A cult is a group with a living, authoritarian leader who insists s/he is always right, is very controlling, has undue influence on the group, is damaging to the group, and exploits group members’ vulnerabilities. The leader tries to limit information to the group by controlling the media and labeling all critical information as fake. Group members are told they are not safe because outsiders are dangerous and are invading and threatening the group’s well-being. The leader instills obedience through persistent use of punishment.
This describes Donald Trump very well. He has always been a narcissistic, dictatorial, authoritarian person who demands complete loyalty and attacks anyone he sees as a threat to his point of view. Since he lost re-election, almost all Republicans have continued to cower to his delusional whims. They appear to be in fear of his punishment. In spite of OVERWHELMING evidence that he lost the election to Joe Biden and that he encouraged and inspired the insurrection at the US Capitol on January 6, many Republicans still support his “big lie” and go to absurd lengths to investigate non-existent voter fraud. Now many Republicans in the House of Representatives have voted to punish Representative Liz Cheney for criticizing Donald Trump. And they took their vote in secret so the public does not know how members voted. Perhaps that was to protect less servile Republicans from the wrath of their dear leader. I am definitely not a fan of Liz Cheney’s conservative views, and I think her father was an evil bastard, but removing her from House leadership for disloyalty to a leader is a classic indication of a cult.
Disloyal behavior or criticism of the party line is called heresy in religious cults and often results in shunning or ostracism from official status in the group. This may be the most recent and most blatant example of Republican obsequiousness, but it follows years of Trump’s tyranny. Several times, he ordered his followers to violently eject anyone from his rallies that he didn’t like. He used personally denigrating, dehumanizing and ridiculing attacks on anyone who questioned anything he said or did. He manipulated his follower’s biases and paranoia through emotional propaganda. He fired more cabinet members and appointees than any President in recent history. In spite of being incompetent and immature, he has never taken responsibility for a failure or admitted a mistake. All of this creates the false image of an infallible leader who cannot be questioned or disobeyed.
Totalitarian cult leaders are dangerous, especially ones who are narcissistic, paranoid, psychopathic, delusional, impulsive, erratic, and vindictive bullies. Trump’s Republican loyalists are not confined to a compound or otherwise ostracized from the world. That makes it all the more confusing that they obey him so obediently. They seem oblivious to the danger to the Republican Party that is obvious to everyone else. Many people have significant emotional turmoil when they finally escape a cult. Republicans may need empathy and support when they eventually break free of their cult leader. Perhaps others will provide that. I won’t.