his followers religiously based? Yes.

Trump’s core followers are conservative evangelicals. He received the votes of 81% of them in the 2016 election, and that level of support remains virtually unchanged. As well, Trump — who’s about as religious, and has about as much knowledge of the Bible, as the average poodle — routinely panders to evangelicals, flattering them endlessly and doing his best to ram through anti-choice, anti-LGBT judges and repressive, religiously inspired laws.

2) Irrationality. Are Trump and his followers irrational, do they discourage skepticism and rational thinking? Emphatically yes.

Trump and his followers are characterized by their ignorance of and contempt for science and rationality. The examples of this are manifold, with climate-change denial being the most obvious and dangerous. Climate scientists — who arrived at their conclusions through massive, decades-long research and application of the scientific method to the data they’ve gathered — are virtually unanimous in the conclusions that climate change is due to human activity (especially the burning of fossil fuels) and that it’s a dire threat to humanity. Trump and his followers irrationally and dangerously deny this.

3) Dogmatism. Are Trump and his followers dogmatic? Yes in the case of Trump’s followers, no as regards Trump himself.

Trump’s most fervent followers, evangelicals, Bible literalists, are by definition dogmatists. They believe (or at least insist that they believe) that a 3,000-year-old book written by Iron Age slaveholders is inerrant, true in every respect. This leads them to insist on absurdities, such as that the Earth is only 6,000 years old; that humans and dinosaurs lived at the same time (or that the devil placed fossils in the earth to mislead humans); that, for that matter, the devil actually exists; that the sun stood still; that a dead man arose after three days and walked out of his tomb . . . The list of dogmatic absurdities goes on and on. In contrast, Trump himself is an amoral opportunist with no apparent beliefs who will say and do anything as long as he thinks it’s in his self-interest to do so.

4) “Chosen People” mentality. Do Trump and his followers have such a mentality? Yes.

Trump’s evangelical supporters routinely and self-flatteringly refer to themselves using terms such as “God’s people,” “the elect,” and “the righteous.” They also consider themselves above other people, especially atheists and muslims, with a great many evangelicals (and other conservative religious folk) saying they would never vote for an atheist or muslim for public office. Trump himself is a very privileged rich kid with a massive sense of entitlement. He was a schoolyard bully as a child; he believes he has the right to grope women — and has bragged about that groping; and seems to abuse almost everyone unfortunate enough to come in contact with him. Only someone who thinks he’s better than other people, who thinks he’s entitled to do such odious things, would do them. One might also mention “American exceptionalism” here, a belief apparently held by almost all of Trump’s followers and, perhaps, by Trump himself.

5) Ideology above all else. Do Trump and his followers elevate their ideology over experience, observation, and logic? Yes, absolutely.

Again, the most obvious example is climate-change denial. But other examples abound, such as the insistence that grossly ineffective abstinence-only sex “education” is the only type that should be taught in public schools; that a few cells the size of a pinhead are, somehow, a “person” (apparently in the same manner that an acorn is an oak tree); that massive tax cuts for the top 1% are somehow good for the bottom 99%; and that America is the land of “equal opportunity” in the face of gross differences in wealth and income and equally gross differences in the quality of education for the rich and poor.

6) Separatism. Are Trump and his followers separatists? No.

We might be better off if they were. Instead of being separatists, they want to impose their beliefs on the rest of us through the coercive apparatus of the government.

7) Exclusivity. Do Trump and his followers present themselves as the exclusive holders of the truth. Yes.

Trump’s core evangelical followers, biblical literalists, by definition consider themselves the exclusive holders of the truth. (The same holds for his Mormon and conservative Catholic backers.) Trump, with his constant blather about “fake news,” insistence that he’s the only source of the truth and should always be believed (despite his near-constant and blatant lying), and his bald-faced statement to his followers, “don’t believe what you’re reading or seeing,” is equally if not more guilty of this.

8) Special knowledge. Do Trump and his followers claim to have special knowledge that will only be revealed to the initiated? No.

Not unless you count Trump’s for-profit “university” scam, and that would be a stretch.

9) Mind control. Do Trump and his followers employ mind-control techniques? No.

Even Trump’s most hardcore followers don’t employ mind-control techniques such as sleep deprivation, deliberate near-starvation, hypnotic chanting, and thought-stopping techniques (e.g., reciting a mantra over and over again to ward off unwanted thoughts).

10) Thought-stopping techniques. Do Trump and his followers employ thought-stopping language? Not really. 

The childhood religious indoctrination of Trump’s religious-believer backers (evangelicals, conservative Catholics, Mormons), in which children are routinely warned that doubt comes from the devil (and, from my childhood, that you should pray the rosary to ward off doubt), is as close as you’ll get to thought-stopping language in the Trump movement.

11) Manipulation through guilt. Does Trump manipulate his followers through guilt? No.

Rather, Trump manipulates his followers through fear, hate, bigotry, and scapegoating. His appalling attacks on Mexicans and his fear-mongering about an “invasion” of immigrants is only the most obvious example.

12) The cult of confession. Do Trump and his followers use confession for purification and to tie believers to the movement? No. 

The closest any of Trump’s followers come to this is the practice of conservative Catholics who use that “sacrament” for purification and to tie themselves to the church.

13) A charismatic leader. Is Trump a charismatic leader, and do his followers treat him as one? Clearly, yes. 

I’d use many other terms in place of “charismatic,” but the adoration of the Dear Leader by his glassy-eyed followers is all too obvious. The fact that by their own lights he’s moral garbage matters not a whit to them. Nor do his constant, obvious lies and boasting, frequent self-contradiction, bullying behavior, and shameful self-serving. All too many of Trump’s followers worship him no matter what.

14) Hierarchical, authoritarian structure. Do Trump and his followers belong to a hierarchical, authoritarian structure. Yes, several of them.

First and most obviously, the Republican Party, which has been on a decades-long crusade to restrict individual rights (notably reproductive and LGBT rights), and which has likewise been on a decades-long crusade to entrench itself in power via gerrymandering and voter suppression on a mass scale — that is to entrench itself in power by destroying what passes for American democracy. As well, Trump’s conservative Catholic and Mormon followers (and to a lesser degree the evangelicals) belong to clearly hierarchical, authoritarian — “thou shalt”; “thou shalt not” — religious structures.

15) Submission of the individual to the “will of God” or God’s appointed representatives. Do Trump and his followers insist on such submission? Yes.

Trump, hypocritically so. But all too many of his followers are sincere in wanting to use the coercive apparatus of the state to force everyone to submit to that “will” (as they define it).

16) Self-absorption. Are Trump and his followers self-absorbed? Yes.

Trump’s narcissism and self-absorption could hardly be more obvious. It’s almost equally so with his Republican Party, with its phony, preening nationalism, and its amoral, ends-justify-the-means mentality that pursues permanent entrenchment in power no matter how foul the means nor how much damage to the country. The current attempt to steamroll the installation of a blustering, bullying, highly partisan, alleged (have to get that alleged in there) sexual predator and apparent perjurer on the Supreme Court is only the latest instance of the Republican Party’s self-absorption.

17) Dual purposes. Does the Trump movement have dual purposes, are its real purposes other than those it presents to the publicYes, absolutely.

This is very obvious in very many ways. Trump — who received over $400 million from his dad — presents himself as the champion of the working man, yet he’s intent on squeezing money from the poor and working classes, and what’s left of the middle class, and transferring it to the top. He just gave the largest tax cut in history to (primarily) the top 1%; he opposes raising the federal minimum wage; he opposes labor unions; he and his minions in Congress have partially dismantled Obama’s (grossly inadequate) healthcare plan and have offered nothing to replace it; and he opposes extending Medicare to all Americans, thus ensuring that tens of thousands of poor and working class Americans die from medical neglect annually. His “family values” followers by and large support his vicious policy of ripping apart immigrant families at the border and throwing children into cages. And Trump and those same followers demand “religious freedom” which really means the “freedom” to discriminate against LGBT people in public accommodations. The hypocrisy of Trump and his followers, their “dual purposes,” is simply nauseating.

18) Economic exploitation. Does Trump economically exploit his followers? Yes.

Sometimes directly, as with Trump “University,” more often via government economic and taxation policies which work to the advantage of Trump and his billionaire buddies and against the rest of us.

19) Deceptive recruiting techniques. Do Trump and his Republican Party use deceptive recruiting techniques. Yes.

In addition to hypocritically presenting himself as the working man’s champion, “Cadet Bonespur” Trump presents himself as the embodiment of patriotism. But Trump’s “patriotism” is the exact opposite of real patriotism, which is trying to do what’s best for the country and following one’s own conscience, doing what’s right in the face of disdain and abuse. For Trump and his followers, patriotism seems to consist of making a fetish of the flag (instead of honoring what it supposedly stands for), robotically engaging in submission rituals at the start of baseball and football games, military worship, impugning the patriotism of those with opposing political views, bullying dissenters, and, of course, “patriotic” bumper stickers. One might also mention the deception of Trump and other Republicans in posing as guardians of morality when they themselves are moral sewers.

20) Possessiveness. Does the Trump movement go to great lengths to retain members? No.

Cults often go to great lengths to retain members, doing such things as threatening permanent disconnection of family members who leave the cult. Trump doesn’t do this nor does he advocate it.

21) A closed, all-encompassing environment. Has the Trump movement created such an environment? No.

Many cults (e.g., Rajhneeshees, Branch Davidians, People’s Temple, FLDS) set up isolated environments in which they control all aspects of members’ lives. The closest Trump’s followers come to this is having a single primary news source (Fox News for 60% of them) and being immersed in the Facebook echo chamber where they hear almost nothing but views they already agree with. But this is a far, far cry from Jonestown.

22) Millenarianism. Does Trump prophesy the end of the world? No.

The closest he comes is dire warnings about what will happen if the Republicans lose power. But some of his followers, hardcore evangelicals, do prophesy that the end is near and are actively trying to bring about Armageddon (through enthusiastic support of Israeli militarism and expansionism) so as to usher in “the rapture.” Still, Trump is definitely not a millenarian himself.

23) Violence, coercion, and harassment. Do Trump and his followers engage in or encourage these things? Yes.

Recall Trump’s remarks that some of the murderous neo-Nazis in Charlottesville were “very fine people.” Then recall his attacks on the press as “enemies of the people” and his encouragement of violence against protesters at his rallies. Then recall the huge uptick in racist violence by his alt-right/neo-Nazi supporters since he took office. Finally, let’s not forget that some of Trump’s “right to life” supporters routinely stalk, harass, threaten, and occasionally bomb or shoot abortion providers.

IN CONCLUSION

So, do Trump and his followers constitute a cult? Many of the cults I studied while researching AA: Cult or Cure? exhibit almost all of the above characteristics: the Moonies 22 out of the 23; the Church of Scientology and People’s Temple 21 of the 23; and Synanon 20 of the 23. In contrast, community-based Alcoholics Anonymous only exhibits 11 of the 23, “institutional” AA  (the 12-step treatment industry, which I dubbed “Cult Lite”) exhibits 16 of the 23, and the Trump movement exhibits 13 of the 23, so it’s not entirely accurate to say that the Trump movement is a full-blown cult, though it does have distinct cult-like tendencies. However, and disturbingly, almost all of the cult-like tendencies exhibited by Trump and his followers are also characteristic of fascist movements.


“I would very much like to watch my favorite baseball team [San Francisco Giants] play incredibly poor baseball in their own ballpark without having to hear the racist, mouth-breathing drone that is the tomahawk chop. Knock that shit off, Braves fans.”

–Kenny Kelly, Giants Lose Ninth Straight

(Kenny might have added never wanting to again hear the racist “war whoop.” Here, he’s distilled in a few words why I hate the Atlanta Braves ownership and the Braves’ [presumably Trump-worshipping, goosestepping] fans. This is no reflection on the players, some of whom are great, but this demeaning racist shit has gotta go. Any of you Braves fans reading this who claim you aren’t racists, get a clue: if you’re doing this disgusting shit, you are racists — or at absolute minimum engaging in racist behavior. Own it.)