Politics: The Cults We Will Always Have With Us

Trump MAGA rally in Greenville (4)In an October 6 interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, 2016 presidential also-ran Hillary Clinton doubled down on her critique of the voters who subsequently rejected her in favor of Donald Trump.

Back then,  half of them were “deplorables” — “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic” — but the other half were, at least potentially, wise and morally upright enough to vote for her instead of for him.

Now, she suggests that there needs to be a “formal deprogramming of the cult members” — the “MAGA extremists” who remain supportive of Trump as he seeks a 2024 comeback.

Watching the interview, I kept waiting for the camera to pan to a trash can full of empty burn ointment tubes next to Clinton’s chair.

She’s clearly never gotten over the fact that as of 2016 she was the single most hated and distrusted national figure in American politics, so unconvincing as a candidate and backed by such a poorly run campaign that she couldn’t even beat a notorious  con artist, known by all as a p***y-grabbing philanderer and nearing the end of his run as a B-list reality TV celebrity.

It has to be someone else’s fault. On any given day the blame may fall on THOSE DEPLORABLES, or THEM RUSSIANS, or someone else but must never, ever, ever fall on Hillary Clinton.

That schtick got old and tired years ago. Her party would be better off if she sat down and shut up instead of continuing to sit down for whiny, self-serving interviews.

Which is not to deny that she has a point. If you’re a Republican who’s still with Trump after all this time, you clearly either really, really, really like losing — his “leadership” of the GOP cost it the 2018 midterms, the 2020 presidential election, and the prospective 2022 “red wave,” and may very well lose it the 2024 presidential election — or you’re a Kool-Aid-chugging devotee trapped in a single individual’s cult of personality.

But “formal deprogramming” does sound awfully authoritarian and dystopian, especially if we ignore her elaboration on the process, the simplistic  “we have to defeat him.”

As political cults go, MAGA differs from most only in that it’s so centered on Trump’s person. That’s problematic (plug the term “fuhrerprinzip” into any search engine for more information), but it’s also a self-solving problem. While it will take time for “Trumpism” to disappear completely, its dissolution begins with his departure from the political stage.

American political cultism usually breaks down by party — remember “Vote Blue, No Matter Who?” — or clusters around the party best able to attractively package the world’s perennial champion death cult, nationalism, for the moment.

So long as we abide politics, we suffer cults. I’m not sure the cult of Trump is really worse than the others.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.


RFK Jr.: “I See!” Say the Blind Men

Photo by Gage Skidmore. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.
Photo by Gage Skidmore. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

When Robert F. Kennedy Jr. announced his candidacy for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination on April 19, the party and incumbent president Joe Biden mostly pretended to not even notice.

Aside from a few lazy (but not always meritless) hit pieces on his positions (especially where vaccines are concerned) and public gaffes (COVID-19 something something Jews something) it mostly came down in implementation to a false belief we most often attribute to small children: If you can’t see it, it can’t see you, so try very hard not to see it.

That policy extended even to denying Secret Service protection to RFK Jr. — whose uncle and father were both assassinated in the 1960s —  even after what looked an awful lot like an assassination attempt in mid-September.

Republicans mostly assumed his campaign would weaken Biden and the Democrats next November, at least to the extent that he could get any attention.

But things change, and they’re changing now. A PAC associated with RFK Jr.’s campaign is polling on his possible strength as an independent, the New York Times reports that he met with the chair of the Libertarian Party’s national committee in July, and the candidate himself has scheduled an event with an “historic announcement” for October 9 in Philadelphia.

Suddenly, his visibility registers with both “major party” establishments as an emergency. As an independent or third party candidate, he’s a potential “spoiler” who may “cost” either Joe Biden or Donald Trump the 2024 presidential election.

I’m unsympathetic to “spoiler” whining in general, for two reasons.

First, your vote belongs to you, not to Joe Biden or Donald Trump. It’s yours until you cast it for someone, and you owe it to no one.

Second, additional candidates making it harder on either or both of the “Big Two” is a feature, not a bug. When there are only two candidates, they each campaign to their respective “bases” while trying to swing a tiny sliver of “swing voters” who may not like either candidate very much but are constrained to pick one. A third option (or more) makes them work harder to EARN votes instead of just receiving them by default.

Both Democrats and Republicans are suddenly scared to death that RFK Jr. will knock down 5-10% of the vote in key states, upsetting the electoral vote apple cart. Good — they should be scared, and having them scared is better for all of us.

In my view, the Republicans should be more worried than the Democrats. RFK Jr.’s views on the COVID-19 lockdowns and vaccine mandates are closer to those of Trump’s “base” than Trump’s actions as president were, and a significant percentage of that “base” may be single-issue voters in 2024.

On the other hand, if there’s any way for Biden to lose support from Democratic voters, it’s for someone named “Kennedy” to get assassinated on the campaign trail after the administration leaves him unprotected by the Secret Service.

Either way, while I do not support RFK Jr.’s candidacy, I think it’s good for America.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.


The Exit from Amazon is a Double-Click Away

Puck’s J.S. Pughe envisioned government shining a light on trusts, when its suppression of price signals is what keeps them in the dark. Public domain.

Does the author of Little Brother love Big Brother?

Probably not. Still, the Cory Doctorow calling for “restoring the enforcement program of the federal government” (“The Second-Best Time to Slay Amazon is Now,” The New York Times, September 29) seems to have forgotten what he learned … and taught.

Little Brother is one of Doctorow’s sci-fi novels, but its grassroots uprising against the Department of Homeland Security was modeled after, and unashamedly presented as a role model for, real-life pushback to the post-9/11 surveillance state. Its introduction includes nonfictional denunciations of the NSA and TSA. Yet Doctorow entrusts the DOJ to fight the threat of two-day shipping rather than terrorism.

Doctorow does concede that Amazon profits from “vast sums in subsidies from state and local governments,” though the prolific documenter of intellectual property abuse misses the chance to highlight its indirect subsidy. Apple paid to license Amazon’s “1-Click” checkout patent, sparing iTunes customers a redundant second mouse mash, after Barnes & Noble not doing so for its website got them sued.

Doctorow sees cyberspace, unmoored from “constraints of empires grounded in physical goods,” as ripe for canny cornering. A decade ago, Times contributor Adam Davidson failed to foresee the rise of streaming services that avoided “the cost of digging up roads and sidewalks and hiring a fleet of technicians to draw wire” in building alternatives to cable television.

The remainder of Doctorow’s account of Amazon’s rise stresses sheer monetary muscle, using “seemingly bottomless coffers” to “extinguish any upstart that dared to compete with it,” aided by Ronald Reagan’s replacement of a “suspicion of corporate power” with deregulation of the Progressive Era’s antitrust regime.

In fact, as historian Gabriel Kolko explained in The Triumph of Conservatism, “the major demands of politically oriented big businessmen” were what “gave progressivism its essential character.” Doctorow calls for Joe Biden to reverse the “decline since the Carter administration” of trust-busting. Reagan actually halted the steps towards rolling back regulations that entrenched incumbent industries spearheaded by the previous president and assisted by Biden in Congress. Even the most over-the-top pro-finance pop culture of Reagan’s terms, like the cinematic comedies Trading Places and The Secret of My Succe$s, championed the leeway for nimble outsiders to outpace the old-money establishment.

The Doctorow who writes that “sellers became increasingly reliant on Amazon to display and deliver their goods” over the first decades of the 2000s is the same one who garners publicity, and sales, by providing free downloads of books such as Little Brother.

On the consumer side, Amazon’s “captive base of readers” has an open door. Prime’s bountiful buffet of services may seem unbeatable, but I let my subscription lapse when it just didn’t offer enough for the price, and the time required to navigate its disorganized offerings, that couldn’t be obtained elsewhere. Removing the ability to play album tracks in order was the last straw.

The federal government Doctorow champions as the opponent of Amazon’s “calcified edifice of expensively purchased pro-monopoly precedent” is a far more extensive, and costly, monopolist.

New Yorker Joel Schlosberg is a senior news analyst at The William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism.


  1. “The Exit from Amazon is a Double-Click Away” by Joel Schlosberg, CounterPunch, October 4, 2023
  2. “The Exit from Amazon is a Double-Click Away” by Thomas L. Knapp [sic], The Newton Kansan, October 6, 2023