Sunday, February 23, 2020

The Structure Of Cults

                                                                                              written 16 February 2020
                                                                                          published 23 February 2020

            In 1965, the Peoples Temple moved to Redwood Valley. Jim Jones, the charismatic leader, had a following of thousands, inspired by his ideals of equality and social justice, and he was welcomed into the social and political structure of Mendocino County and the Bay area. 
            However, by the early 70's, exposes and public defections began to cast doubt on the integrity of the Temple.  Jones employed internal security for protection from his "enemies", and in 1974, Peoples Temple established Jonestown, in Guyana, South America.  Citing persecution, Jones moved there in 1977, urging others to follow him.  By late 1978, over 900 people lived there, isolated from the rest of the world.  
            On November 17, 1978, a Congressman, three journalists, and a defector were killed by Temple security.  The group had come to Guyana to investigate the welfare of Temple residents.  That evening the residents of Jonestown drank cyanide laced Kool-Aid.  Everyone died as a disastrous memorial to the ego of an insane leader.
            Peoples Temple is one of many cults in history. The qualities that define a cult include the actions of the leader and the structure imposed on the followers.
            The Guardian, in May 27th, 2009, published an article by Rick Ross, defining the signs of cult leader, paraphrased here.  "No meaningful financial disclosure of budget or expenses.  Absolute authoritarianism without accountability.  Unreasonable fear directed toward the outside world, such as conspiracies and persecution. The leader has exclusive means of knowing "truth" or receiving validation and no other process of discovery is acceptable or credible.  The leader is always right; there is no tolerance for questions or inquiry.  Followers are wrong to leave, and considered negative or even evil.  There are often records, books, news articles, or broadcast reports that document the abuses of the group leader. "
            President Trump fits every one of these descriptions.
            A checklist presented by Janja Lalich and Michael Longone catalogs the following elements of a cult group structure.  "The group displays excessive zeal and unquestioning commitment to its leader, and regards his belief system as the Truth.  Questioning, doubt, and dissent are discouraged or even punished.  The group is elitist, claiming exalted status for its leader, who is on a special mission to save humanity.  The group has a polarized us-versus-them mentality. The leader is not accountable to any authorities.  The leadership induces feelings of shame or guilt in order to influence and control members.  Members often fear reprisals to themselves if they leave the group.  The group teaches that its exalted ends justify whatever means it deems necessary. This may result in members' participating in behaviors or activities they would have considered reprehensible or unethical before joining the group."
            The Republican party under Trump fits these descriptions.   
            A core principle of the Republicans used to be the Rule of Law, the foundation of a democratic society, based on trust in the equal application of the law.  Judicial manipulation to support "friends" and punish "enemies", is a trait of corrupt, autocratic systems, but Attorney General Barr has injected himself into specific cases to insure leniency for Trump's associates.  
            The sentencing recommendation was changed in the Michael Flynn case, and the State of New York has been pressured to drop cases investigating Trump's tax returns.  Roger Stone was tried by a jury and found guilty of seven felony counts.  Before the sentence was delivered, Trump tweeted that he wanted a change.  A new recommendation for leniency was submitted and four lawyers quit in protest, bringing the issue to public scrutiny.  Trump then mounted a tweet attack demonizing those lawyers and the judge hearing the case.  This illegal political obstruction of justice is the act of a tyrant, not a president.
            The Grand Old Party is now the Cult Of Trump.  Republican Senators had a chance to save us and are now tarnished by Trump's actions, "participating in behaviors or activities they would have considered reprehensible or unethical before joining the group".  If "justice" is now crony capitalism, what country will trust America to be a steadfast ally?  We run a huge deficit, but who will risk investing in a corrupt system?
            Will Republicans with integrity speak up, or will America have to drink the Kool-Aid as a monument to this insane leader?