On September, 15, 2020, during a televised town hall, President Donald Trump stated that the best way to defeat Covid-19 is to establish "herd mentality." He probably meant to say “herd immunity” but couldn’t think of the
words. Looking at his history, “herd mentality” is clearly what he most
For his entire career Trump has expected those who follow him to fall in line, regardless of the validity of his views or statements. His inability to listen and work with others has led to a career plagued by failures and bankruptcies. Only those willing to put aside their ideas of what is right and wrong or what is true and false have earned themselves a place on his team.
Trump creates a false narrative about what is real that his followers believe while ignoring his moral and leadership shortcomings. America actually is worse off under his watch. These include the environment, education, the economy and health. Wildfires and floods have increased due to climate change denial. Children’s test scores have declined. Trump has presided over the worst job losses since the Great Depression. He has ignored a pandemic that rages out of control, saying that it will go away by itself, while going to court to remove insurance from those with preexisting conditions.
Those who refuse to open their eyes to his failures and its effect on their lives have put him on a pedestal. They don’t notice that many of his views, which vary wildly from day to day, have no relationship to reality. His believers have stopped thinking for themselves as they have fallen under his spell.
The basis of his authoritarian views is victimization. He points to an imaginary once-perfect society that now is overcome by subversive forces. He has convinced his followers that he alone can return them to a time of lost innocence that was taken away by an imagined “Left” of Democrats and socialists who are trying to steal Americans’ freedoms.
People who think their leader can do no wrong will do or say anything they are told. Like all authoritarian leaders, many of whom rule under the false banner of democracy, Trump expects – and gets – absolute acquiesce from his followers, including many members of Congress, whose only belief system is to support whatever he says or does. The clear evidence that we have entered cult territory is that his followers cannot rationally discuss his shortcomings as we have done with any president.
Even many Christian Evangelicals are fed up. In a new book, The Spiritual Danger of Donald Trump, thirty Christian leaders criticize Trump’s stance on “justice, truth, and moral integrity.”
Democracy is in decline in many places because of its challenges. It demands that people think and come to their own conclusions about what is right and who can lead us in that direction. It is easier for many people to follow someone who tells them what to think as they erect a monument to a false god whom they believe can do no wrong.
Long-term solutions to problems in a democracy – a term from the Ancient Greek that means “government by the people” – require long-term thinking and problem-solving. The last four years have been a popularity contest rather than an effort to move our country forward.
Trump has created an alternative belief system among his followers that deviates from the ethical norms of our society and from the moral and scientific basis of democracy itself. Like lemmings, his followers would follow him blindly into the sea.
Herd mentality and democratic mentality cannot exist side by side. One must eventually yield. Which one shall we choose?
Steve Zolno is the author of three books about democracy, the latest being Truth and Democracy (May, 2020). He can be reached at thefutureofdemocracy.net