Election day today will be a good, though not perfect, test of the size of the Trump cult. Since Trump is not on the ballot, it will not be a direct test but since the Republican party has almost unanimously capitulated to him and even shown a pretty disgusting level of obsequiousness towards him (Ted Cruz being the perfect example), any Republican candidate for any office is seen as a surrogate for Trump. The old adage that all politics is local does not apply in this election.
Frankly, I am not hopeful that this election will be a repudiation of Trumpism. It is true that some people who were Trump supporters have drifted away but I think that others will have signed on to him. Whatever else you might say about him, he has the uncanny ability to appeal to the primal fears and prejudices of a large number of people and transform that into love for him as a person, and that is the true mark of a dangerous demagogue.
Reporter Ed Pilkington went to five Trump rallies in eight days to speak with Trump fans and his report sheds a disturbing light on how the cult mind works.
Trump uses the word “love” repeatedly. He loves Montanans, he tells them. Such “loyal, hardworking, incredible patriots”. Later in the speech, he uses “love” in reference to the air hangar where the rally is held, the people of Maine, his first lady, his hair, a couple of local Congress members and hunting and guns.
His supporters repay his love – with interest. They begin forming a line well before dawn that by midday snakes around a giant field under the state’s legendary big sky. The procession is ablaze with red Make America Great Again hats and national flags draped over shoulders amid a festive mood not unlike a carnival.
The president entices his followers to believe he is lavishing his love on them. But it works both ways: he’s also drawing on their love. The rally is his charging station, the place he goes to refuel his ego and his zealotry.
But those events still lie in the future. Tonight in Wisconsin, the crowd are focused on only one thing – hearing their leader. It includes Steve Spaeth (no relation), 40, who runs a home exteriors company in West Bend. I ask him who he regards as his political enemies, and whether “hate” is too strong a word.
“Not at all,” he says. “I have a deep and absolute disgust for these human beings.”
He rattles off CNN, Soros, Clinton, Waters, Booker, “Pocahontas” AKA Elizabeth Warren, and others.
Why do you hate them?
“They want to turn America into a socialistic country. It’s disgusting.”
I ask Spaeth how far he is prepared to take his hatred. In reply, he tells a story. The other day he talked to his sister, who is liberal and votes Democratic. He said to her: “If there is a civil war in this country and you were on the wrong side, I would have no problem shooting you in the face.”
You must be joking, I say.
“No I am not. I love my sister, we get on great. But she has to know how passionate I am about our president.”
Folks, look at the Trump cult. It is not a pretty sight.