The Party As Cult

Evidently, McConnell and the Senate GOP are still intent upon taking healthcare away from millions of Americans–despite the overwhelming unpopularity and utter immorality of that effort. If this current vote fails, they’ll fall back on their determined sabotage of the ACA and continue their refusal to work with Democrats to tweak and fix that measure’s flaws.

All because their “base” can’t abide the fact that a black President passed it.

On several occasions, I’ve remarked that today’s GOP bears less and less resemblance to the party I once worked for, and more and more resemblance to a cult. I used the term in its broadest and least precise sense–to indicate a walled-off reality–but I recently came across the following description of cult behavior, and it made me think that, at least for the so-called “base,” the comparison may have been more apt than I realized.

There seems to be a typical mindset within most destructive cults. This is often characterized by black and white thinking, a low tolerance of ambiguity and a relentlessly judgementa1 attitude. Members of such a group often think in “we, they” opposing terms regarding those outside their group. This mindset frequently produces feelings of superiority and/or spiritual elitism, claims of supposed “persecution” and unreasonable fears.

The description sent me on a Google search for information about the characteristics of cults. The so-called “unsafe” groups evidently share certain behaviors: affinity for authoritarianism, a lack of tolerance for critical inquiry and analysis (any criticism is labeled “persecution”), isolation and fear of the outside world, and loss of a sense of humor.

To be fair, any group of zealots–left or right–exhibits these characteristics. But the degree to which the Republican base falls within this description is striking. The penchant for authoritarian leadership, wholesale rejection of science and scholarship, isolation within an information “bubble,” excessive fear of terrorism, and the utter lack of a sense of humor (which requires a sense of proportion), are hard to miss.

We live in a time when the increasing complexity of the world around us requires a tolerance for ambiguity, a willingness to consider contending and unfamiliar perspectives and an ability to recognize the common humanity of people who do not look like us. Those are responses that many people simply cannot manage.

Political scientists analyzing the motivations of Trump voters in the wake of the 2016 election have identified “resentment”–especially but not exclusively racial resentment– as a primary characteristic.

That finding brings us back to the description of cult behaviors: black and white thinking (no pun intended), rejection of ambiguity and uncertainty, tribalism and claims of persecution (War on Christmas, anyone?).

The 64 Thousand Dollar question is: will this pass? Are these fearful and self-defeating attitudes mostly confined to older Americans who will die out, leaving the social and political landscape to a less panicked, less tribal and more intellectually nimble younger generation?

We can only hope.


  1. Are there not parallels in our society? 397 years ago the Pilgrims set foot on this continent to establish their cult. Spanish Catholics were in Florida and the southwest with their brand of exclusivism. What we are afflicted with today is just the current form of prejudice and tribalism. It’s in our DNA to form a distinctive group. Life is a continual struggle to balance our distinct and often violent differences.

  2. Donald Trump is the Jim Jones of the Republican party; today the Kook-ade will be served to us as a nation as the Senate continues their fight to deny health care to millions. Many more than 1,000 with die in the combination suicide (Trump’s ACA repeal supporters) and murder of innocents in this national Jonestown. If Senator John McCain supports this, as is expected, he will be as much a national embarrassment as Trump while he receives the best medical care this country provides after aiding the denial of basic health care to millions.

    There was no “complexity” in Trump’s speech to those Eagle Scouts yesterday and the resulting support from them as a group. It was blatant insults and lies as he led the best of the BSA in their boos and laughter against President Obama and supported denying health care for their own families and and themselves. Their leaders, on stage with Trump, seemed to enjoy his antics and his message as they applauded and laughed. Has our American Eagle Scouts become another cult of young minds being lead on a destructive path against humanity as Hitler’s Youth were before and during WWII? Yesterday’s Trump rally left no doubt in my mind.

    Do we still have hope? Today’s Senate vote will either support or destroy that possibility.

  3. Of course that should say “WILL die”, not “with”. Mea culpa…again

  4. After posting my comments; I had a sudden memory of Trump’s trip to Flint, Michigan, purportedly to congratulate those who were aiding the citizens suffering from lead poisoning in their water systems. He requested and received permission to speak to one small Black church congregation to specifically thank them for their personal efforts. When his “thank yous” became another of his campaign speeches; the Black WOMAN minister quickly stepped forward and called him out on his actions, reminding him he had not been invited to hold a campaign rally in their church. He quickly ended his “thank you” and left the altar.

    The Republican males in this country, especially within the GOP, are becoming sheep following their Judas goat to eventual destruction. Note that it is primarily the WOMEN in both parties who are stepping forward to rally for the rights of all…including the civil and human rights of their male counterparts. They are refusing to become willing members of the Republican cult and they need our support.

  5. DEFINITELY NOT limited to the older generation. Spend a little time browsing the political commentary on website Reddit to see where a substantial % of young people’s head are. For example, they refer to Trump as an “Emperor God” and not in a sarcastic way. It is very very scary what the alt-right and their internet mouthpieces have been able to accomplish in such a short time. They have literally taken over the White House – and every unhinged tweet that comes from those timy orange fingers plays to their goal – to deconstruct America’s political norms and institutions and dismantled the deep adminiatrative state that is slowly guing the country towards a socialist staye. Two great resources I’ve just finished are the documentary “Get me Roger Stone” on Netflix and the book “Devil’s Bargain” by Joshua Green about Stone, Bannon and others successful recruitment and political reorientation of Trump as their vehicle to assume power.

  6. Geez – sorry for all the typos but my iPhone screen is cracked. Hahaha. Off to the Sprint store this morning!

  7. You use “tolerance of ambiguity” several times, a word describing an adult characteristic. To live without it is to suffer from the throes of reification or the frozen brain that cannon get past the desire to have exact candies. As in most cults this one will jilt women and minorities and find excuses for bludgeoning the poor. Its idolatry of aristocracy is beyond the pale of sanity.

  8. Instead of the incessant whining about how the Republicans want to repeal Obama/Romney/HeritageFoundationCare,why not focus as to why the Democrats are not fighting for real healthcare for Americans? I know why,because under the RomneyCare plan the subsidies are a gift to the insurance industry. That was the role of Max Baucus in writing the legislation,to satisfy the donors of the insurance industry. The ACA sucks. It was a capitulation to interests and a Republican plan. Republicans do not want healthcare for Americans and neither does the PTB within the DNC. I know it goes against the grain here to speak critically of the DNC, but sometimes,this forum feels like a cult,the cult of the DNC.

    Btw,here’s a real look at a problem wrt Obama/Romney/HeritageFoundationCare.

    The Democrats had 8 years to refine RomneyCare,what did they do with their time? They certainly didn’t fight for healthcare for all.

  9. When the DNC defends Obama/Romney/HeritageFoundationCare…What they’re really saying is they’re against healthcare for all.

    Mitch”Mr Turtle” McConell:”We’re going to repeal Obama/RomneyCare!”

    The Democrats: Golly gee,there just ain’t nuttin’ we can do. Mitch is just so darn mean. There just ain’t nuttin’ we can do. Please believe us. If we could have real healthcare IN America,we would do it. In the meantime,isn’t the ACA the greatest thing? It’s even better than that complicated stuff they’ve got in Canada. Take our word for it! And remember,Mitch is a meanie.

  10. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if McCain came back just for the vote and voted against repeal and/or replace? I also believe in the tooth fairy…

  11. Definitely NOT just elders. Why do Republican have a chip on their shoulder about education? Because college is so expensive that there’s no avenue for many young people. Rents are so high, good jobs at living wages are rare, costs of healthcare and utilities are through the roof. Young people, even white kids, just don’t see their privilege- they feel affirmed when someone acknowledges their hardships rather than inspired by those who encourage discipline and personal responsibility. Things happen in “internet time” and with the push of a button. Working with young people in areas that have changed dramatically over relatively few years puts us all in New territory, and no one wants to do the hard work. It’s easier to find blame than admit failings and sort through solutions, finding and creating real “wins” for all. We teach Darwinism/Capitalism, which when taken to extremes by people who can’t see where social responsibility fits into these systems, destroys civil society. Teaching tolerance, compassion and empathy are important sociological components that could be part of conversations.

  12. America doesn’t have a health care insurance problem. Apparently ACA is the best that can be done in that arena because no one can find a clear way to improve it that will satisfy the diverse spectrum of opinions that exist here and now.

    Republicans have created a huge problem for all of us by pretending that’s not true. I think that the reasons for their madness are pretty clear and entirely self serving. They can’t take credit for it.

    If they were into governance there are two health care paths open for them. Fix our real problem, a health care delivery non-system by socializing it like every other developed country has, or kick the can down the road to smarter law makers.

    But they created a political problem for themselves that’s consuming them.

    Of course the fact of that is all good. Let the snake with his own tail in his mouth occupy itself with that meal rather than killing other things.

    Every day that goes by with a paralyzed Congress is one less that America has to worry about.

  13. The irresponsible tinkering with health care now being foisted by the Republicans shows how craven they are and how beholden they are to the rich people who actually pay their salaries.

    It’s disgusting, but our overall social sloth is to blame. In the 1980s, we stopped being politically active, shut up and took the money. Now, the whole nation is paying for those years of inactivity among the opposition to greed ruling our government.

  14. I just wrote an article based on the Veterans of Intelligence Professionals for Sanity. (

    These are Intelligence Community veterans. They wrote a memorandum to Trump informing him the evidence and timeline for “Russian hacking” is a fabrication of the DNC, their Media, and loyal followers.

    Needless to say, the cult members of the Democratic Party attacked me and the article without ever reading it. My general response was ‘closed-mindedness’ is the antithesis of being ‘liberal’.

    I’m sure all of them silenced out the suggestion and ran back to their TVs and tuned in Rachel Maddow reruns. 😉

    Here’s a clue – both political parties are corrupted beyond usefulness. It’s the main reason populism on the right and left exist.

    The GOP Cult has yielded to the Koch funded Tea Party Cult.

    The DNC Cult, funded by Wall Street, will NOT yield to Mass Movements from the left centered in the interests of the people.

    If you think Wall Street and Main Street share the same interests in the United States, you might want to spend a few days researching our history. I’ll make it easy, just look at the past 30 years. 🙂

  15. The $32,000 portion of your query hinges on the inclusion or exclusion of rural and small-town America. Can the up-and-coming generations in these environs open up, progress to view a more diverse community, and be tolerant of others different from themselves?

    I used to think that when my parents and the last of their generation “moved on”, we could shake loose the bonds of racial epithets and religious stereotypical attacks. However, like minds tend to stick together: the smaller the mind, the more apt they are to close ranks and spin around in the same waters.

    I’m sure there are exceptions, with some small communities living into a bright future of inclusivity and open mindedness. However, there are far greater numbers of small-town dwellers who cling to old thoughts as part of their “tradition”. I have found that old biases can be easily wrapped up in a flag of unquestioning patriotism.

    That’s why we need folks like yourself, Sheila, continuing to hold up mirrors in which we can glimpse access to a new way of being and thinking. That’s the real education we need to cultivate; not the basic skill sets any trained animal can learn.

  16. The Corporate Establishment Democratic Party is trying to rebrand again. The latest “A Better Deal.”
    The “A Better Deal” campaign has been compared in triteness to the Papa Johns marketing campaign, or a Black Friday deal at your local Big Box Store.

    In a clear swipe at Hillary:
    “When you lose to somebody who has 40 percent popularity, you don’t blame other things — Comey, Russia — you blame yourself,” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in an interview previewing the new plan. “So what did we do wrong? People didn’t know what we stood for, just that we were against Trump. And still believe that.”

    House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) agreed, explaining in a separate interview that the new focus “is not a course correction, but it’s a presentation correction.”
    Pelosi reveals the truth the Corporate Democrats stand by, it is all about presentation, and meaningless slogans. The Democrats could have loudly supported John Conyers HR 676 – Expanded & Improved Medicare for All Act, as direct action item. They might have also questioned our never ending World Wide Wars (WWW).

  17. republican cult? mmm, we have a tendancy to evaluate as seen,heard,and feel. I was a avid reader of WW2 Europe from listening to vets talk about thier time fighting in western Europe. ( dob 1955)I read untold books as the library would say,refrence material. I held a adult library card at 12. I had no idea todays scene would mimic the rise,and fall, of the third reich. Maybe a reread is due.I listen with my grandfolks the evening news,Cronkite,Huntley,And such. war vietnam, and the protests. Seems we lost MSM and its ethics to protect the values of America,and its experiment with Democracy. Today we sit with a far right idiot,and a mob,composed of wall streets greed. a far right agenda planned for A take over by the elites. We see news media kicked to the curb and making more of a mess than trumps/republicans planned agenda. If America was to see how we act today,in,1965, they would have made a sure attempt this would have never happened.seriously,this mob in washngton has no other agenda than to strip the working class to poverty class,slaves to elites,and a power hungry greed that we,the working class handed them. Our own demise? If you have enjoyed the bennifits of gambling on wall street,then remember,alot of that was our paycheck,given freely to a mass who exploits,the working class. And we wonder why we cant afford basic insurance and get a living wage. I worked all my life, collected a total of maybe three months worth of unemployment,(1978) and never welfare. I dont smoke,seldom tip a beer,and no vices,not even coffee.. I enjoy life. As I see others literaly suffer to make a living,make ends meet,and cant even enjoy a living wage job for working 60 hours between two or three so called gig jobs, we only have ourselves to blame. when im in conversation with the bigots,who beleive they have it good,(12 bucks a hour) and criticize the race and trailer trash class, i ask how many living wage jobs did you create today? cults,no,,its a massextermination of the working class,and its fueled by irresposable people who have devoided themselves,or, have neglected to parly with others on a face to face in social interventions. Stone cold words speak from the mouths unseen,and hidden in the dark. We as a government has sown the seeds of our own demise. we are a cult,and its ours. I seen just a few words of his wisdom from the head clown, he visited the boy scout jamboree, I was a boy scout, and its was in a basement of a chuch in East Orange nj. it was aplace where kids from inner city could explore things that were not available to us, camping,hikes,to do things that challenged the mind,and spirit. Thanks, i really did learn from it, and you were good people… But the fact some clowns in the BSA has allowed a asshole like trump to influnece and,ravel at his rants,cuts,and focus,is truly in line with hitlers agenda….the youth… have fu—— bad can this mess get…. and now, we have new cult……. enjoy whats left,theres fewer among us who rememebr America obviously..

  18. Did we abandon labor as one of our core constituents? I didn’t and never will. It must be obvious to anyone with a brain cell working that Republicans and those they represent are against labor as evidenced by a stratospheric Dow and median wages that haven’t moved in 40 years and with even some sectors of labor where the median wage has retreated! You can’t impoverish people and expect them to vote for you though the Republicans have been successful in doing so with their chatter about social problems, “freedom” and “liberty.” They have out-framed the issues badly as we Democrats have watched. It is time to stop watching and become participants in these framing games, starting now, and relentlessly.

  19. I’m guilty of doing the same…I want to hang out with liberal thinkers in Tucson and have joined several groups and made one friend so far (local facebook friends count right?) I’m trying hard to be tolerant of conservative view points but when they hail to THIS chief, I have to step back and make a judgement. I can’t help it but anybody that voted for this mess needs to have their heads examined. Seriously, I can’t relate to them at all. I can’t understand them especially after what he tweets daily and that obscene speech he “performed” at the Boy Scouts thingy yesterday. Every single freaking day, I’m just gobsmacked with disbelief. How can they support this madness? I just cannot relate. I guess that makes me just as guilty as those you speak of Professor. smh

  20. Noam Chomsky, remarked:

    “For liberal opinion, the political crime of the century, as it is sometimes called, is Russian interference in American elections. The effects of the crime are undetectable, unlike the massive effects of interference by corporate power and private wealth, not considered a crime but the normal workings of democracy.

    That’s even putting aside the record of U.S. ‘interference’ in foreign elections, Russia included; the word ‘interference’ in quotes because it is so laughably inadequate, as anyone with the slightest familiarity with recent history must be aware.”
    Chomsky, nails it. The McMega-Media Cable spend hours and hours on the Russians, their diversion tactic to avoid any mention of the American Plutocracy using campaign contributions and lobbyists to influence our elections far in excess of anything the Russians could accomplish.

  21. Just speechless over what the demented cult leader fed those 35.000 innocent Boy Scouts in West Virginia. He should apologize to each scout, the parents, and the scout leaders. They should NOT make him honorary president of the Boy Scouts or anything else.

  22. Dear Ms. Kennedy, you had me at the first few lines… I am speechless. Thank you.

  23. Betty; Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ response to the question regarding her thoughts on Trump’s speech to the Boy Scouts was (paraphrased), “All I heard were the cheers and applause from the 42,000 – 45,000 scouts in the crowd.”

    Little Sarah learned her press conference response lessons well at the knee of her idol, Trump; or was it at the knee of Daddy?

  24. If ever a group identified strongly as a cult, it’s the Democrat party. They tolerate no dissension, no questioning of the powers that be, no questioning of their Glorious Leader Obama, they viciously and vehemently bully all critics with baseless accusations to shift the subject away from the valid criticism, they manipulate their followers in order to maintain power and gain more, and are constantly trying to control the narrative in order to reinforce the programming of those who are their victims.

  25. The problem with Obamacare is that the massive deductibles people are having to pay – $3000 to $12,000 for some families!!! What was once considered and high deductible ($3,000) is now considered low. Many families can’t afford to pay this.

    Left-wing cult members want to defend Obamacare and ignore all the people that it is hurting with these massive criminal deductible rates.

    On the other hand right-wing cult members want to completely dismantle Obamacare without any thought to those who it is actually helping.

    Left-wing nutjobs and right-wing lunatics will NOT do the obvious. Work together and create a plan that actually works.

    Sheila, congratulations – you left one cult and joined another.

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