Could be. But at least as much as a southern segregationist, rich pervert turned politico, or genocidal fascist, Trump resembles L. Ron Hubbard, founder of the pyramid-scheme-masquerading-as-religion known as Scientology.
Consider: both men are (or, in Hubbard’s case, were) narcissistic, autocratic, money-obsessed, pathological liars and would-be sexual conquerors who built business empires for the primary purpose of self-enrichment under glitz-drenched brands maintained by fraud and advanced by uncompromising litigiousness and occasional physical aggression against critics.
Hubbard died in 1986, though perhaps only corporeally. He claimed he was Cecil Rhodes in a previous life and today may be inhabiting the soul of Donald Trump for all we know; at the least the two men bear some resemblance.
Both are defined by compulsive acquisitiveness. “MAKE MONEY. MAKE MONEY. MAKE MORE MONEY,” Hubbard wrote to underlings in an early Scientology “Governing Policy” document. “MAKE OTHER PEOPLE PRODUCE SO AS TO MAKE MONEY.”
Trump’s complaints of being unfairly audited by the IRS echo Scientology’s decades-long battle with the taxman; Hubbard was himself named an unindicted co-conspirator to a covert, 1973 Scientology operation dubbed “Snow White” aimed at infiltrating the agency.
Hubbard was also one of the great frauds of the 20th century. A man who lied about nearly every aspect of his biography and repeatedly bragged about imaginary feats of daring and physical bravery, his breathless, downright Trumpian testaments to his own genius and courage were mere preparation for the greatest lie of them all: that he had unlocked the secrets of the human mind in the form of “Dianetics,” the pseudoscience at the heart of Scientology. Hubbard used to claim that “auditing,” a process in which one holds onto electrically charged metal cans and talks about past life experiences, could raise people’s I.Q. by one point per hour.
In one of the many legal cases brought by the Church against ex-Scientologists or critics, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge deemed Hubbard “a pathological liar” driven by “egotism, greed, avarice, lust for power and vindictiveness and aggressiveness against persons perceived by him to be disloyal or hostile.” Sound familiar?
Much as Trump surrounds himself with sycophants and media supplicants, Scientologists venerate Hubbard as a sort of man-god; his portrait, which followers salute while shouting “hip hip hooray,” is ubiquitous in Church establishments.
One distinction: Whereas Trump’s a talker, Hubbard was a writer, one who started out as a pulp fiction novelist and churned out hundreds of works of science fiction, crime potboilers, and sham sociology and religious texts over the course of his long career. For both men, the overflow of words is a function of an insatiable appetite for money, power, and acclaim.
When not making up stories about themselves, both men lied about the world around them. Trump persists with his false claim of witnessing “thousands” of Muslims celebrating the destruction of the Twin Towers, one of countless fibs he has repeated effortlessly on the campaign trail. Hubbard, bitter at the psychiatric profession’s designation of Dianetics as crankery, declared psychiatry a devious plot to destroy humanity.
Trump also resembles Hubbard as a self-help guru who mostly helps himself. Like all religions, Scientology promises its followers spiritual illumination, the apex of which is the revelation that, 75 million years ago, a galactic warlord named Xenu planted the bodies of billions of aliens around the Earth’s volcanoes and detonated them with hydrogen bombs. The immortal spirits of these beings now adhere to humans in the form of “Thetans” that one can only release with the help of Scientology teachings.
Trump’s Art of the Deal is to Trumpism what Hubbard’s Dianetics is to Scientology: a load of bullshit pretending to teach you how to fix yourself, just replacing the new-age homilies with odes to avarice.
What distinguishes Scientology from most other organized religions is—still more shades of Donald—its unambiguously transactional relationship with adherents. In exchange for moving up its ladder of enlightenment known as “The Bridge to Total Freedom,” Scientologists pony up ever-increasing amounts of money to the Church, which often pressures them into maxing out credit cards, taking on loans they cannot afford, or driving themselves into bankruptcy.
The most succinct and accurate description of Scientology remains that offered by investigative journalist Richard Behar in his 1991 Time magazine investigation, “The Thriving Cult of Greed and Power.” Scientology, Behar wrote, is a “hugely profitable global racket that survives by intimidating members and critics in a Mafia-like manner.”
For Trump and Hubbard respectively, politics and religion are extensions of business empires. Trump University, the now-defunct branch of the many-tentacled Trump Organization that most clearly resembles the Scientology swindle, preyed upon unsuspecting consumers by guaranteeing them future riches in return for the money they handed over now. Today, Trump University, (which, despite its name, was never an accredited educational institution), is the subject of a class action lawsuit in three states; the New York State Attorney General has condemned it as a “bait-and-switch scheme.” A recent New York Times story revealed how instructors pressured students to turn in positive evaluations, much like how Scientology brainwashes and intimidates its own followers. “The surveys themselves were a central component of a business model that, according to lawsuits and investigators, deceived consumers into handing over thousands of dollars with tantalizing promises of riches,” the Times reports.
Hubbard and Trump—camp figures to the core—also share a chintzy aesthetic. Scientology videos, promotional materials and edifices all share a grotesquely ersatz style that’s been described as a pastiche of an Ikea catalog with a “romanticized nineteenth-century English countryside.” This is eerily similar, in tastelessness if not actual design, to Trump’s gaudy and soulless properties. Visiting Trump’s New York penthouse apartment a decade ago, Daily Beast founding editor Tina Brown memorably noted its “Ba’ath Party décor.”
Most ominous is the connection between the two men’s misogyny, racism, authoritarianism and the physical violence encouraged by their organizations.
“A society in which women are taught anything but the management of a family, the care of men, and the creation of the future generation is a society which is on its way out,” the (like Trump) thrice-married Hubbard wrote in his Scientology: A New Slant on Life.
For several months in 1966, inspired by his belief that he was the reincarnation of imperialist Cecil Rhodes, Hubbard traipsed around Rhodes’s eponymous, white-ruled country, posing as a “millionaire financier.” Hubbard was also an admirer of the apartheid government in neighboring South Africa, and his writings from the time are full of racist ramblings. The following observation characteristic of the whole ignoble oeuvre: “The Zulu is only outside the bars of a madhouse because there are no madhouses provided by his tribe.”
Trump, like Hubbard, brooks no dissent within his organization, or of it.
“If attacked on some vulnerable point by anyone or anything or any organization, always find or manufacture enough threat against them to cause them to sue for peace. Peace is bought with an exchange of advantage, so make the advantage and then settle. Don’t ever defend. Always attack. Don’t ever do nothing. Unexpected attacks in the rear of the enemy’s front ranks work best.”
That’s Hubbard, articulating a callous philosophy the two men share. Scientology for decades operated under his ruthless “Fair Game” doctrine, which declared that church critics “May be deprived of property or injured by any means by any Scientologist without any discipline of the Scientologist. May be tricked, sued or lied to or destroyed.”
Trump, meantime, day dreams out loud about creating a federal slander law as president “so when The New York Times writes a hit piece, which is a total disgrace, or when The Washington Post, which is there for other reasons, writes a hit piece, we can sue them and win money instead of having no chance of winning because they’re totally protected… We’re going to open up libel laws and we’re going to have people sue you like you’ve never got sued before.”
Over its decades-long existence, countless ex-Scientologists have come forth to recount horrifying tales of mental and physical abuse, imprisonment and torture at the hands of church officials, many of them recounted in a landmark Tampa Bay Times series and in New Yorker writer Lawrence Wright’s recent book Going Clear. The Trump organization’s shameful treatment of Michelle Fields, the former Breitbart reporter manhandled by campaign manager Corey Lewandowski and who then saw her reputation dragged through the mud by Trump and his acolytes, was ripped straight from the gaslighting playbook of Scientology.
Trump’s Manichean worldview, in which everyone who criticizes him is an evil “loser” and everyone who praises him is a “terrific” “winner,” calls to mind Hubbard’s personal vindictiveness towards Scientology’s detractors, whom he labeled “suppressive persons.”
But the greatest similarity between these two egotistical, vamping monsters is that they have both tried to perpetrate a giant scam. With any hope, the American people will laugh away Donald Trump’s nightmare vision of the world as soundly—and with as much humor—as they have the science fiction space opera spewed by Scientology’s “Bare-Faced Messiah.”