Bill Maher on Trumpism as a cult

November 21, 2020 • 2:00 pm

Reader Bryan called my attention to this nine-minute clip from Bill Maher’s last “Real Time” show of the season.  After talking about Millerism, the failed end-times faith of the nineteenth century, Maher mentions another group that was disappointed and yet won’t accept their loss either: Trumpsters. He then dilates on cults, sycophants, and the self-promotion of Trump, demonstrating that Trumpism has many parallels with cults that worship a leader.

He winds up with a call to end our gloating and name-calling of our opponents, something that Andrew Sullivan emphasizes in this week’s Weekly Dish column.

43 thoughts on “Bill Maher on Trumpism as a cult

  1. I seem to recall Millerism from Ken Andersen’s Fantasyland. The parallel is striking.

    This other cult I’d have dismissed outright as dumb nonsense, but the story or rescue — as well as the parallels, and that the leader did (is doing?) jail time, is also striking.

  2. Forgot to emphasize: faith. The quote Maher picked directly says their faith is shaken. We all need more of that.

  3. Earlier this month, Republicans elected a pair of QAnon cultists — Georgia’s Marjorie Taylor Greene and Colorado’s Lauren Boebert — to the US House of Representatives. They believe a cabal of Satan-worshipping pedophiles is running a global child sex-trafficking ring and plotting against Donald Trump.

    In the 2018 midterm elections, Democrats elected a pair of card-carrying democratic socialists — Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib — to the House. They believe in universal healthcare, raising the minimum wage, and the Green New Deal.

    So both sides are equally bad, right? RIGHT?!?!!

    1. No they are not both equally bad. That people do not see this is what scares me. Having a few socialist sprinkled around the in democratic party is not the same as millions of fire breathing Trumpist, who fully believe all the stuff flying out of his mouth. He has millions of enablers who are working to either overthrow the thieves who stole his election or standing by waiting further instructions from Rudy the great. How do you ever deprogram these cultist. After the election is over the damage remains.

      1. From reading some of Ken’s past postings, I believe the last sentence was sarcasm, even if not so marked.

    2. Most people don’t know anything about QAnon, so it has little effect on the Republican races, but everyone notices when Democrats are seen pandering to radicals calling for defunding the police and we lose seats in congress.

      1. No, the difference is that Democrats police themselves; Republicans do not.

        Hell, the undisputed, reigning leader of the Republican Party, Donald Trump (the Birther-in-chief who has maintained a 90%+ GOP approval rating throughout his presidency) regularly promotes paranoid conspiracy theories (including by re-tweeting them) — from QAnon to Pizzagate to the Seth Rich murder. As a candidate, Trump even appeared on Alex Jones’s show and praised its host (the guy who maintains that the children murdered in the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary were merely “crisis actors”).

        Democrats ostracize crazies; Republicans embrace theirs, since their party cares only for maintaining maximum political power despite representing an ever shrinking percentage of American voters.

    3. Card carrying democratic socialists – you are being facetious I assume. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib would be considered just slightly left of centre in my neck of the woods. Any conservative in Canada would be putting their political career at risk opposing universal healthcare – although a few still give it a shot!

      I suppose this is why a great many of us consider Canada to more of a nordic country, although unlike our nordic brethern, Canada is a federation with powers constitutionally divided between two levels of government. But we generally agree that all of citizens are entitled to the same quality of healthcare, as well as a few other things.

      So perhaps it comes down to this – you either believe that government has a role to play in ensuring the well being of citizens (healthcare, social safety net, etc.) or you trust in the myth of the pull yourself up by your own bootstraps, rags to riches story.

      1. You said it Peter. The understanding or definition of socialist down here is anyone in the democratic party if you are republican and what it actually means, they could not say. Actually a socialist could be any government official who actually does his job. They prefer the government official to golf.

        1. A very long time ago when I was in junior college I took a course in what we might now call civics. The professor was an older man like I am now. In explaining the difference between Canadian and American elections, and in particular the transfer of power, he noted that Americans allow for a period of two months between the election and the transfer of power to the incoming President whereas in Canada it happens almost immediately. The advantage of the Canadian system, he explained, was that it minimized the opportunity of a coup. One day, he said, the United States will get itself into trouble with that two month delay (it used to be four months), and here you are.

      2. You’ll get no argument from me on any of this.

        My only point was that AOC and Rep. Tlaib are members of the Democratic Socialist Party — and Republicans use this for all it’s worth to scare their base. Every other word out of the mouths of Republican candidates and the right-wing media is “socialist.”

        Watch what happens in the run-up to the two Jan. 5th run-off elections for the Georgia senate seats that will determine control of the upper chamber in the next congress. Even though the two Democratic candidates have no connection whatsoever to socialism, the Republican candidates will campaign ad nauseam on the need for them to win to keep control of the senate out of the hands of socialists.

      3. I’d call Ms AOC more of a Social Democrat than a Democratic Socialist, but I fear the difference is lost on a majority of Americans (not those here on this website, of course).

  4. One of the characteristics of a cult is that it provides for the outcasts, the disaffected, the dregs of society, those that Trump would call losers, a home where they get a sense of belonging and respect and self-esteem. This is why a slogan of QAnon, “Where we go one, we go all,” is brilliant. It encapsulates what the group means to its members. It matters little to its members that the conspiracy theories that it spouts are crazy. As with all cults, they are willing to surrender to the group any sense of independent thought. And this is why it is so difficult to deprogram them. It is no surprise that the QAnon cult is a subset of the Trump cult.

    1. “As with all cults, they are willing to surrender to the group any sense of independent thought.”

      While simultaneously producing the illusion that they are all EXTRA-independent thinkers (relative to us mainstream sheep with the wool still over their eyes).

      I’ve been interacting with some of these folks on-line and it’s really something. To them, it’s we who are blind and who can not think beyond what we are told to think. It’s a brilliant mind-virus, really.

  5. I probably gloated about the election for about a day. After that, just felt sad about the DT people. Will they take stock and return to normal (whatever that is)? I think not right away. DT is still alive and will doubtless keep tweeting to them. They’ll accept whatever he says and will likely create difficulty for the rest of us in dealing with things. They dominate most state governments. What could go wrong?

  6. I was impressed by Bill Maher’s pitch on not gloating since taking digs is what he does so well, and I guess he’s right. It will be hard not asking “what the F is wrong with you people” though.

    1. I don’t want to guess – and if he had something important he would have had more than an anecdote ass support.

      I think if we lack evidence that it is harmful or helpful, we can do what we like – joking about problematic phenomena is an old social habit.

  7. So why can’t we unmask QAnon? Seems like someone should be able to do it. It would go a long way to popping that particular bubble. Perhaps Biden should put the CIA on it though they will surely want to cover their “sources and methods”.

  8. For anyone interested, a federal court in Pennsylvania just laid 37 pages of absolute whoop-ass on the Trump campaign and its spurious election challenges. You can read the opinion here.

    1. Thank you for the link–I’m relieved that the courts keep throwing these lawsuits out, though I hear from the Trump cult members online that this is their strategy– to get the lawsuits taken up by SCOTUS. Or they’re planning on halting the certification of the vote. In your opinion, do you think these strategies have any chance of working? I find myself awake at night worrying probably more than I should, but have no experience with law. I’d appreciate your thoughts. Thank you.

      1. I don’t think any of the claims raised by the Trump team have any merit. I think they will continue to fail, all the way up to SCOTUS — if, indeed, SCOTUS should even deign to hear them.

        Joe Biden will be inaugurated on January 20th. The question that remains is how much damage Donald Trump may wreak upon this nation between now and then.

        1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Like you, I’m worried about the damage he’s causing to our democracy by trying to undermine our faith in the election process. His followers seem to think this is just fine–I simply don’t understand this cult mentality. I hope this mess doesn’t go as far as SCOTUS–his followers seriously think they’ll somehow give tRump the election. And as crazy as everything has been in the past 4 years, I’d not be surprised if it somehow happened. 🙁

  9. Ha – for once I stumbled timely on that last night (and had a few minutes to spare)!

    He winds up with a call to end our gloating and name-calling of our opponents, something that Andrew Sullivan emphasizes in this week’s Weekly Dish column.

    But all they have is a moral position and – at least in Maher’s case – an anecdote.

    I don’t know what science is behind suggestions for political activism outside of elections and parties – what is effective or harmful – and if that is lacking why not go for what works for you? I’m not harmed by mocking that which seems opposed to a better society.

  10. I think a lot of people here, certainly I am one of them, has had a hard time understanding how more than 70 million people voted for Trump. Lots of people are trying to figure it out. I think many of us miss the power of Television. With Fox and those other smaller networks that peddle the propaganda nonstop for the last five years or more and do this nearly 24 hours a day it is all they get. Most of these people watch only those channels and nothing else. When they go to the internet they stay in the silo with the same thing. Never before have we had this kind of thing going on and it has created a giant cult of brainwashed people. In a way we could say, this is what free speech can do. When you can spread the lies and conspiracies on network TV all day, all the time this is the result.

    1. I think that’s right. A handful of TV and online media corporations have monopolized the public discourse, and are pumping out really dire content at full blast, all hours of the day.

      A further question is why are people so receptive to such propaganda, why can’t they bat it away and recognize it as nonsense? I think the answer lies in economic desperation of the broad public, owing to the economic changes of the past forty years that have left much of America gutted of manufacturing jobs, and whereby increasing credit card debt has replaced wage increases. People are desperate for an alternative. Cults thrive in such an environment. So do dealers of opiates.

    2. “understanding how more than 70 million people voted for Trump”

      Trump pulled out all the stops available to him, which was quite a large number:

      -people against gun control
      -people against abortion
      -anti atheists
      -anti-established medicine
      -anti-government rules
      -anti-global warming,
      -anti-controls on food additives and controls on chemicals in the food industry.
      -anti-free press and free expression.
      -profiteers who would profit from an unregulated economy

      And so on. So he reached a quite large spectrum of supporters, often not overlapping groups, but fortunately, they did not form the majority.

  11. I have pondered Trump’s popularity a lot. To me the most likely candidate comes down to the US divide (accelerated by geographic divisions between highly educated and less educated areas as people become more mobile,) between thinking fast and slow, combined with the Dunning-Kruger effect. Those with high verbal analytical skills likely have a blind spot in understanding that what is obvious to them is not obvious to other people. And so you get this Really? I mean… really?! WTF is going on here? confusion effect, because it is difficult to understand not what it is that other people see, but what it is that other people can’t see, that they can.

    I think that Biden bridged this gap somewhat because he still has that old fashioned ‘folksy’ appeal, but we had to find a man born almost 8 decades ago to produce a democrat who fit that bill. I feel that in the future the democratic party will have to up its ante in that realm if it wants to speak to parts of the country, but I both shudder and laugh at the thought because the idea of an awkward intellectual type trying to go into the heartland and show off their folksy cred just seems like the stuff of SNL skits. Cue the parody showing Hilary in a pair of overalls and stilettos, awkwardly walking into a cornfield and saying in a stilted voice “Hello there, Americana family. I have come here to be folksy, and harvest corn with you folksy folks, in a folksy manner (flashes frozen smile at camera.)”

  12. America tried an experiment: What will happen if we elect a power-hungry narcissist with absolutely no scruples and no moral guard rails?

    The system is being tested like a boat in a huge storm, the ocean wave of Trump’s ambitions furiously testing every inch of the hull, every rivet and seam, for cracks and weak spots. I hope it holds together!

    What I find fascinating, along with Sam Harris who cites it so well, is Trump’s almost supernatural ability to corrupt anyone who comes in to his orbit. It’s like a spell. And it’s not simply like attracting like. You have Republicans who denounced him who then sing his praises. Weirder, you have various close staff members who once CLEARLY saw Trump for what he was.

    For instance Trump attorney Jenna Ellis who, back in 2016, called Trump an “unethical, corrupt, lying, criminal, dirtbag.”

    And wrote: “”I could spend a full-time job just responding to the ridiculously illogical, inconsistent, and blatantly stupid arguments supporting Trump,”

    And now, it’s her full time job DEFENDING
    Trump’s ridiculous arguments! She blithely tells us, with the glassy eyes of a cult member, that she was wrong about Trump and he’s now Just The Greatest!

    What happened?

    It’s not like she can have some insight from personal experience that could overturn what we know of Trump’s character. Trump’s character is on full reveal all day long in his Twitter rants, every time he speaks to the public, and in his policy actions etc. But this woman, like others, somehow have had a spell cast upon her.

    I infer that Trump has a similar power to other autocrats and tyrants. A combination of some level of charm with with vindictiveness and “you are either with me or against me.”

    The powerful carrot and stick, where the carrot is that if you are on board, he’ll love you, hail you, promote you to power (even beyond what your competence would ever get you elsewhere in life). Which is very tempting. And at the same time anyone can see what Trump does to anyone who rejects the offer, who crosses him.
    You are toast, he’ll grind you in to the dust in public, and undermine you success any way he can.

    It must be a fairly powerful corrupting balance to encounter, if you have certain weaknesses to exploit.

    1. “In principio erat fric” This is what our French (and atheist) literature teacher told us when I was in high school in Belgium. “Fric” means “dough” or lot’s of money in French argot.

  13. Given the loathsome lying creep that is Trump – and that is something which is self-evident every time it tweets / opens its mouth – I can’t help feeling that anyone who would still vote for him deserves absolute opprobium. As one would for anyone who (still) supported Hitler or Idi Amin.

    So in the circumstances, and considering what anyone of any intelligence has had to endure for the last four years, I can’t help feeling that a generous ration of gloating and derision is well due to us. Yes I’m being uncharitable. I only have a finite amount of charity to go around and I prefer to keep it for deserving causes.


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