The Trump Phenomenon is Explained by Crowd Psychology

In his book The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind, Gustave Le Bon said “the crowd demands a god before everything else.” This simple idea is the premise upon which all of Donald Trump’s political success has been built.

Le Bon writes that crowds are reactionary and easily influenced because in a state of togetherness (whether together physically or simply attached by shared emotions), individuals lose their ability to think independently, therefore becoming one body, often beholden to a singular power.

We don’t worship a multitude of false deities like our ancestors did, but we certainly have gods of our own. In the past, we would bow before marble statues, or follow the dictates of kings. Today, celebrities are our gods.

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Donald Trump arrived on the political scene with the most name recognition of any candidate. A worldwide celebrity, admired for his immense wealth, and his unique persona, Trump captured the imaginations of millions of people. A celebrity was running for president. A god was running for president.

Le Bon quotes Napoleon Bonaparte, who once told the Council of State:

“My policy is to govern men as the majority wants to be governed…It was by making myself Catholic that I won the war in the Vendee, by making myself Muslim that I established myself in Egypt, in making myself Ultramontane that I won minds in Italy. If I governed the Jewish people, I would rebuild Solomon’s temple.”

The above quote summarizes Trump’s style with frightening accuracy. For every day, Trump has a new position:

  • He went from being pro-amnesty in 2012 to anti-amnesty in 2015. Then, upon closer examination, it turned out his policy is simply touchback amnesty, by which he would deport illegal immigrants, then allow them right back into the United States.
  • He said women should be punished for having abortions, then immediately changed his mind after facing backlash.
  • He claims to be an advocate for free trade, but threatens 40 percent tariffs on imported goods.
  • He was adamantly in favor of the Libyan intervention in 2011, then claimed ignorance during the Houston GOP debate.
  • He was against more nuclear weapons, then said Japan and South Korea should have nukes.
  • He claims to be the most pro-Israel candidate, yet also says he’ll be neutral in a negotiation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
  • He said he’d order the military to obey him even if it broke the law, then retracted the statement the next day.

I could go on for days. The point is that whatever Trump says doesn’t matter because it’s not his words by which his followers are enchanted, it’s his persona. He’s their god, and therefore, what he says simply is, regardless of what he may have said a day, a week, or a month before.

As god does, so we do.

This has translated into violence and threats of violence from his supporters. As Trump continually encourages violent behavior at his rallies, and as he screams and points his stubby finger at a “rigged” system (except where he wins), his followers, who see him not as a man, but as a supreme leader, have followed suit, and taken the hint.

Reports are coming in from delegates in Colorado, Tennessee, and Indiana.

According to Times Free Press:

“State GOP Chairman Ryan Haynes on Saturday told The Tennessean there were even ‘death threats’ from Trump supporters in advance of the committee’s gathering. State GOP Executive Director Brent Leatherwood said one threat, which came over social media, ‘involved trying to hang people.'”

Indy Star reports:

“After expressing reservations about Donald Trump, some of Indiana’s delegates to the Republican national convention say they’ve received threatening messages from a few of the GOP front-runner’s supporters. The emails warn that the delegates are being watched and imply they could be targeted. Some send ominous wishes to delegates’ families.”

Colorado GOP officials have had their personal information, including phone numbers and addresses, put out on social media, according to Independent Journal.

Trump’s close friend, as well as the man who built his campaign, Roger Stone, told multiple outlets that he would give out the hotel rooms of the delegates in Cleveland, encouraging Trump supporters to find them.

This violent rhetoric and behavior can only be attributed to the cult-like following of a crowd who have given everything to a human deity.

In 2008, I thought we’d reached peak cult with Obama. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Trump is not only a vulgarian bully, he’s a dangerous cult leader, whose followers are so deeply dedicated that I fear violence in the near future.

We have one chance to stop him. If he reaches the necessary majority of delegates (let me repeat that: necessary majority) before the first ballot in Cleveland, our time is up. He will have legitimately won the nomination.

If this seems like a downer, it’s because it is. I’d like this to be a debate about policy, but it’s gone so much further than that. We need to be keenly aware that Trump isn’t just a candidate, he’s a god–and gods bring people to do things that men alone cannot dare imagine.

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