Remember the “cult of Obama”? Of course you do. They carried on about it nonstop.
Jerome Corsi, the “investigative reporter” whose current fan-fiction obsession is the CIA’s “plot” to assassinate Donald Trump, wrote a book called Obama Nation: Leftist Politics and the Cult of Personality (get the joke in the title? Say it fast a couple times). This came out in 2008, before Barack Obama was even in possession of the full power and majesty of the presidency to brainwash the defenseless masses.
Corsi would have many followers and imitators over the next eight years proclaiming that the relationship between Obama and his followers was not merely that of politician and admirers but of Dear Leader and sycophantic cult members. The argument was a stool with three legs.
The first was the presumption that Obama was an intellectual lightweight—that no rational person could possibly be drawn to him for reasons of substance, so it had to be because of bread and circuses (in his case, because he was so “clean and articulate,” as someone once said, and talked so pretty).
The second leg was the argument that Obama was given to a kind of authoritarian leadership style that required total faith in and subservience to him—this was coded within the attacks on him as un-American, that he did not accept our norms and customs and institutions.
The third leg of the stool had to do not with Obama but with his followers—that they were unthinking sheep who were thrilled to give their collective will over to the great man.
Gee. A leader who’s light on substance but has strong authoritarian tendencies, and followers whose loyalty is blind and complete. That does have a familiar ring to it, all right, but it’s not Obama that it describes.
Now that retiring Tennessee GOP Senator Bob Corker has dropped the c-word on us (“it's not a good place for any party to have a cult-like situation as it relates to a president that happens to be purportedly of the same party”), we see that some others have gone into umbrage mode. Jim Lankford, a senator of whom I’m like 97.62 percent sure you’ve never heard (quick, what state?) stormed the beach on Trump’s behalf. Donnie One Scoop—that’s Jr., as opposed to his father Donnie Two Scoops—called Corker’s remark “ridiculous.”
People can explain phenomena they observe based only on their lived experience and the knowledge and biases in their heads. In other words, if you live in a place where it never rains, and you wake up one morning to see the ground and sidewalks soaking wet, you will probably think that someone spent all night dumping buckets of water in front of your house. You won’t think it rained, because rain isn’t in your frame of reference.
I submit to you that this kind of thinking was at work when right-wingers tried to explain the phenomenon of Obama. In real life, the Obama phenomenon was a very smart and yes, very inspiring man whose victory would point the country in a new and desired direction and in the bargain would offer us some measure of historical and racial redemption.
But right-wingers couldn’t see him as smart or inspiring, and of course they couldn’t care less about racial redemption (or were indeed hostile to the idea). So they had to come up with another reason. The reason they came up with was cult. This was the only possible explanation for it all—for all that water on the ground.
And I submit to you further that the fact that they came up with cult is very revealing about them: They came up with cult because cult is how minds like those of Jerome Corsi, Harvard PhD, and all those other people think. The right-wing mind is an authoritarian mind. Not the conservative mind; there are conservatives who, while wrong about the world, are nevertheless good and serious people. I mean the right-wing mind: The Corsis of the world, and way, way, way too much of the Republican base.
And now we turn to the event that precipitated Corker’s remark, Congressman Mark Sanford’s defeat Tuesday in South Carolina’s GOP primary. He didn’t lose because he couldn’t get that new drainage pipe built to Kiawah Island. He lost because he made about three criticisms of Trump. And because his opponent made those criticisms the issue.
Sanford’s defeat sends the clear signal to Republicans everywhere, if it wasn’t clear enough already: You so much as utter a criticism of Trump, and you’re cooked. These people won’t be confused for a MENSA convention, but one thing they’re plenty smart about is how to get reelected. And when they see something like what happened to Sanford, they get the point fast.
But wasn’t it the same on the Democratic side, you ask? Are you kidding me? In mid-June 2010, Obama’s Gallup approval number was better than Trump’s is now, 47 to 42 percent. So if anything all those culty Democrats should have been swearing loyalty oaths to Obama that would make today’s Republicans look like conspirators in some kind of Gunpowder Plot, right?
Well, think back. A number of Democrats were running away from Obama like Olympic sprinters fleeing a fire. Indiana Senator Joe Donnelly said, “I don’t work for” the “Washington crowd.” Several Democrats boasted that they voted against Obama budgets. Even senators from friendly states like Colorado’s Michael Bennet said they didn’t want Obama campaigning for them. And that was the year when West Virginia’s Joe Manchin famously picked up his shotgun and took aim at the cap and trade bill.
What’s more cult-like? That, or what happened to Sanford? That, or a president of the United States making truly sickening statements like saying the world’s most murderous, thuggish dictator “loves his people” and only wants the best for them (except the 100,000 or so in prison and the ones who’ve died already from starvation), and members of his party hardly making a peep? That, or an administration that takes babies out of mothers’ arms, including (what does this sound like?) telling them the children are just going for baths, and Republicans mostly just acting as if it were another day at the office?
I see Paul Ryan finally said he’s not comfortable with babies being taken from their mothers. Well hoop de do. He and Corker and Jeff Flake, who are all so brave they’re headed back home (or to K Street to make millions of dollars from whatever remains of the Trump presidency), aren’t going to matter soon anyway. They have been, and have let themselves be, steamrolled.
If only we weren’t subjects in this experiment, it would be fascinating to behold in a perverse sociological way. No American political party has ever descended into authoritarianism. The Republican Party now undeniably is somewhere along that road.
How low can it go? If they stop at cult, we’ll be lucky.