Opinion

Are you a member of the Trump cult?

Good morning. I’m Paul Thornton, and it is Saturday, Nov. 11, 2017. Today is Veterans Day, and as The Times Editorial Board points out, about 4,800 former members of the United States armed services are spending the day homeless in Los Angeles County. Let’s take a look back at the week in Opinion.

Donald Trump has violated presidential norms in ways that probably would have landed past commanders in chief in boiling-hot water. The Twitter feuds, the name-calling, his “yeah, but” defense of Nazis — can anyone imagine Barack Obama or George W. Bush engaging in similar conduct without serious repercussions?

And yet Trump’s public approval rating seems to have a hard floor of about 35% — historically low, yes, but not low enough to scare off Republicans who embrace his toxic populism from mounting primary challenges against mainstream conservative officeholders. This, writes Reza Aslan, may indicate the presence of a dangerous religious-like cult in American politics:

I use the word “cult” in its pejorative sense, meaning a deeply insular social group bound together by extreme devotion to a charismatic leader. Such groups tend to exhibit a few common characteristics.

They are usually formed around an individual whom they’ve elevated to prophetic and near divine status.

During the campaign, Franklin Graham, Trump’s most enthusiastic evangelical Christian supporter, dismissed his many moral failings by comparing him favorably to the flawed patriarchs and prophets of the Bible: Abraham, Moses and David. ...

The cult leader is generally believed to possess special knowledge. No matter how demonstrably false his pronouncements, they become, by definition, truth for his followers. Trump has been spectacularly successful at getting his supporters to believe his blandishments rather than their own eyes. Consider the fact that in another HuffPost/YouGov poll, conducted after allegations of sexual harassment and assault surfaced against producer Harvey Weinstein, only 8% of Trump supporters believed the claims of sexual assault made against him despite the evidence of the “Access Hollywood” tape.

One of the ways a cult leader maintains his unquestioned authority is by creating a siege mentality among his followers and presenting himself as the antidote. In Trump’s view, the country is a wasteland of empty factories “scattered like tombstones” and crime-ridden cities that are more dangerous than war zones. “Our military is a disaster. Our healthcare is a horror show,” he declared during the campaign. And as Trump has often said, “I alone can fix it.”

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Has it only been a year since Trump was elected? To examine the changes in American politics since that fateful day on Nov. 8, 2016, The Times op-ed page invited 10 experts to share their analyses, among them Sen. Bernie Sanders (Trump lied to his base), Rep. Maxine Waters (get ready for impeachment), Victor Davis Hanson (America keeps winning under Trump) and Jonah Goldberg (we have a reality-TV president). L.A. Times

Why did Hillary Clinton lose? Trump’s opponents still haven’t figured that out. The Times Editorial Board, no fan of Trump himself, offers a harsh assessment of the left since Nov. 8, 2016: “In the year since Trump was elected president, his opponents have offered little but excuses for losing the election a year ago: It was the electoral college. It was the Russians. It was the racists. It was the alt-right. It was social media. It was anti-feminist backlash. It was Hillary, it was Bernie, it was Obama, it was Comey. It was the tens of millions of strangers who for reasons obscure and unknowable cast their ballots in favor of the tweeting tycoon-turned-reality-show-host-turned-politician.” L.A. Times

Look out for anti-vaccination doctors, Sacramento. California legislators tried to close the personal-belief loophole for vaccine exemptions, but they didn’t try hard enough. The Times Editorial Board sees something fishy in the skyrocketing number of medical exemptions granted to children, many of whose parents surely just do not want them to get vaccinated. Perhaps public shaming may be the only way to rein in some wayward doctors, but Sacramento should still keep its eye on them. L.A. Times

Does the GOP tax plan mean the end of Proposition 13 as we know it? The Republican plan in Congress would penalize the residents of high-income tax states like California by doing away with the federal deduction for state and local taxes. But the deduction for property taxes would remain, providing an opportunity for Sacramento to rework Proposition 13, lower income taxes and effectively give Californians a federal tax break. L.A. Times

As California goes, so does Virginia? The voter rebuke of Republican politics in the Commonwealth this week looks a lot like the mid-1990s political realignment in California that relegated the GOP to the sidelines indefinitely. In 1994, Republican politicians in California supported an agenda that enraged Latinos, turning them and many middle-class voters into permanent Democratic blocs; after Trump’s election, a similar shift may be underway in other parts of the country. Pacific Standard

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