Beware the cult of personality

Why Conservatives Won’t Dance to the ‘Dear Leader Donald Trump’ Tune

We believe you should respect your leaders and pray for them—but not to them.

Matt Lewis, The Daily Beast, 05.31.17 12:08 AM ET

In a statement that might have made Kim Jong Un blush, White House spokesperson Hope Hicks extolled the virtues of President Donald Trump in a statement to The Washington Post this week.

“President Trump has a magnetic personality and exudes positive energy, which is infectious to those around him.”

She continued: “He has an unparalleled ability to communicate with people, whether he is speaking to a room of three or an arena of 30,000.”

But wait. There’s more. “He is brilliant with a great sense of humor,” said Hicks, “and an amazing ability to make people feel special and aspire to be more than even they thought possible.”

More than one observer on Twitter noted the resemblance to “Dear Leader” propaganda from North Korea. They have a point. According to biographers, the late Kim Jong Il’s birth was “foretold by a swallow and heralded by a double rainbow. When he was born, a new star appeared in the night sky.”

Like Trump, he was also a terrific golf player.

Of course, Hicks’s obsequious rhetoric is not an anomaly. It comes on the heels of a article titled “Trumping Your Life” which focuses on the “ways you can change your life by following the example of President Trump.” In that same column, the author—“a psychiatrist and member of the Fox News Medical A-Team”—promises us that following the example of Donald Trump “will significantly improve your existence.”

Hear that: It won’t make you a better politician, lover, or businessman. Patterning your life on the maxims of Donald Trump will make you a better person.

This proclamation has almost religious overtones. How long before these people start proselytizing the good news door-to-door, asking, “Do you have a personal relationship with Donald Trump?”

This fawning praise isn’t limited to the partisans in the White House or at Fox News. Over at National Review, Dennis Prager has authored a controversial column criticizing “Never-Trumpers” for not falling in line. He describes Trump as “our general” and theorizes that conservatives who oppose Trump “do not believe that America is engaged in a civil war, with the survival of America as we know it at stake.”

He concludes, “I beg them: Please report for duty.”

In fairness, there’s a lot of truth to Prager’s theory. Yes, a common denominator for Trump backers might be a belief in an apocalyptic future—lacking their Trumpian savior, of course. Likewise, Never Trumpers did not see a Trump loss as the end of America. But that is only one of the differences that separate the pro-Trump conservatives from the Never Trumpers.

Trump supporters, it seems to me, are more disposed to prize authoritarian traits like loyalty and hierarchy. For these Trump apologists, the analogies never end. He is our general. Sometimes he’s our daddy. Sometimes he’s our CEO. Whether it’s paternalistic, militaristic, or capitalistic, there are numerous ways to be subservient to him. Pick your favorite!

Conservatives who are viscerally turned off by the Trump cult of personality prize things like the rule of law and balance of powers. Part of what this means is that the idea of a ruling class repels us. We believe the maxim that absolute power corrupts absolutely, and we instead celebrate the system and institutions that check the accumulation of power. We see dissent as patriotic. We see the messianic impulse of some Americans as a very dangerous tendency. We believe that it’s not healthy to put politicians on a pedestal. We believe you should respect your leaders and pray for them—but not to them.

I’ll confess that sometimes skepticism gets mixed up with cynicism. There is also sometimes a smugness associated with being a rebellious contrarian. Most of us small-r republicans find sycophants and brown-nosers repulsive.

Still, it’s one thing to suck up to your boss at the office. It’s another thing entirely to suck up to a president. Part of the reason for this is that Trump’s team views him as the boss—as the CEO of the country. This is a destructive tendency. It also undermines the system America’s Founding Fathers put in place to keep any one person from gaining too much power.

The people who suck up to him might work for Trump, but we do not. In fact, he works for us. And we shouldn’t ever let him forget it.

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