After a discussion on the topic of cults, I started wondering, how closely is the two party system in America related to cult behavior? It turns out that almost every attribute of a cult can be found within the two party system. A lot of this can be attributed to the nature of the American education system. Now, it’s true that not every member displays all the characteristics, but a large number display most of them.
Checklist by Janja Lalich, Ph.D. & Michael D. Langone, Ph.D of the Cultic Studies Association.
The group displays excessively zealous and unquestioning commitment to its leader and (whether he is alive or dead) regards his belief system, ideology, and practices as the Truth, as law
Without a doubt people will defend the leaders of the party, regardless of whether that politician’s actions even remotely match the stated goal of the party. Take for instance the support for Romney during the past election cycle. Even though Romney supported the majority of the policies of Obama, and clearly supported big government, all of that was brushed aside during the elections.
Questioning, doubt, and dissent are discouraged or even punished.
In many cases, if you question whether what the party is doing, you are treated as an outcast. Many will even attack you as being un-american or unpatriotic. Many will simply resort to name calling and ad hominem attacks.
One can also consider the current situation regarding the sequestration. Many people have realized that we can not continue on our dangerous path of spending and at least some have realized that the majority of government spending just goes into the pockets of the elite class. However in order to prevent us from actually demanding that proper cuts be made, Obama decided to cut spending where it would hurt the people the most: tuition reimbursement for people in the service for example.
Mind-altering practices (such as meditation, chanting, speaking in tongues, denunciation sessions, and debilitating work routines) are used in excess and serve to suppress doubts about the group and its leader(s).
The idolization of Obama in recent years is probably one of the most apparent examples. There are multiple instances of people chanting Obama’s name and even hailing him almost as if he were a divine being. Here is a link to one example of chanting out Obama’s name.
Control of Actions
The leadership dictates, sometimes in great detail, how members should think, act, and feel (for example, members must get permission to date, change jobs, marry—or leaders prescribe what types of clothes to wear, where to live, whether or not to have children, how to discipline children, and so forth).
I’m not sure if I can really find all that many good examples for this one either. I’ll keep looking.
The group is elitist, claiming a special, exalted status for itself, its leader(s) and members (for example, the leader is considered the Messiah, a special being, an avatar—or the group and/or the leader is on a special mission to save humanity).
This is definitely not an uncommon claim among members of either party. As for the leaders, the best examples probably come from the Republican party, where many of the leaders feel that “god” has told them to run. Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry and Herman Cain are all examples of such candidates.
The group has a polarized us-versus-them mentality, which may cause conflict with the wider society.
Well this is definitely a big one. The general mentality is that you’re either a Republican or a Democrat, and if you’re neither than you’re just helping the “other side”. Both Republicans and Democrats feel that they are correct and that they are the ones who should be making decisions.
The leader is not accountable to any authorities (unlike, for example, teachers, military commanders or ministers, priests, monks, and rabbis of mainstream religious denominations).
The number of examples of politicians getting away what illegal activities abound. Members in congress are often exposed as taking bribes, and often even in cases of violence are given a lot of legal slack. One example is the case back in 2010 of Representative Bob Etheridge. A group of college students who were doing a project approached the congressman with video cameras and proceeded to ask whether he fully supported the Obama agenda. What happened next? The video is pretty self explanatory. If this had been someone other than a congressman, would the law have taken action? Would he have been charged with assault?
Furthermore congressional reelection rates are hovering around 90% while congressional approval ratings hover around 10 – 15%. This doesn’t make sense from a rational perspective, but it makes total sense when viewing the political system as a massive cult.
Ends Justifying the Means
The group teaches or implies that its supposedly exalted ends justify whatever means it deems necessary. This may result in members’ participating in behaviors or activities they would have considered reprehensible or unethical before joining the group (for example, lying to family or friends, or collecting money for bogus charities).
The recent war campaigns around the world perpetrated by both Bush and Obama are strong examples of this pattern of behavior. Even though we consider the killing of innocent people to be quite reprehensible, if we are told that it is somehow in order to protect us, then it becomes acceptable? That seems to be the current mentality of quite a few people. Now, I’m not arguing that we should all become pacifists, that’s a whole other debate entirely, but in discussions, I’ve seen the reason stated as to why it is acceptable that we are going into Iraq, Afghanistan, launching drone strikes in Yemen, Pakistan, and others is because it will make us safer. There is no logical reasoning behind the argument, it’s just what people have been told.
Subservience to the leader or group requires members to cut ties with family and friends, and radically alter the personal goals and activities they had before joining the group.
It’s quite difficult to come up with examples for this one, and it’s easy to explain why that is. In a standard cult, the members form a minority of the population. However in the case of the two party system, the members comprise the majority of the people in this country. Therefore the country as a whole is the organization. However in many cases, association between Republicans and Democrats is discouraged even if indirectly, and that may be considered an example. In the 2016 election we saw a drastic increase in people cutting ties with those in the other party, and those outside of the system.
The leadership induces feelings of shame and/or guilt in order to influence and/or control members. Often, this is done through peer pressure and subtle forms of persuasion. .
We can see this with many of the political debates. Often a politician will tell the people that if they don’t support an initiate then it will result in some kind of highly negative impact, that generally doesn’t occur. The result attempt to guilt us into opposing the sequester is one example. There are many others and both Republicans and Democrats use peer pressure and scare tactics to push their agendas.
The group is preoccupied with bringing in new members.
Even though the two party system is already huge, it’s always looking to amass new members. Now to be fair, this one could be taken as simply a fact that voting allows us to have a say in the political world and that is a good thing and if this was the only check on the list, I’d say no big deal. However the parties are far too preoccupied with gaining new members and when you combine everything together, it just matches up too well with other cult behaviors.
The group is preoccupied with making money.
This one is a pretty obvious one. Political campaigns are becoming more and more expensive, a lot of the money is simply spent on shows and parties for major campaign contributors. Massive amounts of money are spent on food, drinks, and entertainment for the wealthy members of the parties and their friends.
Members are expected to devote inordinate amounts of time to the group and group-related activities.
Quite a few members spend a lot of time campaigning, and again, this in and of itself is not a bad thing. However many make campaigning into their entire life.
Members are encouraged or required to live and/or socialize only with other group members.
This follows the examples regarding cutting ties with outside members. It really isn’t uncommon to see Republicans only socializing with other Republicans or Democrats socializing with other Democrats and that is often times encouraged.
No Other Way to Be
The most loyal members (the “true believers”) feel there can be no life outside the context of the group. They believe there is no other way to be, and often fear reprisals to themselves or others if they leave (or even consider leaving) the group.
This is a big one for me. Many members of the two party system feel that you must be one or the other, you can not be something besides a Republican or Democrat. If you are, then you’re just helping the other side win, or people simply consider it sitting on the sidelines and doing nothing.
As I mentioned in some of the cases, the instances seem rather mundane and harmless. That’s probably true simply taken by themselves. Every group has a few characteristics that are shared with cult characteristics and I don’t think that simply stating that a group has some of them is enough to call it a cult. However almost every single item has been checked off on the list. That along with observations of the way people act regarding alliances to the Republican and Democratic parties is enough to convince me. I’ll leave it to the reader to make his/her own decision on the topic.
Now, what makes the two party system even more dangerous than the average cult, in my opinion, is that the majority of the population are members rather than the usual case where the members are in the minority. This makes the cult status even more difficult to see and also makes it far more difficult to leave.
If the current election cycle does not expose just how much of a cult the two party system is, I don’t think anything will. Neither “side” is satisifeid with their candidate, in any way shape or form. In many cases, the people who are voting for Trump or Clinton hate them both. And yet it the unwavering support for the party, and the need for the party to win against the other candidate, no matter what, that has given us Trump and Clinton in the first place.
In both these candidates, we also see right away, a few of the various cult aspects including a lack of leader accountability, shaming, us vs them mentality, and of course elitism. Furthermore, the “never Trump” movement epitomizes the “no other way to be.” The logic is that no matter how bad Clinton is, there just “isn’t any other option” when other options are clearly present. They’re just pushed to the side by the fact that everyone is convinced that there is no other way to be.
The election outcome more or less confirms everything that has been stated up to this point. While a few million did vote for another option, over one hundred million people voted for candidates that they did not like, or in some cases, actually hated. But they continued to support what they believed was the lesser of two evils. Unfortunately, as is expected, evil won. If willingness to choose a candidate that you cannot stand, just because you cannot stand another candidate, while ignoring candidates who are actually reasonable human beings, is not indication of mental illness, then I do not know what is.
- Election and Politics: Moving Forward
- Take Back Your Life: Recovering from Cults and Abusive Relationships
- Recovery from Cults: Help for Victims of Psychological and Spiritual Abuse
- The Cult of the Presidency: America’s Dangerous Devotion to Executive Power
- False Idol: Barack Obama and the Continuing Cult of the Presidency