Quick… name something you believe in. Don’t tell me! (I know you can’t, this is a blog.)
Now, this thing you believe in, whether it’s a person, a being, a concept, an object, or whatever, how strongly do you believe in it? Are you certain it exists? Is there any way someone could convince you to stop believing in it?
Depending on how seriously you’re taking this little quiz, your answers could range from “my lucky socks” to “God.” We all have lots of things we believe in, some of them critical to our personality and philosophy and some that are more trivial.
Most of us have at least one sports team we don’t just root for, but believe in. For many Detroiters, it’s the Lions. Despite the fact that they’ve let us down nearly constantly for over fifty years, we still somehow believe in them. Our continued devotion to this inept football team, who defy the odds year after year to remain at best mediocre and at worst miserable, goes well beyond just being a casual fan. The Lions are part of us, they’re in our blood. We can criticize them (and we do, endlessly) but outsiders aren’t allowed to. An insult from a Bears or Packers fan is justification for a fight.
Some of our beliefs are in brands. Advertising has a lot to do with that, but we also tend to find things we like and stick with them. That’s a form of belief, too. I’ve bought nothing but Fords for at least twenty-five years (with one exception – a Saturn – that I blame my wife for, though it wasn’t a bad little car, really). Why would I do that? My mom’s family all worked for Oldsmobile and I grew up in Pontiac so I should be a GM guy, right? But I bought a used Taurus in 1997 and it was the best car I’d ever owned, and kept on buying Fords because I honestly never had any problems with any of them. I’m sure GM, FiatChrysler, and other automakers make good vehicles, but I believe in Ford. My belief is more of a habit, though, and less devotional. Some people, like the ones who have the little pictures of Calvin (from Calvin and Hobbes) peeing on another truck maker’s logo, are a bit more intense. Like the Lions, you’d best not disparage their truck brand or you might be taking it outside.
I wonder, pretty much daily, how anyone could stick with Trump after the past four years. It’s obvious to me that he’s been conning people, that he suffers from an inability to care about anyone but himself, that he’s a compulsive liar, especially when the truth puts him in a bad light. I’m not even sure that he knows what’s real, or that it matters to him at all. Trump’s reality is that he’s a winner, he always wins, bigger than anyone else that’s even tried to do what he’s done, and anything that contradicts that is fake news, fraud, rigged, a conspiracy against The Donald.
For many reasons, people bought into that – hard. They’ve devoted time and money, they set up sign and flag shrines, they became… believers. Trumpism has moved beyond mere fandom to religious-level faith. And like other deeply-held beliefs, it’s damn hard – if not impossible – to get disciples to see that the object of their belief isn’t what he seemed to be. Logic and facts mean nothing. There is no appeal to reason, because faith isn’t reasonable or rational. It just is.
A set of strongly held and shared beliefs is the basis of a cult, not just in the pejorative sense of that word (Merriam-Webster’s first definition, like the Branch Davidians or the Manson Family) but also in the mainstream sense (the third definition, “a system of religious beliefs and ritual; also : its body of adherents”). By that definition, Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, and every other conventional religion are cults. There’s very little factual proof; it just is. And it really depends on your point of view. One person’s cult is another’s religion, and vice versa.
If we’re waiting for Trump’s supporters to come to their senses, I have bad news: They’re not going to, at least not any time soon. And trying to convince them with facts isn’t helpful, either. They have too much invested in him and the things they think he stands for: some of it motivated by racism and xenophobia, certainly, but also by a more simple fear that people like them are under siege by outsiders, marauding invaders, who are going to dilute their authority and their rightful power. There’s too much at stake for them, politically, financially, and, frankly, spiritually, for them to easily change their minds.
Over time, their fervor may start to fade. But as you can see from the history of Detroit Lions fans, it may take generations to happen.