~ Jean Paul-Sartre
Has the thought crossed your mind the ahh… fervent followers of Donald Trump may constitute a cult? It crossed mine when two years ago, my cousin announced he had shut off all news except for Donald Trump’s Twitter feed. TV. Radio. Internet. Gone. Replaced by the words of the Great Leader. Hmmm. Ever since, I’ve been steadfastly trying to understand how this shit snowman was built.
My cousin says if we don’t believe in Trump and do as he does, we’re going to the something something lake of fire, something eternal barbecue, something something Armageddon. Not sure how the hell anyone could possibly confuse Trump with Jesus, but there you go. The sad part is my cousin really believes this nonsense and sincerely wants to save my soul. Thanks for that!
This is when I coined the term “Trumpets” for the herd. Trum-pets. As in pets of Trump. Get it? Got it. Overcome with groupthink and newspeak. A herd sounds like a cult, but is it?
Our words get overused in the wrong contexts with the wrong definitions. This leads to the degradation of meaning. Not surprisingly, this is a common propaganda strategy. Words which are supposed to mean something begin to mean their opposite. “Fake news” is a recent example.
In the beginning, “fake news” meant something specific. Namely news stories intentionally manufactured. The intent might be to make money, as these guys in Macedonia did:
Within Veles itself, the young entrepreneurs behind these websites became subjects of tantalizing intrigue. Between August and November, Boris earned nearly $16,000 off his two pro-Trump websites. The average monthly salary in Macedonia is $371. The sites’ ample traffic was rewarded handsomely by automated advertising engines, like Google’s AdSense.
“We can’t make money here with a real job. This Google AdSense work is not a real job. People are fighting each other. One brother is for one party, the other brother is for the other party, they argue.” He shakes his head. “The media is washing our brains, and the people are following like sheep.”
The Macedonian town of 55,000 was the registered home of at least 100 pro-Trump websites, many of them filled with sensationalist, utterly fake news. The “imminent” criminal indictment of Hillary Clinton was a popular theme; another was the pope’s “approval” of Trump.
Trump groups seemed to have hundreds of thousands more members than Clinton groups, which made it simpler to propel an article into virality. For a week in July, he experimented with fake news extolling Bernie Sanders. “Bernie Sanders supporters are among the smartest people I’ve seen,” he says. “They don’t believe anything. The post must have proof for them to believe it.”
“If Americans wanted Hillary Clinton to win, Hillary Clinton would have won. They voted for Donald Trump. Donald Trump won.” But now that everything has come to pass, Boris finds it difficult not to care about the result. “Some crazy man has won the election. Maybe the guy will start World War III.”
Another fake news generator admits while he made money off spreading babble, his real purpose was a demonstration of how fake news spreads to huge numbers of people who end up believers:
“My educational background is in political science. I’ve always enjoyed the ideas of propaganda and misinformation. Then I coupled that with an interest in what makes things go viral,” says Coler.
“The whole idea from the start was to build a site that could kind of infiltrate the echo chambers of the alt-right, publish blatantly or fictional stories, and then be able to publicly denounce those stories and point out the fact they were fiction,” Coler says.
He was amazed at how quickly fake news could spread and how easily people believe it. “Well, this isn’t just a Trump-supporter problem. This is a right-wing issue. Sarah Palin’s famous blasting of the lamestream media is kind of record and testament to the rise of these kinds of people.”
“The post-fact era is what I would refer to it as. This isn’t something that started with Trump. This is something that’s been in the works for a while. His whole campaign was this thing of discrediting mainstream media sources, which is one of those dog whistles to his supporters. When we were coming up with headlines, it’s always about the red meat. He knew who his base was. He knew how to feed them a constant diet of this red meat.”
“Some of this has to fall on the readers themselves. The consumers of content have to be better at identifying this stuff. We have a whole nation of media-illiterate people. Really, there needs to be something done.”
“We’ve tried to do similar things to liberals. It just has never worked, it never takes off. You’ll get debunked within the first two comments and then the whole thing just kind of fizzles out.”
However, Coler insists this is not about money. It’s about showing how easily fake news spreads. And fake news spread wide and far before the election. When I pointed out to Coler the money gave him a lot of incentive to keep doing it regardless of the impact, he admitted that was “correct.”
After the prominence of fake news became a public concern, Trump co-opted the term. Told his Trumpets it means “news I don’t like.” And the line of followers to go spelunking down the caves of insanity reached around the block.
During the 2016 campaign, “fake news” was used to describe actual fabricated news stories from websites that publish hoaxes, as well as from hyper-partisan websites purporting to offer real news. Some of those stories—including false scoops about Pope Francis endorsing Trump and Hillary Clinton selling weapons to ISIS—went viral on Facebook in the final months of the election. Overwhelmingly, the stories tended to favor Trump.
Such revelations might have been used to question the legitimacy of Trump’s electoral win, but once elected, Trump weaponized the term, turning its meaning on its head. Instead of using it to describe a specific corrupt phenomenon (which, again, overwhelmingly aided his candidacy), he used it to discredit the non-fake news sources that might keep his power in check. With the help of his 48 million Twitter followers and the most powerful political platform in the world, his campaign to transform “fake news” into an all-occasion put-down has worked, at least by some measures.
Now, “fake news” can refer to biased media, editorial malfeasance, spurious content produced overseas for profit, or simply any news Trump doesn’t like—depending on who’s listening.
OK, so we’ve identified one of the main characteristics of a cult. Motivated reasoning. Believing what you want to believe. Believing what the Great Leader tells you even when – perhaps especially when – it does not jive with reality and the values the outside world holds.
As David Wong sums it up:
For the first time in human history, there are no gatekeepers on information. I mean, there is a gate, and you’re free to close it if it makes you feel better, but it’s like thinking a barbed wire fence can keep the humidity out of your yard. Your gatekeeping is therefore purely symbolic, an effort to send a message. And whether you like it or not, the message you’re sending is, “These ideas are super cool and interesting.”
Remember, the human brain craves novelty, new experiences that push the envelope. Young people crave rebellion, to do the opposite of whatever their teachers and grown-ups demand. Tell them a book/video/ideology has taken things “too far,” and their ears perk up. That’s why most of these groups — especially the toxic, cultish ones — sell themselves as a rebellion. It’s why every single shitty one, from racists to pick-up artists, boast their worldview is the “red pill” from The Matrix, showing you the real world They don’t want you to see. “They try to shut us down, because THEY know we threaten their power structure!”
For example: Infowars. From the outside, it just seems like a goofball conservative conspiracy site and YouTube channel. But dig into it, and you see that it’s promoting an entire framework of belief about religion, politics, diet, and fitness, and the promise of a waiting community of like-minded people. At their core, they usually have one common denominator: The idea society used to be beautiful centuries ago, but powerful, shady people have turned it all to shit.
So there’s no gatekeeper now. Every thought, narrative, and buffoonery is fair game to be taken seriously and discussed on the internet. There is no adult in the room, no referee, no judge of what is right and wrong, stupid or clever.
AND WE CAN’T MAKE THERE BE ONE!
Facebook, Google, TV news, talk radio, and so on repeatedly and consistently show no interest in gatekeeping of any sort, mainly because the fake news gets them more hits than do the legit articles.
As the years progressed, it became increasingly clear the entertainment wing of the party had seized control.
“The analogy is somebody who has a baby alligator in their bathtub and they keep feeding it and taking care of it. And it’s really cute when it’s a baby alligator — until it becomes a grown-up alligator and comes out and starts biting you.”
“What it became, essentially, was they were preaching this is the only place you can get news. This is the only place you can trust. All other media outlets are lying to you. So you need to come to us.”
“And so in an attempt to capture an audience, they almost made them slaves to those news outlets. So there is a whole group of people who will only watch Fox, who will only read Breitbart. who will only listen to Rush. And they are living in a bubble.”
Which leads us to Make America Great Again! the secret code word for admission into the cult of Trumpets. Trumpkins. Trumpanzees. Choose your own label. There is no gatekeeper left… except Donald Trump. And he makes up stuff as he goes, constantly contradicting himself purposely, so you can’t hold him to anything.
This is where America stands at the moment. Perhaps 1/3 of our citizens are in a cult… or are they? What do you think?
That leaves us with two on-going articles: What’s Wrong with Trump? and Are Trumpets a Cult?
Never fear true believers! Will be back on it soon. Please feel free to argue amongst yourselves, just remember to play nicely.