True Believers…

In 1951 Eric Hoffer, a San Francisco longshoreman, wrote The True Believer, one of the seminal works of 20th century political philosophy. In 1964, he left the docks to become a “research” professor at UC Berkeley. I was there, and by then he and the book were legendary.

The book analyzes historical mass movements, including Christianity, Communism, and National Socialism–their causes, how they arise, who joins, and the social psychology of their challenge to the status quo.

This morning I thought of Hoffer and The True Believer as I watched a CBS reporter interview Pennsylvanians waiting to cast their vote for Donald Trump.

One of the mysteries surrounding the Trump “army” is their support for a candidate who by all measures has done nothing to maintain or improve their quality of life–healthcare, employment opportunities, wages, or standard of living in his four years in office.

Their responses made no sense to me, until I imposed The True Believer template. Hoffer lays out the elements of a mass movement, whether it’s Mussolini’s fascism, Lenin’s Bolshevism, Hitler’s National Socialism, or Jim Jones’ Jonestown as follows:

  • It needs a leader who capitalizes on frustration
  • It is grievance based
  • It is rooted in a feeling of rejection
  • It blames others for the problem
  • It needs a common enemy
  • It is intolerant because hate unifies.
  • Its followers are fanatical and enthusiastic
  • Followers adopt slogans
  • Followers need faith, a holy cause
  • Followers are fearful of free choice
  • Followers are often willing to die for the cause

For four years, I tried to understand the Trump follower. I wanted to believe Americans would see through the Trump façade, to see the emperor without his clothes. The fault was mine. I failed to see the true mass movement connection. I couldn’t believe an ignorant hollow grifter had what it takes to inspire a mass movement. I was wrong and I wasted a lot of time thinking the minds of his followers could be changed. The Trump “movement” is a minority movement, but it is fanatical and enthusiastic, and it will show up at the polls.

Eric Hoffer points out that “It is a perplexing and unpleasant truth that when men “have ‘something worth fighting for’ they do not feel like fighting. People who live full worth-while lives are usually not ready to die for their own interests, nor for their country…” but the presidential election of 2020 not normal. Your worth-while lives are in danger. I’m not asking you to die but I am asking you to go an extra mile in order to vote. The Biden-Harris voters need to generate the same enthusiasm as the Trump movement. It’s too important. We can’t be complacent.

On Sunday I received two remarkable publications that address the Trump phenomenon and the mass movement it spawned. The first publication was the Sunday New York Times including a special Opinion section entitled End Our National Crisis: The Case Against Donald Trump. The second, a collection of essays published in The Atlantic magazine called The American Crisis: What Went Wrong. How We Recover. Together, they distill the chaos of the last four years under Donald J. Trump’s presidency and make the case for his defeat on November 3rd.

If we survive, and I believe we will, it will take generations to repair the damage caused by the Trump phenomenon. In 2020 alone, 215,000 Americans have died from the deadly virus he failed to manage and protect them from.

As the 2020 election approaches, the virus spreads, vigilantes and militias proliferate, Antifa-squads pillage and burn, voters line-up, unemployment grows, renters are evicted, homeless campsites fill public parks, city streets and the sides of freeways, the Senate rushes a Supreme Court nominee through the confirmation process while Congress dithers over an aid package. It’s Mad Max meets The Apprentice

Immigrants have been banned. Families separated. Children as young as 5 taken from their mothers. Others caged. Residents deported. Green card issuance has been halted; so have H-1B visas for skilled technology workers, H-4 visas for their spouses, H-2B visas for seasonal workers, L-1 visas for transferred managers/executives, and J-1 visas for interns and work study visas. Educational visas are limited. Thousands of asylum seekers remain stranded in Mexico. Yesterday, it was revealed that 545 children are still separated from their families and Trump’s government has been unable to trace and reunite them with their parents.

To this American, two things are clear: this is not the country I thought it was and there is a clear and present danger if Donald Trump is re-elected President of the United States. Four years ago, I tried to support the American dream but woke up hallucinating. 

The carnage and incompetence of the Trump presidency is unacceptable. I don’t understand it. It’s an aberration. It’s some kind of herniated kink in the body politic. The question is will we turn him out? Don’t be among those people Eric Hoffer noted were living such a “worth-while life” that they let a mass movement take over the country. Get off your butt and vote. It’s your responsibility. Don’t take it for granted. Vote!!!!


  1. I read “The True Believer” during my senior year in high school. Impressed me then, still does. Did you know that Dwight Eisenhower called Hofer his favorite author?

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