Donald Trump's paradoxical cult of personality

The result is a disturbing kind of cult of personality. I asked earlier about precedents for unpleasant personalities as the basis of a cult. Well, consider the original editions of the “cult of personality,” the ones built up around Stalin and Mao. Or more recently, the one built around Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez. All of these men had a certain blustering charisma, much like The Donald, but they could be even more abrasive, boastful, thoughtless, insulting, and crude. And each benefited from the same paradox: the less he adhered to any standards of responsible behavior the more he thrilled his true believers with what a tough guy he was, with how much he was supposedly a strong leader who would face down the capitalist running dog imperialist fascists and deliver for “the people.”

It seems strange that this kind of banana republic cult of personality would find purchase in a republican system (republican with either a small “r” or a big one), but maybe that’s not such an impenetrable paradox. Stable systems of representative government are notoriously slow and resistant to radical change. You can elect a lot of new people to Congress, as insurgents on the right have done in recent years, but the old party leadership stubbornly clings to their positions, and if the last winner of a presidential election is opposed to your agenda, then congressional leaders can’t get much done even if they try. Changing the political system is patient work that takes decades, and most of it is done, not by electing the “right guy” in a single election, but by promoting the right ideas to your fellow citizens and actually convincing people, which is really annoying work.

What doesn’t get the job done is, from my experience, the favorite activity of Donald Trump’s supporters: insulting people on the Internet. So no wonder they want to short-circuit the system and indulge the fantasy that they can push through their agenda, whatever it is, just by electing a guy who will insult people on a bigger scale.

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