Eric Hoffer’s The True Believer and Trump

Eric Hoffer in 1967, in the Oval Office, visiting President Lyndon Baines Johnson

In my last post, I discussed Eric Hoffer‘s 1951 classic: The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements. Naturally, the question arises as to the similarities between Trump supporters in the USA and Hoffer’s true believers.

There is a lot to be said here, but I’ll just mention a few similarities. Certainly, Trump supporters have responded to his diatribes against: Mexicans, women, politicians, opposing candidates, and reporters who ask him good questions. His followers share his love of authoritarianism, as well as his view that immigrants, people with darker skins, and women have stolen their jobs. (Even though the evidence that immigrants are a boon to the economy is overwhelming.) Moreover, his followers have no regard for truth, science, education, expertise, or knowledge. And they loathe the present and want to return to the past. All of the above are characteristics of Hoffer’s true believers.

Trump supporters are mostly white, native-born American males who do not have college degrees and are economically in the lower middle class rather than among the poorest. In short, they are very much like Hoffer himself (except for the fact that they aren’t erudite like Hoffer.) But Hoffer knew that “undesirables” weren’t the enemy:

That revelation occurred in 1934, when as a transient fruit-and-vegetable picker he was swept up and placed in the El Centro camp at the edge of the southern California desert near the Mexican border, and for the first time had to co-exist with 200 other men. Prior to that, he considered himself “just a human being, neither good nor bad, and on the whole, harmless,” but after a month at El Centro he realized he belonged to “a certain type of humanity, the undesirables.”

Some were lame, some were foreign-born, some were tramps, some were much darker-skinned than the rest but, he concluded, all were the same as the “undesirables” who for generations had fled from Europe and Asia and became American pioneers, the people who for 300 years had built our farms and roads and cities and institutions.

Throughout the rest of his life, Eric Hoffer continued to venerate and celebrate the “undesirables” as America’s real founding fathers.

But what I can say is the Trump’s followers are true believers. No matter what he does, no matter how unfit and unqualified, how coarse and vile, how angry and vindictive, how insecure and deviant, no matter his connections with Russia or the mafia, his multiple bankruptcies and money laundering, his and his father’s racist past, his lack of concern about his followers interests, no matter how horrific of a human being he is … they still believe. Most of them always will.

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4 thoughts on “Eric Hoffer’s The True Believer and Trump

  1. Certainly the Trumpsters are the most dangerous movement to arise in America in a long time. They are deeply, fanatically anti-American; their loyalty is to the flag, Trump, and the Republican Party, in that order. They have no loyalty to the Constitution and certainly reject the claim that “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness…”

    However, I see a ray of hope. Mr. Trump has managed to hit the absolute bottom of the “How to Win Friends and Influence People” contest. He has attacked or antagonized just about everybody. He has fired so many people that they’re eagerly lining up to testify to Mr. Mueller. I doubt that there’s any Republican in Congress who would fight to defend him in an impeachment debate.

    My guess is that the Republican Congresscritters have already decided to impeach him, but are now waiting impatiently for Mr. Mueller to provide them with the cover they need to do so without getting primaried. The timing on this decision will be very tight. They need Mueller’s results to come out after the primaries and well before the election. That’s the only schedule that can save them.

  2. I hope you are right but I think they will defend him UNLESS it is no longer in their interest. And that may never come if his base stays with him and they need that base support or they have no chance in any election. (I’m assuming by primaries you mean midterms.)

  3. Offer’s True Believer has been a great guidebook throughout the Trump regime.

    Eric Hoffer became blind at an early age. When he somehow regained his sight, he began reading books as if there was no tomorrow. His knowledge and understanding of history and the mass movements behind world events was incredible.

    Now that Trump is out of office and facing multiple civil, criminal and impeachment trials, we can once again learn from the True Believer that Trump’s followers will jump to another cause. The Russians noticed that in defeated Nazi Germany, the former fascists were the most likely converts to the new communist state (even though the philosophies of fascism and communism are diametrically opposed).

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