Bryan Zepp Jamieson
August 6th 2023
I’ve been thinking over the past few days about various terms I’ve been using, sometimes interchangeably, and in this dark era, often improperly. The terms I have in mind are conservative, libertarian, fascist, Christian, religious, fundamentalist, and finally, cult. Not the normal definition of cult, but how the term is used in relation to Trump’s following. All require a more specific usage to reflect the times we are in.
Let’s start with “conservative.” I stopped using it to describe the ideologues and flat-out nuts that have infested the GOP beginning with Goldwater and which flowered under Newt Gingrich. Conservatives traditionally supported small government, careful husbanding of resources, and staunchly supported separation of church and state. The Republican party has been taken over by people who support overwhelming government interference in personal lives, utter contempt for efforts to control pollution or address the damage done by pollution, and are in many cases determined to inflict the more savage elements of religious doctrine on all the rest of us. The very opposite of “conservative.”
“Fascist.” The most simple and direct definition of a fascist is that it’s someone who is authoritarian, and wants a merger of state and corporate power. They don’t mind associating with patriotism and devoutness as long as it furthers their aims, which basically are establishment of a plutocratic autocracy. People associate fascism with Hitler, but Hitler was beyond the pale. Fascist regimes are ugly, oppressive and corrupt, but nothing equal to the insane nightmare of Nazism.
“Libertarian.” Most libertarians (but not all) are closeted right wingers who have learned to adopt the parlance associated with American liberties and civil rights. They purport to be for the rights of the individual, and want government to be small enough to “drown in the bathtub.” It’s worth noting that the Libertarian Party was founded by the same people who underwrote the John Birch Society. Yes, the same people who rode a wave of McCarthyism in the ‘50s. Ask a libertarian “if a corporation is beneficial to society because it is a group of people banded together to protect their mutual interests and benefit while providing a needed service to society, then shouldn’t labor unions be viewed the same way?” The answer will tell you much about that particular Libertarian. You find that when most libertarians talk about rights and freedoms, they mean rights and freedoms for the bosses, not the workers or consumers. Many libertarians are, in fact, fascist.
Fascists are not conservative, and few conservatives are fascist. Stop calling people like Ron DeSantis or Donald Trump “conservative.” They are anything but. Those two have gone beyond fascism to the greater nightmare.
“Christian,” “religious” and “fundamentalist” are often applied to people of faith with varying degrees of accuracy. Fundamentalist usually is associated with a need for order and control, and a high personal demand for rigid and authoritarian structure. It’s a psychological disorder, associated with religion only because many religions offer the same hard and fast answers and absolute truths that fundamentalists crave in their lives. “Christian” and “religious” are umbrella terms that defy any sort of specific definition. There’s tens of thousands of different religious sects under the umbrella of “Christianity” alone, and the differences go far beyond one word in The Lord’s Prayer or the number of cross bars on the cross. Some are totally unrecognizable to other Christians. As a rule of thumb, the closer in ideology two sects are, the more likely they are to reject each other as heretics.
The majority of Christians, and for that matter, many fundamentalists, are not part of the toxic pseudo-religiosity that has permeated the American right and is behind the move to impose their doctrines on the American people, in the form of women’s issues, racial oppression, and oppressive control for non-believers. Those people are called ‘zealots,’ and most religious writings, including the Bible (at times) condemn zealotry as a toxic and destructive force in any culture. Zealots may claim the mantle of God, but in reality, they are vicious, controlling bigots willing to kill and lie and destroy in the name of their beliefs. Zealotry isn’t limited to Christianity—all religions attract them, as do all political movements.
The main weapon against zealotry is to have a religion or political belief that practices tolerance, inclusion, and, well, wokeness.
Finally, let’s talk about cults. Or rather, let’s talk about the people who are part of MAGA who follow Trump, because they aren’t really a cult. Oh, I’ve called them cultists myself, but I did some thinking on it, and realize that what we are dealing with here is something outside a standard framework of a cult.
Cults, no matter how weird or nasty, have to stand FOR something. They have a god, a leader, someone who followers can worship and admire. They offer hope, and community, and trust. Trump offers the trappings of that, but even his own followers find that Trump’s compassionate embrace is very thin gruel indeed.
What he does offer to people is the excuse to go out and be assholes. Rather than build his followers up, he vilifies all non-followers through verbal abuse, lies, and calumnies. He takes his pages, not from spiritual leaders, but from hate-mongers who have realized that hatred is a powerful force. It’s always been an element of the American right—open hatred of liberals and progressives dates back to the days of the John Birch Society. Trump can’t offer hope, or love. But he can tell people it’s OK to hate others, and to assume anyone not part of the movement is the enemy. Liberals “groom” children, just like Jews drink the blood of Christian babies or all black people want is to rape white women. Zealotry is a very powerful and massively destructive force, capable of great harm (Germany, 1945) and extremely dangerous.
But because it offers hatred and not any kind of socially binding force beyond that, it’s far easier to dissipate the following by defeating it. Successful cults have true believers generations after they fade. Hate movements tend to evaporate in a self-realization of guilt and shame over what the followers have become, and social opprobrium. Remember how the Nazis in Germany all just vanished after Berlin fell and Hitler died? Cut off the head, and the movement dies. It’s not quite the same as a cult. More dangerous, but more vulnerable.
Anyway, this is all just my opinion. Read it, think it over, and decide for yourself if I’m right or not.
But I believe it’s time our political terminology embraces our present-day realities.