Trump’s love letters to MAGA: Campaign emails forge a cult bond

Gun Rights

When I think about Donald Trump, I usually visualize Larry ‘Lonesome’ Rhodes, Andy Griffith’s character in Elia Kazan’s 1957 film “A Face in the Crowd.” Rhodes is a master manipulator, the embodiment of the wrongness of mass media and consumerism, and a fake populist everyman.

But Donald Trump is also many other things. Like other fascist leaders, demagogues, and “great men of history” he is a symbol more than a human being. For his MAGA people and other followers, Trump is a messiah. He is a force for vengeance and destruction. And as I have explained before, he is also their teacher, preacher, father figure and a type of lover.

When I think of the shapeshifter Janus faced Trump now, I see him more like Robert Mitchum in the iconic role as Rev. Harry Powell, with his knuckles tattooed with the words love and hate, in Charles Laughton’s 1955 film “Night of the Hunter.” As proof of Trump’s so-called love for his MAGA people, he is sending out wave after wave of fundraising emails where he literally tells them, repeatedly and in different ways, how much he “loves” them.

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In this recent fundraising email, which is quite phallic and psychosexual, Trump speaks about how he somehow felt the MAGA love grow “ten times stronger!”:

THIS IS PRESIDENT TRUMP:

Now is the time to help me SAVE AMERICA and chip in

I’LL ALWAYS LOVE YOU!

Has Biden ever told you that?

NOPE! NEVER!

I’ll always love you because you never stopped loving me.

Through the hoaxes, the Witch Hunts, the arrests, YOU STUCK BY MY SIDE!

Even when they were taking my mugshot, I FELT YOUR LOVE GROW TEN TIMES STRONGER!

True MAGA Patriots like you are the only reason I’m still standing.

I’ve just got one thing to say:

I’LL NEVER STOP FIGHTING FOR YOU.

I need you to take your support to the next level, and show every single Democrat that the MAGA movement is STRONG AND POWERFUL

SAVE AMERICA

Together we will MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!

May God bless you.

Here, Trump begins his fundraising email with a declaration of love for his MAGA people:

I will always love you…

Please read the letter I wrote last night!

Now is the time to help me SAVE AMERICA >

RESPOND TO TRUMP

You are truly a special Patriot, and I really mean that.

You are the only reason I’m still running for President!

They’ve thrown everything at me: Hoaxes, Witch Hunts, Impeachments, Indictments, Raids, and ARRESTS!

But you never left my side. NOT EVER!

So this letter goes out to every single member of the MAGA Movement…

I WILL NEVER SURRENDER!!!

Please respond to me whenever you can! I love reading what you True Trump Republicans have to say.

In this fundraising email, Trump is selling his MAGA people a picture of him to keep close to their hearts as he declares how he loves them so much because of their loyalty to him.

I WILL NEVER SURRENDER!

I know you won’t either.

So here is a signed poster from Donald J. Trump, the best President of all time!

And I want to give it to you for always supporting me through EVERYTHING, so claim yours right here right now

Now is the time to help me SAVE AMERICA and chip in

#1 Impeachments.

#2 Indictments.

#3 Arrests.

#4 Raids.

You never left my side, and I will always love you for that.

In this fundraising email Trump is showing his vulnerable side, and wants to make sure that the love he feels for his MAGA people is reciprocated:

Thank you for sticking by my side.

Thank you for never giving up.

THANK YOU FOR PLAYING THE MOST VITAL ROLE IN OUR MAGA MOVEMENT!

All of our success is thanks to supporters like you.

So from the bottom of my heart, THANK YOU!

Here’s my solemn promise to you:

I will NEVER SURRENDER, and together, we will MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!

If you feel the same way about me as I feel about you, I’d love to read a letter from YOU.

These “love” emails (of which there are many) are also a demand from Donald Trump – and a way for him to get the narcissistic fuel he desperately craves as an apparent malignant narcissist and megalomaniac with a god complex – for love and loyalty in return… and of course money.

Ultimately, Trump’s use of fake love is a way for him to manipulate his followers and their deep need for validation, meaning, affirmation, community, and belonging in a society where loneliness and social atomization are a public health emergency. As others have observed, Trump’s political rallies fulfill that function as a type of church tent revival, traveling roadshow carnival, and fascist family reunion and bacchanal. The Washington Post describes one such Trump rally in South Carolina:

A sea of red MAGA hats. Shirts with Trump’s mug shot. The Village People’s “Y.M.C.A.” blaring from the speakers.

For many of his supporters, going to a Trump rally is almost like going to a concert. In interviews, Trump voters often say they go to his rallies not only to see the former president speak but also for the atmosphere and community.

Trump can go off script during his rallies, but he has some go-to lines that draw loud cheers and raucous applause. Among those lines in Rock Hill were Trump’s vow to “not give one penny to any school that has a vaccine mandate or mask mandate” and his declaration that he “will keep men out of women’s sports.”

The crowd also broke into “USA” chants as Trump said, “We’re going to tell Crooked Joe Biden, ‘You’re fired, get out of here, you’re fired,’” and later when he falsely declared, They rigged the presidential election, and we’re not going to allow them to rig the presidential election of 2024.”

As he spoke, Trump gave shout-outs to his fans, such as the “Front Row Joes,” who are among his most hardcore rally attendees. He also nodded to his foes, mocking former congresswoman Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) and calling Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) a “disaster for the Republican Party.”

He deployed his favorite nicknames, winking to the crowd, “Don’t use the name birdbrain,” as he described his last Republican foe, former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, who dropped out last week after Super Tuesday. He went to great lengths to enunciate former president Barack Obama’s middle name: “I’m sure you haven’t heard of him, Barack Hussein Obama,” he said, drawing boos from the crowd.

Trump’s emotionally manipulative behavior (what is actually a form of emotional abuse and cruelty) is a defining feature of cult leaders and how they exercise undue influence and “mind control” over their “brainwashed” followers. In all, Trump’s love is not healthy or positive. It is a means for Trump to create a sense of collective identity, grievance, and loss of self for his MAGA supplicants where they see in him a type of parental figure and personal god to whom they subsume their individual agency and decision-making. In that dynamic, any offense or threat against Donald Trump is a personal threat and offense against them. As occurs in most other cults, the result of this “love” is almost always violence and other antisocial behavior. 

In his role as de facto cult leader, Trump is encouraging the hate, the negative version of love, through his speeches and other communications. In an example of the rhetorical strategy known as stochastic terrorism, Trump talks about revenge, retribution, and a final battle, and purging the country of the “human vermin” who have polluted “the blood” of America. For another example, in his fundraising emails, Trump addresses his followers as “friends” and then works them into a state of existential terror and dread (what social psychologists describe as “mortality salience” or” terror management”) about how the “evil” Democrats, the communists, socialists, “anti-Christians” and Muslims and black and brown “invaders” who are subhuman “animals” are a threat to “real Americans” i.e. White America and their families and communities. Moreover, Trump’s fundraising emails and other online communications alternate between messages of love and hate, friends, and enemies, as a way of creating a type of perpetual emotional imbalance that triggers anxiety and a lack of security and certainty. This in turn makes the MAGA people even more vulnerable to Trump’s and the other neofascists’ psychological conditioning. 

In a recent conversation with me here at Salon about his new book “What We’ve Become: Living and Dying in a Country of Arms,” Dr. Jonathan Metzl offered an example of this programming and emotional manipulation as seen with how Trump has positioned himself as a champion of “gun rights”:

Trump has positioned himself as the defender of a specific pro-gun ideology. Of course, it’s largely an act. Nobody’s taking away anybody’s guns right now, this is not a serious debate or discussion about the Second Amendment. But it’s politically savvy. Trump is telling his public that you get to keep your guns — which means your power and privilege. And by comparison, President Biden is arguing for regulations and restrictions…. If Trump wins the 2024 election, having large numbers of non-government actors who are armed and mobilized for him is going to change how people live in this country, and then you add the issue of the NRA’s influence on judges and courts. We will have moved well beyond background checks, and rapidly so.

At the Guardian, propaganda expert Peter Pomerantsev offers this insightful observation about the psychology of fascism, which speaks directly to how Donald Trump and his propagandists are emotionally training the MAGA people and other American neofascists:

Today’s propagandists play on the same needs. In a time of rapid economic, social and technological change it can be comforting to be part of a large, angry crowd. Online conspiracy theory communities are particularly effective at pulling together a sense of being part of a group with a secret knowledge and mission. Such media also give people a role to play in a confusing world: as a Proud Boy or a “patriot” storming the Capitol. Social media, where you are encouraged to label who you are, only exacerbates this performance. Meanwhile the allure of “strongmen” has never gone away. Whether you buy into the psychoanalytic theories, the grievance narratives work – from Trump’s crusade to Make America Great Again to Putin promising to get Russia back off its knees….

Think of the difference between the cult leader and the therapist. Both dig into people’s unspoken fears and needs. The cult leader, like the authoritarian propagandist, uses that insight to make people dependent on their power. The therapist helps them to become more empowered and self-aware.

Donald Trump and his agents are continuing to (further) radicalize their MAGA followers and other malign right-wing and neofascist actors to engage in acts of violence and mayhem against the Democrats and their other perceived enemies. In an under-reported recent example, the Republican Party held a fundraising event in Kansas where a mannequin of President Biden was punched and beaten by attendees. Predictably, the Republican Party in Kansas issued weak denials and excuses when the video was circulated online. This incitement to terrorism and other forms of violence did not take place in a “Third World” country or so-called banana republic where one’s political enemies are burnt in effigy (or far worse), but right here in the United States, which is supposedly one of the world’s leading democracies.

Attacking President Biden in effigy is part of a much larger pattern of behavior. Several days ago, Donald Trump sent out another email with threats of “bloodshed” — this time in an act of projection onto Biden and the so-called border crisis. Trump’s repeated use of language such as “bloodshed” reveals, again, the corrupt ex-president’s malevolent intent.

There will be blood. There has already been lots of blood spilled during the Trumopocene (never to be forgotten are the hundreds of thousands of people who died in the United States because of the Trump regime’s act of COVID democide). There will be more violence and blood in the months leading up to Election Day. Violence is one of the fascist’s greatest weapons and a defining feature of such politics. Based on his years of statements and behavior, if Donald Trump wins or loses the 2024 election such a bad outcome is almost a certainty.

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