Trump and His True Believers

Bernard,

I’ve sent you the below quotes from Eric Hoffer’s book The True Believer before. I read them again today in light of having experienced 6 months of Trump in power. If Hoffer is right — and FWIW I for one think he is, given his experiences with Nazism and similar movements — then Trump is a classic instance of a mass-movement leader. But I think Trump fails in one key aspect and therein lies reason for hope. Read on.

“It is futile to judge the viability of a new movement by the truth of its doctrine and the feasibility of its promises. What has to be judged is its corporate organization for quick and total absorption of the frustrated. … The man just out of the army is an ideal potential convert, and we find him among the early adherents of all contemporary mass movements. He feels alone and lost in the free-for-all of civilian life.”

“… deprecation of the present, a facility for make-believe, a proneness to hate, a readiness to imitate, credulity, a readiness to attempt the impossible, and many others which crowd the minds of the intensely frustrated are, as we shall see, unifying agents and prompters of recklessness.”

“The facts on which the true believer bases his conclusions must not be derived from his experience or observation but from holy writ.”

“Strength of faith, as Bergson pointed out, manifests itself not in moving mountains but in not seeing mountains to move.”

“There is an illiterate air about the most literate true believer.”

“The fanatic cannot be weaned away from his cause by an appeal to his reason or moral sense.”

[Characteristics of the mass-movement leader] “Exceptional intelligence, noble character and originality seem neither indispensable nor perhaps desirable. The main requirements seem to be: audacity and a joy in defiance; an iron will; a fanatical conviction that he is in possession of the one and only truth; faith in his destiny and luck; a capacity for passionate hatred; contempt for the present; a cunning estimate of human nature; a delight in symbols (spectacles and ceremonials); unbounded brazenness which finds expression in a disregard of consistency and fairness; a recognition that the innermost craving of a following is for communion and that there can never be too much of it…”

[The characteristic that I don’t see in Trump] “… a capacity for winning and holding the utmost loyalty of a group of able lieutenants. This last faculty is one of the most essential and elusive.”

“The quality of ideas seems to play a minor role in mass movement leadership. What counts is the arrogant gesture, the complete disregard of the opinion of others, the singlehanded defiance of the world. Charlatanism of some degree is indispensable to effective leadership. There can be no mass movement without some deliberate misrepresentation of facts.”

About the reason for hope, Trump’s advisers and lieutenants seem loyal but not capable. Think of the chaotic rollout of the first attempted ban on Muslims. It’s easy to undo and break things, difficult to design and build useful new things. What useful new thing has this group invented or created or accomplished in its first 6 months, or even begun in earnest on? Nothing I know of.

The talking heads on liberal television, for example Chris Matthews and Rachel Maddow, harp endlessly on the twisting of facts and gross unfairness of statements and opinions and so forth coming from Trump and his supporters. But I think the commentators miss the point and end up only reinforcing Trump by talking incessantly about the man. You’ve said it several times: shut up, go heads down, flood the polls in 2018, and throw out the bums. Unfortunately we can’t throw out Gorsuch. He will poison our lives from here on.

Wayne

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