My Photo




  • FREE e-Letter

    Tips from
    The Queen of Rejection®

    Your First and Last Name:
    Your Email Address:

Entries categorized "Donald Trump"

Trumpism/Cultism/Populism Revisited

By Elayne Savage, PhD


#191 ©Can Stock Photo-LumaxArt2D              ©Can Stock Photo-LumaxArt2D


Have you noticed how over the last few months there have been lots of media references to Trumpism and Cult-like behavior?

I just did a Google search and found dozens, maybe even hundreds of recent links! Actually the number surprised me because the last time I searched, 5 years ago, I found only one link besides my blog from 2016. (See below for the 2017 op-ed piece by Reza Aslan.)

This week marks the 6th anniversary of putting my fears about the influence of cultism into writing when, on July 27 2016, I blogged about my anxiety.

Below are some of my observations from Does the Art of the Deal Mean Selling your Soul? all those years ago:


From Bill Moyers

Bill Moyers reminds us of Donald Trump’s tweet on Easter morning:

“Another radical Islamic attack, this time in Pakistan, targeting Christian women & children. At least 67 dead, 400 injured. I alone can solve.”

And from his acceptance speech at the RNC: “Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it,"

Moyers continues:  This has been his message all year: “I alone can fix it.”

Only he can save us. He alone has the potion. He alone can call out the incantation. He alone can cast out the demons. It’s a little bit Mussolini. A little bit Berlusconi. A little bit George Wallace. And a lot of Napoleon in a trucker’s hat.

"I am not an ordinary man," Bonaparte once said. "I am an extraordinary man and ordinary rules do not apply to me."

(Note: A book with this terrific title by Phil Rucker and Carol Leonnig appeared in 2021 – I Alone Can Fix It: Donald J. Trump's Catastrophic Final Year )


Things That Go Bump in the Night - Fears and Demons

Seems to me so much of this ideology is formed around instilling fear in Americans. Ever since the 2008 campaign I’ve been blogging about politicians’ attempts to influence us by fueling our fears, especially regarding feeling vulnerable to terror attacks.

 ‘Terror’ is defined as: “acts which are purposefully designed to scare people and make them fearful.” Most definitions of ’terrorism’ use this phrase:  “intimidate or coerce, especially for political purposes.” So in a way, you could say it is our politicians who are terrorists just as much as those who appear to threaten us from outside.

The Politics of Fear erupts, playing to our anxieties. This leads to a Culture of Fear, permeating and fraying the fabric of our country. 

With each new push of the panic button, I feel my anxiety surge. And what about you?
As Master Yoda says, "Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”

Fear is in the Air and It’s Contagious

Cult Culture

To be honest, I find it very scary that this grandiose talk seems reminiscent of the coercive persuasion, thought reform and mind control of the 70’s and 80’s. 

As a Child Protective Services worker in the 70’s, I had frequent dealings with cult-like organizations including Jim Jones’ Peoples Temple. I knew families who followed Jones to Jonestown, Guyana where 918 devotees were convinced to take part in a mass murder/suicide.

I’ll never forget the panicky call I received from a pay phone when one woman begged for help as the group was leaving San Francisco. The call ended abruptly. I’ll never forget how helpless I felt in that moment.

Haunted By a Panicky Phone Call From a Peoples Temple Member


Arthur Deikman a researcher and author of Them and Us: Cult Thinking and Terrorist Threat, describes how the desires that bring people to cults — including the need to feel secure and protected — are universal human longings. This includes pressure from peer groups to conform.

As he says in the book’s preface “The price of cult behaviour is diminished realism.”


50 Characteristics of Cult Leaders ––Who Do You Recognize Here?

Joe Navarro, a 25-year veteran of the FBI and author of Dangerous Personalities lists 50 cult leader characteristics.

Here are a few characteristics of cult group leaders, which stand out for me as especially Donald J. Trump-ish:

– He has a grandiose idea of who he is and what he can achieve.

– Has a sense of entitlement - expecting to be treated special at all times.

– Has an exaggerated sense of power (entitlement) that allows him to bend rules and break laws.

– Publicly devalues others as being inferior, incapable, or not worthy.

– Haughtiness, grandiosity, and the need to be controlling is part of his personality.

– Anyone who criticizes or questions him is called an “enemy.”

– Habitually puts down others as inferior and only he is superior. 

– Is deeply offended when there are perceived signs of boredom, being ignored or of being slighted.    

– Treats others with contempt and arrogance.

– The word “I” dominates his conversations. He is oblivious to how often he references himself.

–  Hates to be embarrassed or fail publicly - when he does he acts out with rage.

– Believes he possesses the answers and solutions to world problems.

– Seems to be highly dependent of tribute and adoration and will often fish for compliments.


Here’s the link to Navarro’s list of all 50 cult leader characteristics:

It's quite amazing to me how many of these have to do with reactions to feeling rejected and taking things personally.

Joe Navarro writes: “When the question is asked, “When do we know when a cult leader is bad, or evil, or toxic?” this is the list that I use to survey the cult leader for dangerous traits. Of course the only way to know anything for sure is to observe and validate, but these characteristics can go a long way to help with that. And as I have said, there are other things to look for and there may be other lists, but this is the one that I found most useful from studying these groups and talking to former members of cults”.

The above observations are from my blog from 2016.


My Original 6 Year-old List Seems So Naïve!

As I re-read my list from 6 years ago that I felt were the most obvious characteristics of Donald J. Trump, it seems so naïve now!

I’m amazed I missed so many Trump traits back then. Now that I that I better ‘know’ Donald J. Trump there are many that I would have to include today. Now they seem so hard to miss!

Here are more of Joe Navarro’s characteristics that I would add now:

– Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, or brilliance.

– Requires excessive admiration from followers and outsiders.

– Is arrogant and haughty in his behavior or attitude

– Has an exaggerated sense of power (entitlement) that allows him to bend rules and break laws.

– Is frequently boastful of accomplishments.

– Behaves as though people are objects to be used, manipulated or exploited for personal gain.

– Acts imperious at times, not wishing to know what others think or desire.

Believes himself to be omnipotent.

– Doesn’t seem to feel guilty for anything he has done wrong nor does he apologize for his actions.

– "Rigid," "unbending," or "insensitive" describes how this person thinks.

– Sees self as “unstoppable” and perhaps has even said so. – Doesn’t think there is anything wrong with himself and in fact sees himself as perfection or “blessed.”

– Doesn’t think there is anything wrong with himself and in fact sees himself as perfection or “blessed.”

Actually there are yet another 25 or so characteristics that Joe Navarro lists – what did I miss?

How many of Donald Trumps words or behaviors in the complete list of 50 characteristics do you recognize? Do you see them in other folks as well?

You can imagine how back then lots of folks disagreed with my audacity writing this blog in equating Donald J. Trump with Cult-like behavior.

And yet times have changed some.

I did find an LA Times opinion piece by Reza Aslan from back then when I just did a Google search. It was a lonely article. As I mentioned at the beginning of this blog, there are many such pieces the last couple of years.

From the LA Times in November 6, 2017

“I am not the first person to point this out: There’s been a cultish quality to President Trump’s most ardent supporters. He seemed to acknowledge the phenomenon when he boasted that he could “stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody” and not lose voters.

Throughout the campaign, and in personal appearances since then, Trump has harnessed the kind of emotional intensity from his base that is more typical of a religious revival meeting than a political rally, complete with ritualized communal chants (“Lock her up!”).

“, , , , If Trump’s presidency deteriorates further, expect the religious fervor of many of his followers to reach a fever pitch. That poses a risk for the country. Because the only thing more dangerous than a cult leader is a cult leader facing martyrdom.”


In 2020 a book appeared by cult expert Steven Hassan who was once a ‘Moonie’ in the Unification Church of Reverend Sun Myung Moon, The Cult of Trump: A Leading Cult Expert Explains How the President Uses Mind Control.

From publisher Simon & Schuster:

Since the 2016 election, Donald Trump’s behavior has become both more disturbing and yet increasingly familiar. He relies on phrases like, “fake news,” “build the wall,” and continues to spread the divisive mentality of us-vs.-them. He lies constantly, has no conscience, never admits when he is wrong, and projects all of his shortcomings on to others. He has become more authoritarian, more outrageous, and yet many of his followers remain blindly devoted. Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert and a major Trump supporter, calls him one of the most persuasive people living. His need to squash alternate information and his insistence of constant ego stroking are all characteristics of other famous leaders—cult leaders.

In The Cult of Trump, mind control and licensed mental health expert Steven Hassan draws parallels between our current president and people like Jim Jones, David Koresh, Ron Hubbard, and Sun Myung Moon, arguing that this presidency is in many ways like a destructive cult. He specifically details the ways in which people are influenced through an array of social psychology methods and how they become fiercely loyal and obedient. Hassan was a former “Moonie” himself, and he presents a “thoughtful and well-researched analysis of some of the most puzzling aspects of the current presidency, including the remarkable passivity of fellow Republicans [and] the gross pandering of many members of the press” (Thomas G. Gutheil, MD and professor of psychiatry, Harvard Medical School).

The Cult of Trump is an accessible and in-depth analysis of the president, showing that under the right circumstances, even sane, rational, well-adjusted people can be persuaded to believe the most outrageous ideas. “This book is a must for anyone who wants to understand the current political climate” (Judith Stevens-Long, PhD and author of Living Well, Dying Well).


Quotes From The Cult of Trump:

“Another way to control thoughts is through the use of loaded language, which, as Lifton pointed out, is purposely designed to invoke an emotional response. When I look at the list of thought-controlling techniques—reducing complex thoughts into clichés and platitudinous buzz words; forbidding critical questions about the leader, doctrine, or policy; labeling alternative belief systems as illegitimate or evil—it is astounding how many Trump exploits.

[Cult] members learn a new vocabulary that is designed to constrict their thinking into absolute, black-and-white, thought-stopping clichés that conform to group ideology. (“Lock her up” and “Build the Wall” are Trumpian examples. Even his put-downs and nicknames—Crooked Hillary, Pocahontas for Elizabeth Warren—function to block other thoughts. Terms like “deep state” and “globalist” also act as triggers. They rouse emotion and direct attention.)”

“As New York Times columnist Charles Blow observed, “Trump tells his followers about all the things of which they should be afraid, or shouldn’t trust or should hate, and then positions himself as the greatest defense against those things

“. . . . This brings me to an important point and a key aspect of my approach. By attacking or belittling Trump’s followers, political opponents and traditional media may be helping Trump to maintain his influence over his base. In my experience, telling a person that they are brainwashed, that they are in a cult, or that they are following a false god, is doomed to fail. It puts them immediately on the defensive, confirms you are a threat, possibly an enemy, and reinforces their indoctrination. It closes their mind to other perspectives. I’ve seen this happen over and over again. It happened to me when I was in the Moon group. It immediately triggers a person’s mind control programming—including thought stopping and us-versus-them thinking, with you being the ‘them.’”


There are lots of articles exploring the popularity of Trump. A bottom line of course being his Populist appeal to folks who feel that their concerns are disregarded by others, especially established elite groups.

I guess you can tell I’m even more fearful these days than I was back in 2016!

Just needed to put my anxiety into words. Thanks for reading . . . and would love to hear your thoughts.

© Elayne Savage, PhD


Until next month,


July 20, 2024

April 30, 2024

January 31, 2024

March 31, 2023

December 31, 2022

November 29, 2020

September 30, 2020

January 27, 2020

June 30, 2019

September 30, 2018

June 13, 2017

September 29, 2016

August 31, 2016

July 27, 2016

June 30, 2016

March 29, 2016

January 30, 2016

September 16, 2015

August 30, 2015

July 31, 2015