When you think of cults, you likely think of enigmatic leaders like Charles Manson, who convinced a group of women to kill for him. It’s true that President Donald Trump has done nothing as extreme as that, but one expert says the 45th president has all the traditional traits of a cult leader.
Salon published a conversation with Steven Hassan, author of the books Combating Cult Mind Control and Freedom of Mind: Helping Loved Ones Leave Controlling People, Cults, and Beliefs. In the interview, Hassan stated that Trump “fits the stereotypical profile of a cult leader.” He added that Trump’s followers and their willingness to stand by the president no matter what also mirrored the traits of cult members.
Hassan also explained that dishonesty and narcissism are both traits of cult leaders. And Trump is notorious for both of these characteristics. In December, the Washington Post reported that the president told nearly 2,000 lies during 2017.
But Hassan added that many cult leaders grew up in cults themselves. Does Trump still fit this mold? According to Politico, Trump was raised in a church run by Norman Vincent Peale, a pastor who preached boundless self-confidence; Peale discouraged his followers from any kind of negative thinking, and doubt of any kind was considered a sin. Critics described Peale as a con man and his church as a cult, claiming that his teachings deterred followers from thinking critically.
The interview in Salon is not the first time that Trump has been likened to a cult leader. In November 2017, author Reza Aslan wrote in a Los Angeles Times op-ed that Trump’s elevation to prophet-like status among his followers was another sign of the president’s shared traits with cult leaders.
Trump may not be a literal cult leader like Charles Manson or Jim Jones, but the fact that he has so much in common with these men is terrifying. Because our president has these manipulative characteristics, it’s crucial that we continue to call out misinformation whenever we see it.